George Russell reckons his maiden Formula 1 win at the Brazil Grand Prix last year potentially led Mercedes down the wrong path with its 2023 car.
After a season spent largely trailing Red Bull and Ferrari, Mercedes ended last year on a high by the sight of Russell leading home Lewis Hamilton for a 1-2 at the penultimate round in Sao Paulo.
The promising progression from its early-season troubles led to Mercedes opting to retain its radically different zero sidepod concept for this year.
However, a below-par showing in Bahrain – where its W14 car was only the fourth quickest in the field – resulted in team boss Toto Wolff declaring a change in philosophy would be required.
Ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Russell admits the merited nature of his debut victory late last year misguided the German team in believing it was heading in the right direction.
“With regards to Brazil, yeah, perhaps Brazil, did lead us down a bit of a wrong path because we did feel like we were improving as a team, that we were going in the right direction,” he claimed.
“And that needs some analysis as well because we did improve throughout last year, there’s no two ways about it.
“And especially towards the end of the year, we truly thought we were sort of onto something, and the W14 was probably a more extreme version of the car we had at the end of last year.
“But clearly, others have gone in different directions, we’ve gone further in that direction, and it wasn’t the right one,” the Brit accepted.
While Russell agrees with Wolff’s assessment that internal targets were met, the Brit maintains that its current lack of speed can be attributed to compensating too much for the bouncing problem that hampered its pace at the start of 2022.
As a direct response to the porpoising saga that engulfed the headlines during the early past of last year, the FIA introduced changes that have raised the floor edges of the 2023 cars by 15mm.
“I think, as Toto said, the targets were met, but the targets were incorrect,” he stated.
“When you look at the W13, we were clearly too aggressive with the car design and the bouncing, and that was our big limitation.
“Now, fast forward 12 months, we wanted to be in a position where we’re not experiencing any of this, and we probably overshot in the opposite direction, compromised too much performance, too much downforce for the lack of bouncing, to learn that the changes implemented by the FIA over the winter solved the majority of our problems.”
In light of its disappointing Bahrain outing, Mercedes penned an open letter to its fans apologising for the team’s performance and its determination to improve the situation.
Russell shares the opinion that solely making revisions to its current package wouldn’t be enough to reel in the massive deficit it upholds to Red Bull.
Following Wolff’s admission wholesale changes would be made, the one-time F1 race winner has revealed “honest” conversations have already taken place at its Brackley base.
“That being said, we can probably recover some of that lost performance from being too conservative,” he contemplated.
“Is it the one second we’re looking for compared to Red Bull? No, it’s not. Do we think we’re on the right track with our philosophy? Probably not, either.
“The team came together on Tuesday last week and had some very good, honest, good conversations.
“A lot of the questions were answered as to how we got ourselves into this position, in the first place, what are we going to do, in the short and medium term to get out of it and what path are we going to be on.
“Those places are already in place of getting on the track that we believe is going to bring us back to victory.”
While the Silver Arrows has a major upgrade package scheduled for the Azerbaijan GP in late April, the ex-Williams driver has confirmed choices have already been made on the direction the team wants to head in with its revised package.
“Of course, we know a change of concept doesn’t come without risks,” Russell acknowledged.
“But I think we all feel like we’ve got enough knowledge and information now, to say that we weren’t on the right tracks, the targets that we set over the winter, weren’t the right ones.
“And we need to change lanes as soon as possible. And those decisions have already been made. And we’ve already started working towards them, as of, probably, Tuesday last week. How quickly that can be brought to the car, how quickly that’s going to translate into performance is another question.”
With Mercedes already braced for another rebuilding year, Russell has insisted the team’s focus remains on improving its current performance level rather than chasing outright results.
“I think we don’t really talk about, let’s say results, or what we can do in terms of where we end up in the championship,” he declared. “We talk about what we can achieve in terms of bringing more performance back to the car.”