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Formula 1 Spanish GP

Mercedes: “Massive step” forward in Spain different to F1 2022 false dawn

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his team’s “massive step forward” at Formula 1's Spanish Grand Prix feels different to the false dawn it experienced at last year’s Barcelona race.

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, 2nd position, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

The team delivered its best result of the 2023 season last weekend as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished second and third behind runaway race-winner Max Verstappen.

The result, allied to the strong pace of the W14 throughout the race, has suggested that Mercedes' revamp of its car has delivered a significant leap forward in form after months of struggling with its 'zeropod' concept.

But the lessons of 2022, when the team hoped strong pace at the Spanish GP marked a return to form only for it to fall flat on its face at the following races, have left it mindful of not getting carried away just yet.

And while Wolff is not taking anything for granted, he does admit that the situation does not seem like a repeat of what happened 12 months ago.

Asked if there was a belief that the Spanish GP progress represented the reality of where Mercedes is right now, Wolff told Autosport: “I'm never optimistic. Only fools are optimistic, but generally I think it feels different to last year.

“There is still bouncing. It's interesting to understand why that is, but we've learned so much in the last 12 months. That's why I generally have lots of reasons to be a little bit more carefully confident.”

PLUS: Why Mercedes may be wrong to be so cagey on new F1 expectations

Hamilton had appeared to have the pace to get Mercedes onto the front row at Barcelona, but was hampered on his final runs by car damage he picked up in a collision with team-mate Russell at the end of Q2.

In the race, it was hard to gauge how his form stacked up against Verstappen, as the Red Bull was running a different tyre strategy for much of the afternoon.

The only phase of the race where both were running the same tyres was in the final soft stint, when the Mercedes appeared to be a couple of tenths per lap slower.

Both also went for a fastest lap effort at the same time, with Hamilton ending up three tenths adrift, despite benefitting slightly from the use of DRS.

Wolff reckoned the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull was in the region of a few tenths now, which he said was a huge leap forward considering where the team had been earlier this year.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“I think it is two/three tenths,” he said. “That's how we would judge it today.

“And that's a massive step forward. But we need to remain cool, because last year we were looking pretty decent in Barcelona.

“However, as long as the trajectory goes upwards, it's going to be like share prices that go up and down. There are going to be moments, tougher moments. But I'm pleased for the job that has been done in Brixworth and Brackley.”

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Wolff also praised the conviction that Mercedes staff had in being brave enough to turn their backs on the 'zeropod' concept and change approach with the car.

“It's testament to the hard work that has been happening over the last few months and the courage in terms of the development direction in deciding to embark on completely new front suspension, floor, bodywork, and many other bits,” he said.

“We have a [significantly] more solid platform to develop from, now that we understand a little bit more than before.”

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