The first week of the 2023 Formula 1 season ends with Red Bull at the top of the Constructors’ Championship, and a non-Ferrari team sitting in second place.
However, following a tough opening weekend, Mercedes is not that team.
Instead it is Aston Martin who heads to next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in second in the Constructors’ while Mercedes sit in third. Lewis Hamilton finished the day in fifth, with teammate George Russell finished in seventh. Those results bring to a close a shaky week for Mercedes in Bahrain, leaving the team still searching for not just performance, but for answers.
“We did the best we could today. We are the fourth fastest team right now, and the Ferrari and Aston that we were battling were just quicker than us,” said Hamilton after the race in a statement released to the media, including SB Nation. “It was close for a second with [Ferrari driver Carlos] Sainz, but I couldn’t hang on and he just went away in the final laps.”
Hamilton’s battle with Fernando Alonso was one of the highlights of the race, an event that saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen pull away from the field, and his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez help the team lockout the front row. Alonso finished third, his first podium with Aston Martin.
“Big congratulations to Fernando and the whole Aston Martin team too. They did a great job today,” said Hamilton. “It was a fun tussle we had for a moment, but he was too quick.”
“We are lacking performance and we are a long behind where we want to be. Aston Martin are the surprise package this year and our deficit to Red Bull and those ahead is too big,” added Russell. “The positive we can take away is that there is no fundamental problem with the car, other than it is lacking downforce. As silly as it sounds, that is one of the easiest problems to solve compared to what we had to do last year.”
If you thought the drivers were downcast after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Team Principal Toto Wolff took it to an entirely different level.
“That was one of our worst days in racing. It was not good at all; we are lacking pace front, right, and centre. The Aston Martins are very fast, and the Red Bull is just on a different planet,” said Wolff in the statement released to the media. “It hurts that they are so far ahead; it reminds me of our best years where we put one second on everyone else. That is the benchmark.”
Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin was similarly blunt when describing the weekend, the race, and the gap between the Silver Arrows and Red Bull. “It was a very difficult Sunday; the gap to Red Bull is huge and we’ve got Aston Martin and Ferrari ahead of us too,” added Shovlin. “Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead and we need to go back and come up with a plan to try and find improvements. We are lacking overall grip and, on a high degradation track like this, there was nothing that the drivers could do to attack.”
Mercedes fans hoping for signs of optimism might not be able to find them, if the drivers — along with Wolff and Shovlin — are any indication. “We are all here to win. If we must sacrifice some races or part of this season to give ourselves a chance to fight in the second half of the season, or even next year, that is what we are going to have to do,” lamented Russell. “We know the Team is good at developing and finding performance, but we are a long way behind where we want to be. We need to find some performance quickly. Bahrain is an outlier circuit, but performance isn’t going to swing more than three tenths positively or negatively from track to track.”
“This is the second season we’ve started on the back foot though and we’re under no illusion that this is not acceptable for our team,” added Shovlin.
For their parts, Hamilton and Wolff did their best to add some positivity after the struggles in Bahrain. “We need to put one foot in front of the other to come back but nobody in this team will throw in the towel,” said Wolff. “We need to dig deep, deeper than we ever have done before. And we can do that.”
Added Hamilton: “We’ve just got to keep working; we know we are not where we need to be. I’ve got to stay positive, keep my head up and keep pushing the Team. I will be a positive light for them and get the best points I can.”