Is Mercedes’ breakthrough a sign of things to come, or another false dawn?

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Lewis Hamilton equaled his best result of the season so far by finishing second to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Sunday’s race, while teammate George Russell completed the podium in third.

It was the first time the two Mercedes drivers had stood together on the grandstand this year, leaving the team buoyed by their improvements.

Mercedes presented their heavily improved W14 car at the Monaco Grand Prix and achieved their best result of the season a week later in what was the first real test of their revised package at the more conventional Barcelona circuit.

“It was definitely the best car for a year and a half, so kudos to the incredible group of people we have at the factory who continue to work hard and keep the car moving forward,” Hamilton said.

“I felt better yesterday and today than I have for 14 or 15 months. It’s super encouraging, I think, not only for me but for everyone in the team.

“It will be a big boost for everyone’s morale and we will use that energy to develop the car.”

It should be noted that Mercedes also benefited from a competitive demonstration 12 months ago in Spain.

After an equally disappointing start to the 2022 campaign, Russell claimed third place and Hamilton showed impressive pace as they climbed back to fifth after a first-lap collision.

Mercedes again produced an eye-catching race pace – second only to the dominating Red Bull – this time around.

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Hamilton acknowledged that caveat when asked if it was too early to draw conclusions on Mercedes’ much improved form at Barcelona.

“Yeah!” Hamilton responded with a chuckle.

“They normally say if you are fast in Barcelona the car should generally be good everywhere. I think we will be strong in the next races,” he added.

“There will be times when the Aston may be slightly ahead or the Ferrari may be ahead, but I think our race pace continues to be our strength, as it was last year. .

“I think this weekend in particular we understood the car even better, so we can count on it going forward.”

Was Mercedes flattered by the weather?

Had it not been for a small error at Turn 10 on his final lap of Q3, Hamilton would likely have found himself sharing the front row with Verstappen.

Mercedes were quicker than main rivals Aston Martin and Ferrari in the race, highlighted by Russell staging a remarkable comeback from 12th to 3rd place. The Briton even managed to hold Sergio Perez’s Red Bull at bay in the battle for the final podium spot.

But one factor to consider is that qualifying and the Grand Prix took place in much cooler temperatures than Friday’s practice.

Mercedes notably struggled with the balance and performance of the car throughout the first two practice sessions. It wasn’t until a breakthrough in the setup was discovered thanks to Mick Schumacher and the simulation team’s nightly work at the factory that Mercedes started heading in the right direction.

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Cloudy conditions on Saturday and Sunday only seemed to boost Mercedes’ overall performance further, which Toto Wolff pointed out in a cautious assessment of his team’s performance.

“Let’s keep our expectations real. There’s so much to do to catch up with Red Bull. We just have to push hard,” Wolff told Sky after Sunday’s race.

“It’s a good time to see that the direction of development is right. We just need to tackle and we are really good at grinding. Once there is a direction of configuration and a direction of development , we’ll just go in. We have that development time advantage.

“But we also have to be realistic. Today the temperatures suited us. It was nice and cool – not too hot, not too cold. The car was in the absolute mega window.”

Russell said he hoped the result would be a “sign of things to come” for Mercedes, before later admitting the car “probably felt the best it’s ever felt in Barcelona due to the tougher conditions. fresh”.

“A big thank you to the whole team for making these updates, but we’re not going to get carried away right after this race either,” he added.

“We know it could be slightly different in future races, and I think in general Aston and Ferrari were a bit more behind than normal.

Is Red Bull worried?

Red Bull annihilated the opposition on the verge of claiming all seven wins so far in 2023 and despite Mercedes’ resurgence at Barcelona, ​​Verstappen was still free to claim another undisputed and commanding victory.

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Mercedes’ improvements were credited by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner after the race.

But Horner was quick to point out the extent of Red Bull’s advantage in a subtle dig at Mercedes when asked if the Silver Arrows would become a concern for his side.

“They were still 23 seconds down at the end of the race,” replied Horner – who did his team a slight disservice given that the gap was actually 24.090s.

“They made a good move, but I think we have things in the works.

“They had a big upgrade and we have some stuff coming later in the season, but look, for sure, it was a big step.

“They are a quality team and they will put pressure on us in the second half.”

And Hamilton, who remains determined to win a record eighth world title before retiring, is under no illusions about the challenge Mercedes will face if they are to reignite their rivalry with Verstappen and dethrone the Dutchman.

“They (Red Bull) are so far ahead and finally Max will continue to win this year,” he conceded.

“That means they can start their development for next year earlier and earlier than everyone else if they haven’t already and that’s the danger.”

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