Mercedes’ dominance of Formula One between 2014 and 2021 made a return to the top seem inevitable, and a setback under the new car design rules in 2022 was no more.

The record books agree. History shows that Mercedes has finished first eight times in a row and finished third and second in consecutive years. A flash, not a failure.

“It looks like it was a respectable result and not that bad,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. But that’s not counting another team and another driver who won more races.

Wolff used the analogy of climbing Mount Everest to describe his push to catch Max Verstappen and Red Bull over the past two years. He did it again on Wednesday when the team unveiled its new car, the W15, ahead of the team’s first outing at Silverstone.

“If a team like Red Bull last year is so far ahead, it’s a big mountain. It’s not easy,” Wolff said.

In addition to the revamped Livery, which incorporated a lot of silver with the black design used last year, Mercedes has made significant changes to the 2024 model.

This means that 2024 will always be a year in which Mercedes manages expectations, corrects the mistakes of the previous two seasons under these regulations and approaches the top, if not the top, expectations.

This year takes on added significance as it will be Lewis Hamilton’s last at Mercedes before he heads to Ferrari for 2025. The final dance for the most successful driver and team combination in F1 history.

“It will be our last season with Lewis,” Wolff said. “So we will work hard to bring a fast car and then deliver the product in the factory. We will see how it goes today.

Louis’s last dance

Hamilton surprised the team when he decided to leave Mercedes at the end of the year. He knew the door was open for him to leave in terms of the ‘1+1’ contract signed last August. But Hamilton didn’t expect to start the season knowing it would be the team’s last.

Hamilton admitted during Wednesday’s car presentation that it had been an “emotional” time since announcing his move to Ferrari, but as his future at the team’s own launch, he was focused on the season ahead. He spoke of his excitement at seeing his 12th and final Mercedes F1 car in the flesh for the first time.

“Coming here in 2013 is really surreal, so I’ve been with the team for 11 years (and now) starting my 12th,” Hamilton said. It’s a great opportunity to work with a group of people where you can see their work over the winter, and we’ve been through that process over the last couple of years.

Hamilton felt the difficulties of the past two seasons, the only winning campaigns in his 17-year F1 career, were “really a foundation” for Mercedes. “It helped bring us back together,” he said. “We had to look at things again. And now he’s going through the most important process, really putting in the effort in our work, understanding the data, understanding the car, maximizing practice.

Even one lap in the rain today might give George (Russell) and I a little bit of a feel for what’s to come.

As Lewis Hamilton (right) leaves Mercedes, the leadership role passes to teammate George Russell (centre). (Peter Fox/Getty Images)

A crash at Silverstone last year was enough for Hamilton to realize he was in for a tough season, later noting that the car resembled its troubled predecessor. It means the first impressions he and Russell will gather today will inform what to expect this year at the test in Bahrain next week.

Unlike in 2023, when the tailwind in 2022 proved misleading for renewed ownership payments, the buzz around Mercedes’ chances seems lighter. Controversially ruled out in 2021, Hamilton’s bid for a record eighth World Cup title feels like a long shot considering his fallout with Red Bull last year. Breaking the winning drought until December 2021 would be a more reasonable goal.

“We’re trying to compete at the front at the same time as Ferrari and McLaren, sometimes Aston Martin, and to be part of the front of the team,” Wolff said of Mercedes’ aim. To catch Red Bull.

“We know how hard it is, because you’re one step behind your main competitor and you’ve got it right from the get-go,” Wolff said. “But we loved the challenge and that’s why we’re all so excited to finally see the car drive.”

What’s new in the Mercedes W15?

In addition to the updated livery, which incorporated more silver into the all-black design used last year, Mercedes knew it had to make significant changes to 2024 to close the gap to Red Bull. The group As early as 2023, the concept car realized that running extreme slim side pods wasn’t going to make it back to the top and needed to change direction.

Wolff says the new car is a “total reset” for Mercedes. “It’s very different, not only on the aerodynamic surfaces, but mainly on the bottom,” he said. “There are a lot of mechanical changes we’ve made that hopefully lead to more performance, more predictability, a car that the drivers can push.”

According to technical director James Allison, the car’s particular weak point is the rear end, which drivers call “unpredictable” and “horrendous”. They lack the confidence they need to go through the corners. The car has become more agile in a straight line, focusing on the integration of the rear wing and radial wing to reinforce the DRS effect, an area of ​​particular strength for Red Bull until 2023. On top of that, to try and create a car that’s reassuring for drivers,” Allison explained.

Hamilton admitted it was an “emotional” moment, but spoke of his excitement at seeing his 12th and final Mercedes F1 car in the flesh for the first time. (by Mercedes)

The team introduced a new chassis and gearbox design for this year, something Allison said took “a bit of our available firepower” at a cost-constrained time. “It means we haven’t tried to rework the tires on other parts of the car,” he said. But it allowed us to take on two big projects without breaking the bank.

Allison said the Mercedes technical team had delivered “all the things we said we wanted to do” during the winter, naturally not knowing what steps the rest of the field had taken. In early May, he teased extensive over-the-air tests earlier in the year to confirm the availability of a “good package” of updates, set for the start of the European season.

Planning for the future

As Hamilton nears the end of his time at Mercedes this year and prepares to swap his black suit for Ferrari’s famous red livery, the team is naturally planning for the future. Much of it revolves around Russell.

Entering his third season with Mercedes, Russell has established himself as one of the fastest drivers on the grid. They are mostly level with Hamilton for qualifying in their two seasons together, and at the end of last year he spoke of feeling in a better place than ever on and off the track.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team leader when Lewis left,” Wolff said after the announcement of Russell’s Hamilton exit. We have a fast and smart and smart guy in the car. For the second driver (for 2025) we just need to take the right choice.

This season and this car represent Mercedes’ last chance to get things right under these regulations – and with Hamilton. (by Mercedes)

Mercedes is in zero rush to decide who that second driver will be, nor does it need to be. Andrea Kimi Antonelli, 17-year-old defender in particular, holds the key to the driver market and has time on his side as he considers his future in a rookie Formula Two season. That means he can focus on getting the W15 car in good shape over the coming weeks and months, rather than being distracted by ‘fool season’ shifts in the driver market.

Russell echoed Wolff’s message about looking inward, citing uncertainty about how Mercedes could compete with its closest rivals. “This is the time of year that everyone looks forward to,” Russell said. But what you can do is look at yourself in the mirror, do your best, get on with your work, and don’t worry about anyone else. I have faith that it will come.

Given the importance of 2026, when F1’s car design rules will be revised again, this season really marks Mercedes’ last chance under those rules – and importantly, their last chance with Hamilton to set things right.

“That’s what we want to achieve, giving Lewis and George a car that they enjoy driving, and it’s not as difficult as in previous years,” Wolff said. “After a week in Bahrain, hopefully we’ll have more good feedback than bad.”

(Image of W15 driver at Silverstone: courtesy of Mercedes)