More months of mediocrity afterwards, with weeks of waiting for the big change – and now it’s not happening.
The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola this weekend should have heralded the great Mercedes renaissance, the Race Zero of a new project as they sought to right themselves on the road after veering so wildly off course at the beginning of 2022.
The Silver Arrows were due to deliver not just an upgrade package but a total overhaul of their ailing W14 machine and its direction of travel. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had been waiting for this moment ever since Bahrain – for something to work with, something to believe in, something to carry the fire.
Then came the water. With the Emilia Romagna region suffering from a horrendous series of floods caused by unprecedented heavy rainfall, and hampered by the soil-damaging drought that the area suffered last summer, the race is off.
And for very good reason. Not only are parts of the Imola circuit submerged beneath rainwater, but further extreme weather is forecast in the days to come. With multiple fatalities already confirmed, it would have been entirely immoral for and F1 event to run which requires the assistance of the emergency services to go ahead.
F1 will roll on to Monaco next weekend, and for fans all that has been lost is a few hours of entertainment. Given the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Emilia Romagna, there can be no complaints.
As much as cancellation is objectively the correct move, the decision could hardly come at a worse time for Mercedes – especially with Hamilton still to be tied down to a new contract. The uncertainty surrounding the team's performance cannot be encouraging for the seven-time champion as he ponders his options.
Ever since team principal Toto Wolff admitted that his squad had made a significant error pursuing their ‘zeropod’ aerodynamic concept over the winter, even after it had proven so ineffective in 2022 and was so far off the pace of frontrunners Red Bull, the Silver Arrows have been hard at work on a total revamp.
Before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after F1’s unexpectedly long spring break, the team announced a switch of personnel which saw James Allison — who oversaw the team’s march to eight consecutive constructors’ championship titles in their 2014-21 glory years — brought back into a more hands-on, day-to-day technical leadership role after he previously stepped sideways to work on other projects within the wider business.
From the factories in Brackley and Brixworth to the pitwall and the cockpit itself, then, Mercedes has spent the past few months attempting to essentially build an entirely new challenger for the 2023 campaign. Imola was going to be its first running.
Of course, a delay of one week to Monaco is far from the end of the world. But the streets of the Principality are hardly the greatest car testing conditions, given its lack of high-speed running and the impossibility of overtaking, so it will be tough for Hamilton, Russell and Wolff to really know how much progress has been made.
F1 will race again at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona a week later, the culmination of what should have been the first triple-header of the season, by which point the team will begin to be able to ascertain whether or not they have taken a step in the right direction. But that’s still a couple of weeks later than they were targeting.
The Imola cancellation takes away some of the buzz about a team which has been mired in the midfield for just over a year. And the delay to discovering the current extent and future potential of the W14 2.0’s performance means that the uncertainty surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s future may well come under the microscope even further as no doubt the veteran will want to know more about the team’s prospects for 2024 and beyond before committing to re-signing.
Having spent two years unable to seriously challenge for race wins, never mind the eighth drivers’ championship he craves, Mercedes have a job on their hands to prove to Hamilton that he should give them another chance as he approaches his 40s.
With Imola now off the cards, both sides are going to have wait longer to find out if the requisite improvements have been made to ensure that their futures remain intertwined.
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