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Lewis Hamilton may not have to wait too long before Mercedes can begin challenging towards the front of the grid with Toto Wolff confirming their car will “look very different” in a matter of weeks. Pre-season testing in Bahrain indicated that Mercedes had dropped even further back behind Red Bull from last year and the opening race of the season confirmed that.
Hamilton finished nearly a minute behind Max Verstappen and was also no match for a fast Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. The Brit has criticised the team for not listening to him last year for what he felt the car needed.
He said: “Last year, I told them the issues that are with the car. Like, I’ve driven so many cars in my life, so I know what a car needs, I know what a car doesn’t need.
“And I think it’s really about accountability, it’s about owning up and saying ‘yeah, you know what, we didn’t listen to you, it’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’.”
Wolff agreed with Hamilton’s assessment and immediately promised changes at Mercedes. There was some indication that building a whole new car concept would practically make the 2023 season a write-off.
But the Mercedes team principal has made it clear that plans are already being put in place to radically alter the car design to bring it more in line with their rivals. And the complete changes could be finalised in time for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the end of May.
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“The question then is what you mean by such a B car,” he told Sky Sports. “But I think the car is going to look very different in five, six or seven races based on the decisions we have taken and the development direction we have embarked on.”
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix appears set to follow a similar pattern to what happened in Bahrain. Verstappen topped the timesheets in all three practice sessions and was nearly a second quicker than the rest of the field in FP3.
Aston Martin may prove to be Red Bull’s closest challenger with both Alonso and Lance Stroll impressing. Mercedes look set to be in a battle with Ferrari going into Sunday’s race and will likely be relying on mistakes ahead of them to fight for a podium.
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