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Mercedes could never "abandon" current car for F1 2026 head start

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his team could never accept throwing the towel in on the current generation of cars to get a head start on Formula 1’s 2026 rules.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The German manufacturer is facing up to the reality that it has still not mastered its understanding of the latest ground effect regulations, with its W15 not producing the Red Bull-challenging form hoped for.

In fact, Mercedes has admitted that its 2024 challenger is exhibiting characteristics that ‘make no sense’, with increased levels of downforce not translating into extra performance on track.

It suspects that its issues may be more mechanical related rather than anything to do with pure aerodynamics.

Wolff has said he is in no doubt that Max Verstappen and Red Bull already look well on their way to world championship glory and that finishing best of the rest is his team’s main target right now.

But as it chases answers for what it is lacking with its W15, there is a scenario emerging where Mercedes could decide it is not worth throwing endless resource at the current rules – as it could be better off committing early to its 2026 challenger to ensure it is quick off the blocks.

Such a call does not need to come yet, with the FIA not allowing teams to begin work on the aerodynamics of the new cars until the start of 2025.

But when asked by Autosport if there could come a time later this year where Mercedes has to make a call on abandoning the current rules cycle, Wolff was emphatic about his team’s stance.

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

“We are Mercedes,” he said. “We cannot completely abandon the current regulations and continue to perform at the level we are at the moment.

“That's not the ambition of the brand, nor our own and our partners. So, no. I think you've got to continue to push, continue to form your understanding.

“But eventually, when the FIA comes up with some kind of form of regulations, we, like all the other teams, we will be starting to look at it, and probably more on the earlier side.”

Wolff reckons that Mercedes is locked in the chasing pack behind Red Bull with Ferrari and McLaren - which ultimately was not what its F1 ambition was.

“If your expectation is eventually to race for wins and championships, then you can say we're in a bit of a no man's land because Max and Red Bull are far ahead,” he explained.

“We are in this bunch, but it's not satisfying for either team that is fighting for P2, P3, or P4. I've always said that if I was to look from a pure sporting point of view, it is P1 what matters and not P2/P3/P4.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24 and George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24 and George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“But this is a reality that we are facing at the moment and we're trying to do the best out of this new reality.

“That [our aim] is to beat our direct competitors, whilst acknowledging that somebody is just doing a better job, and setting a benchmark that we eventually need to set ourselves again on whether we're able to win races this year, and I wouldn't want to let that ambition go. And certainly not next year.

“For 2026 there is a big reset, which certainly provides the most realistic opportunity for any other team to beat Red Bull. But there is one-and-three-quarter seasons before that, and I don't want to go through much more suffering in the next 18 months. I would just hope for highlights and a trajectory that's going upwards.”

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