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Mercedes still searching for answers in Saudi Arabia

Friday’s practice sessions left Lewis Hamilton and the rest of Mercedes looking for answers

F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia - Practice Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that the team was bringing small developments to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the second race of the 2023 Formula 1 season.

After the first two practice sessions, however, it seems more developments are needed still.

Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell admitted after Friday’s practices that they struggled in the W14, and that more improvements are needed. Hamilton even compared this year’s car to the W13 Mercedes used last season, which led to the team’s much-discussed porpoising issues.

“it’s pretty much the same,” said Hamilton when asked after practices on Friday about the two cars. “I definitely struggled in the session,” Hamilton added. “I struggled in both sessions.”

Russell was given the chance to test the developments Mercedes brought to Jeddah, and noted after Friday’s two practice sessions that still more is needed. “There’s small changes for this weekend but it’s probably closer to what we had in Bahrain compared to what we want to see in the future,” he said Friday. “We had some test items on the car for FP2 on my side. But again, these are just small things in the short term. To do it right, it takes a bit more time.”

In a statement provided to the media, including SBNation, Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin noted that the team had “realistic expectations” coming into Saudi Arabia. “After Bahrain, we came here with realistic expectations. While the team back in the UK is working hard on developing us to a better place, our focus has been to maximise the potential of what we currently have,” noted Shovlin on Friday. “There were a couple of scheduled upgrades that look to be working OK but while taking us in the right direction, they are not a huge step.”

However, both drivers, as well as Shovlin, found some silver linings for the Silver Arrows. “Red Bull are clearly out in front, but we are learning lots about our car. These learnings will help us in both the short and medium-term,” said Russell after the dual practice sessions. “As is always the case in practice sessions too, we’re not sure what power modes everyone was running so we will know more tomorrow.”

For Shovlin, when the pieces came together Friday, the W14 did show some pace, which is a promising sign for the weekend.

“Nevertheless, we’ve got plenty of information to pick through to work out the setup for tomorrow,” noted the team’s Trackside Engineering Director. “The pace when we get the lap together didn’t look too bad, but the car hasn’t been easy enough to drive so that’s something we’ll look to improve tomorrow ahead of qualifying.”

Wolff even took some time right alongside the track to learn everything he could about the W14, and the rest of the field:

Hamilton — whose contract status is becoming more of a topic for discussion this week, with Wolff noting that he would accept Hamilton leaving if Mercedes’ current struggles last “years” — promised that he, and the team, would give it everything the rest of the weekend.

“It’s a tough car to drive but I know everyone is working so hard at the factory,” said the seven-time world champion. “It won’t be solved overnight and will take some time, so we just have to be patient and give it everything we can here at the track.”