The 2023 Formula 1 season may have seen its champions crowned already, but the story is far from over. The formidable titans trailing Red Bull’s dominance are strategising their 2024 comeback.
Mercedes, the sport’s dominant team before this new Max Verstappen era, finally finds itself in a promising position, sitting now in second place overall. Lewis Hamilton, having won almost everything in the past ‘hybrid’ era, is now even chasing Sergio Perez for second in the drivers’ standings. The British legend’s recent second-place finishes in both Austin and Mexico City, backed by the introduction of a revolutionary new floor, signal a drastic shift in the team’s conceptual direction.
Toto Wolff, the mastermind behind Mercedes’ success, exudes ultra-rare optimism. “It gives confidence for 2024, yes,” he declared, emphasising the importance of the recent upward performance curve. The real beacon of hope, perhaps, shines from Hamilton’s renewed positivity and the tangible improvement in his performance on track. “That’s the direction we’ve been going, now we just have to keep adding performance for next year,” said Wolff.
“I’m happy for many reasons,” he said on Sunday. “We weren’t sure if the tyre could last until the end, but the last lap was the fastest lap. The car was good. If we can do better in qualifying, maybe we can be at the front again.”
Hamilton, ever the realist, tempers this optimism with caution, underscoring the need for “some really big changes for next year”. He acknowledges the progress made in closing the initial 1.5 seconds per lap gap to Red Bull, setting his sights on a competitive start to the 2024 season in Bahrain.
“The key is to make sure that’s not the case in Bahrain next year, but I do think that hopefully these next couple of races will be close,” said the seven time world champion.
Ferrari also shows signs of resurgence – but with a sour twist. Charles Leclerc, with back-to-back pole positions in Austin and Mexico, has demonstrated that Ferrari has the raw speed for a front-row start. However, the team faces its own set of challenges, as their 2023 car grapples with tyre wear issues, a problem candidly highlighted by Carlos Sainz’s early tyre degradation.
Sainz emphasises the need to understand their race-day woes. “I hope that next year we will have a car with which we can fight,” he asserts, his eyes firmly set on joining the league of Verstappen and Hamilton. “Because, once again, (Max) Verstappen and Lewis were in a different league.”
Amidst the giants, Alpine is starting to reflect on a difficult season. Esteban Ocon, beset by technical failures, and Pierre Gasly, find themselves “a bit nowhere” during the Mexican GP weekend, echoing a team in search of answers and efficiency.
“We’re still missing what to do about it,” Ocon told Canal Plus. “It’s been three or four races now and it’s starting to be difficult to swallow.”
Teammate Pierre Gasly said Alpine has been “a bit nowhere” lately. “We did the best we could with the car we have,” he said on Sunday, after failing to score a point. “Next year, we have to come back with a more efficient car.”