Mercedes will be “mighty” at some tracks this season, according to its former chief strategist and current Williams boss James Vowles.
After only claiming a solitary victory throughout last season, the German manufacturer’s ambitions of immediately returning to championship contention have been dashed after an underwhelming start to 2023.
Despite an improved showing in Saudi Arabia to finish fourth and fifth, the two Mercedes’ still ended up over half a second behind the race-winning Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
But having been well-versed in the construction process of its W14 car before his move away, Vowles is convinced that Mercedes will be much more competitive at certain venues.
“There’ll be tracks like Silverstone and Barcelona where Mercedes will be mighty of a result of what I know from their package,” he claimed.
While Mercedes struggled significantly early last year, the Silver Arrows tended to perform markedly better at high-speed circuits as it got to grips with its troublesome car.
Tracks such as Barcelona, Paul Ricard and Silverstone offered promise that it had developed a package that had the potential to win races before the Brazil GP at Interlagos in November finally delivered the breakthrough victory it had craved.
The 1-2 finish it secured at the penultimate round was also a reflection of Mercedes’ impressive development rate to eclipse Ferrari in emerging as Red Bull’s nearest contender over the course of the second half of the season.
Although Red Bull has dominated the opening two rounds of the current season, Vowles is backing the competition to reduce the reigning champion’s advantage throughout the year.
The ex-Mercedes man is confident that the reduced wind tunnel time Red Bull is entitled to and the regulations remaining stable for 2024 will enable convergence to occur.
“There’s two things – do I think Red Bull will dominate through the season? No, I doubt it,” he said.
“However, on balance across the season, do I think they’re the fastest? Yes. But they still have a wind tunnel deficit, it’s not as big as I think it necessarily should be to balance things out, but it’s still there.
“It still will mean across the season that you’ll see people moving towards them. With the rules carrying over to next year, you have to keep developing this car. Things will close up.”
Prior to his departure to take over the reins at Williams, Vowles had been a long-serving member of the Brackley-based squad in its various guises, overseeing nine Constructors’ F1 titles.
That stint included being an important figure during Mercedes’ unprecedented run of success during the V6 turbo-hybrid engine era that saw the German marque secure a record-breaking eight consecutive Championships.
Now attempting to haul an underachieving Williams outfit up the grid in the role of team principal, Vowles admits he perhaps wasn’t fully aware at the time of the extreme effort that went into maintaining Mercedes’ prolonged stay at the top of the sport.
“Perhaps what wasn’t realised, when you’re internal to the team, it’s full swing to achieve what you’re doing,” Vowles highlighted.
“I already said in the winter you could make just one or two key decisions, and you completely screw up the following year.
“And what happens normally, if you look at dominance across eras, it’s across regulation changes and the reason why you can’t invest in it properly is because instead of having a few decisions to make, you have many decisions and you screw them up. It’s as simple as that.
“The next bit is when you’re fast, you don’t want to change. And if you get caught into that, I promise you, your rivals will be changing all the time. And what they did yesterday is not good enough tomorrow.
“And as a result of that, you can stand still and be caught up very quickly. It is very difficult to stay at that level for as long as Mercedes appeared, and if Red Bull keep going, it’ll be an incredible achievement, which is why I think people will catch them up.”
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