Mercedes is no longer the favorite in Formula One, and that is something the team needs to get used to.
The Silver Arrows head into this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix after a dire performance at last month’s Monaco GP. Valtteri Bottas finished fourth while three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton only managed seventh.
Worse still, Ferrari finished 1-2 with Sebastian Vettel beating Kimi Raikkonen. After six races, Mercedes trails Ferrari in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships – a big change after three years of total Mercedes dominance.
“Historic success doesn’t translate into current performance,” said Toto Wolff, the head of motorsport at Mercedes. “We have to fight with all that we are worth for every single win, pole position, podium finish and every point. You can no longer expect that, when you look at a timesheet, the two Mercedes will be right at the top.”
Hamilton headed into this season chasing a fourth title. But the British driver trails four-time F1 champion Vettel by 25 points, and with a less reliable car than the German’s slick Ferrari. Hamilton also failed to get on the podium at the Russian GP, finishing fourth.
“It’s painful, but we are not the favorites for this year’s championship. At the moment it’s Ferrari,” Wolff said Tuesday. “They have a very strong package and we need to rise to the challenge to prove once again that we are the team to beat.”
While the Ferrari is cruising, the inconsistent Mercedes is struggling to find the right balance between front and rear axle. That remains an ongoing worry and also impacts on tire strategy. Mercedes botched their tire choices in Monaco practice, leading to a very difficult qualifying session.
“Everybody at the factories is working absolutely flat out to assess the current difficulties we are facing,” Wolff said. “Some of these fixes will be short term, others may take longer.”
Mercedes hardly needs further glitches in Montreal. It is a demanding track made up of high-speed straights and tight corners, where drivers slam on the brakes for nearly 20 percent of the race.
“It could be a tricky race for us in terms of the layout of the track,” Wolff said. “But, equally, it’s a circuit that suits both of our drivers. Lewis has won a number of times in the past.”
Hamilton has won the two previous races in Canada driving for Mercedes, and in 2007, ’10 and ’12 driving for McLaren.