Mercedes missed a glaring opportunity for a second back-to-back podium finish of the season for Lewis Hamilton in Hungary. As the travelling Formula 1 circuit lands in Belgium for the third sprint of the season, George Russell has conceded that Mercedes aren’t even the second-fastest car on the grid, and major upgrades are needed to break away from the chasing pack.
It’s been a difficult season of adjustment for Mercedes, who find themselves looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack and the resurgence of an in-form McLaren team buoyed by recent upgrades, rather than focusing on their unrelenting pursuit of Red Bull in 1st place.
“It’s absolutely clear they [McLaren] are true contenders for the second fastest team,” George Russell conceded. “It’s very odd how Aston Martin were clearly that second-best at the start of the year, and they don’t seem to be so competitive right now. Ferrari haven’t made much progress. And McLaren have made a huge jump.”
Last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix saw a Mercedes 2-3, with Hamilton and Russell joining Max Verstappen on the podium. This year, however, Russell struggled to even get out of qualifying and started the Hungarian Grand Prix in P18. Although the British driver managed to show a devastating turn of pace on race day and finish P6, it does highlight Mercedes’ decline in recent seasons, with the two McLaren drivers claiming better points when the chequered flag fell.
For the best part of a decade, Mercedes enjoyed illustrious success at the front of the pack week in, week out. They were the envy of the grid; a world-class racing team that produced seven years of unopposed supremacy, usurping Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel in 2014 to cement an enduring Formula 1 legacy.
Mercedes still sit 2nd in the 2023 Constructors’, and Hamilton and Russell occupy 4th and 5th in the Drivers’ respectively, consolidating their position in Hungary. But for Lewis Hamilton, the driver with the most race wins in Formula 1 history, anything other than first is last. Hamilton deserves his record-breaking eighth F1 Championship but the pace of Red Bull’s RB19 is simply too great.
Max Verstappen cruised across the finish line at Hungaroring 33.731s seconds clear of Lando Norris in 2nd – the largest gap between 1st and 2nd in almost two years. Such is the unparalleled pace of Red Bull that the rest of the pack simply can’t compete, leading Toto Wolff to believe the teams are racing into two different divisions.
“As surprising as it sounds in terms of pace, it was quick in terms of the rest of the world,” Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said of the W14 following the results of the Hungarian Grand Prix. “In the F2 pack it was quick, the F1 car won by 34 seconds.”
WATCH Toto Wolff reacts angrily to George Russell’s qualifying lap below.
Wolff, although disappointed by the “bitter reality” of another Red Bull demolition job, felt enamoured by the progress made on-track by his drivers in Hungary, countering Russell’s claims that McLaren and Aston Martin have leapfrogged the Brackley-based team in the running.
“We likely had the second-fastest car, but we must execute better if we are to deliver our full potential,” Wolff said. Nevertheless, we scored good points with both drivers and consolidated our P2 Championship position.”
The Belgian Grand Prix represents the final opportunity for teams to put this season’s learnings into practice before the summer break, with upgrades expected across the grid to maximise points at Spa. With limited practice sessions due to the third sprint of the season, Wolff will be hoping the W14 can hit the ground running and put a safer distance between Mercedes and the hunting pack as they continue to nip at their heels.