After a brief resurgence, Mercedes faced a surprising setback in Brazil that left fans, rivals and the team’s own drivers and bosses scratching their heads. Before the weekend’s events began to unfold, optimism was in the air at Mercedes, with Red Bull’s Dr. Helmut Marko of Red Bull even acknowledged the threat posed by the team.
He told Kronen Zeitung, “(Lewis) Hamilton has always been strong in Brazil, and Mercedes has shown that it is a team that is now on the rise.” However, by Saturday, that rise had seemingly halted.
The surprise was palpable as Hamilton slumped to a mere seventh in the sprint race. The seven-time world champion commented: “It was really positive to see the progress we’ve made. Then we arrive at another track and we have the worst tyre degradation in years.” The frustration was evident as Hamilton continued, “You just don’t know what to expect with this car. But there are only a couple of races left with it, after which it will be a thing of the past. And I’ll be very happy about that. I’m just counting down the days and trying to enjoy each one of them as much as I can.”
The disappointment was echoed by his teammate George Russell, who described the team’s lack of pace as a “bitter pill to swallow.” Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, did not mince words about the challenges the team has faced over the last two seasons, and admitted that to avoid an Austin-like disqualification at bumpy Interlagos, “We put it [the car’s ride-height] higher than we normally would have.”
Reflecting on the team’s missteps, Wolff stated, “This wasn’t good. We wore out the tyres in the first two laps.”
Hamilton, facing the reality of the car’s limitations, lamented to Viaplay, “This was probably the worst race of the year. The car felt pretty bad.”
While Mercedes grapples with their performance, the F1 paddock turns its eyes to the future. McLaren team boss Andrea Stella shared his championship aspirations with Sky Italia, positing, “When will we fight for the world championship? Hopefully next year.” His confidence is not unfounded, given Lando Norris’ strong showing as runner-up in the sprint race.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc candidly expressed his concerns to Canal Plus: “It hurts a bit to see how fast the McLarens and Red Bulls are. We are missing a lot to them.”
Red Bull’s Marko, meanwhile, found the Mercedes situation noteworthy, saying, “The most surprising thing here is that Mercedes had a lot of tyre wear and weren’t particularly fast.” Looking ahead to the next season, former Red Bull driver Robert Doornbos offered a sobering outlook to Ziggo Sport: “Next year the budget cap penalty will be gone and I think they’ll have a new wind tunnel – so get ready for it,” suggesting that Red Bull’s dominance may only grow stronger.