The world of Formula 1 was turned upside down last week by the news that Lewis Hamilton is ending his time at Mercedes and moving to Ferrari. Before the seven-time world champion leaves, he has one more season in which he wants to give everything for his current employer. After a good second overall finish, Mercedes can only win the title in 2023 if it beats Red Bull Racing, but will this work? Or will it be McLaren and Ferrari who will take a bigger step next year, pushing Mercedes further back in the pecking order?
In 2021, Mercedes managed to win the constructors’ championship, but the fact that the drivers’ title went to Max Verstappen that year turned out to be a harbinger of an era of dominance for another team. From 2022 onwards, it has been Red Bull that has ruled the sport. Mercedes, which opted for a brave but ineffective design after the rule change, has since been busy fighting in the sub-top. The class of the team from Brackley is still there: P2 in 2023 was certainly not a bad result.
This result was achieved through consistency. Mercedes excelled irregularly during the year, but when the points were divided, they were often awarded to both Hamilton and teammate George Russell. That earned them 409 points over an entire year. An excellent final score, but less than half of what Red Bull achieved (860). Of these points, 234 came from Hamilton, his younger compatriot scored 175. This immediately indicates that Hamilton will be missed, although that is of course not yet relevant for next year’s final ranking.
Hamilton’s departure from Mercedes
If we look at the coming year, we must of course take a closer look at Hamilton’s departure. The fact that he has one foot in Maranello does not mean that he will not do what he always does at Mercedes next year: get the most out of the material. However, the Englishman’s departure is a sign of how he sees the current Mercedes as a team, Sky Sports analyst Karun Chandhok also thought. In the short term, Hamilton simply does not see Mercedes returning to the top, otherwise there would be no reason to leave.
The fact that he has decided to probably end his career in Ferrari red could therefore be an indication that the veteran has lost confidence in Mercedes. In recent years, Hamilton has been critical of Mercedes’ concept, which was released during the 2022 winter break without sidepods. It was certainly daring, but on the track it turned out not to improve the stability of the car, in addition to the fact that the Mercedes suffered a lot from porpoising that year. Hamilton has been dissatisfied with the work his team has been doing for two years.
He was more enthusiastic last year, especially because he regularly had podiums in his sights. However, he often used the media to point out what he thought went wrong with the material, including by indicating that he thought he was sitting too far forward in the car. That made the car more difficult to drive and Mercedes would get to work. However, Hamilton’s patience has run out, he will not even complete the current regulatory era with his team.
Mercedes can take a big step in performance
Because Mercedes is theoretically performing below its capabilities, it can also take a big step in 2024. Craig Scarborough, a seasoned Formula 1 analyst with a great affinity with the technical side of the sport, thinks that is the reason we have a strong Mercedes will see in 2024. They have a lot of performance to gain, where for example Ferrari and McLaren already did this during the previous season. The development curve of these teams can therefore be flatter, although we know that these teams do not sit still either.
That may partly explain the fact that the F1Maximaal panel has a clear verdict on which way Mercedes will go in terms of final position. According to the editors, winning against Red Bull will not happen anyway. According to 44 percent of voters, P2 is still possible, while 56 percent of respondents even think that Mercedes will take a step back and finish P3 or lower. The primary competitors to achieve this are logically Ferrari and McLaren.
What is the reasoning behind this prediction? We ask editor-in-chief Mike van Weert: ‘Mercedes of course has some bright minds at the helm, such as James Allison, but that will not be enough next year. Compared to Ferrari and McLaren, the German racing team started the concept change too late. The wrong choice that Mercedes made at the end of 2022, by keeping the failed concept for 2023, will have unpleasant consequences next season.’
“McLaren and Ferrari have simply been smarter in this regard,” Van Weert continues. ‘They can already realize the potential of the concept next year. In my opinion, Mercedes still needs to experiment a lot and that has not proven successful in recent years. That is why I also think that Mercedes should focus in the battle for third place. With Hamilton and Russell, the team also has a very capable driver duo, although they now have to keep each other intact. The dynamic between the two will be very exciting. If they give each other some space, Mercedes will probably end up third.’
Can Russell lead Mercedes?
Hamilton’s departure means that Russell will be the most experienced driver within the Mercedes team from 2025. Is he mature, calm and consistent enough to handle this pressure and take on this role? That is a question that may be answered next season. In his first year, Russell outperformed Hamilton and took 35 points more than his teammate. Last year it was Hamilton who was convincingly the stronger driver of the two.
What does it look like this year? Mercedes will undoubtedly shift its focus from Hamilton to Russell, as they know that this is the driver who will still be in action for them after 2024. That could lead to an improvement in form for Russell, but in any case that is not what most editors expect to find in 2024. Only 11 percent of the votes go to Russell, while 89 percent of editors expect Hamilton to walk away with the most points this season.
Van Weert: ‘Hamilton hasn’t won a race in two years, so he still has a lot to prove. That will also be decisive, despite the fact that he has already earned a move to Ferrari. Russell will also have to get used to the leadership role that he will now be assigned by Mercedes. This allows Hamilton to focus mainly on driving fast and he is of course one of the best at that. He will score the most points for the team and I cannot rule out that he will win a race.’
‘Russell does not have to be ashamed if he loses the game with Hamilton again next season. Above all, he must try to remain calm and focus on the years that will follow. He will have more power within the team and it is therefore important for him to deal with that. If he shows that he is ready for that step, Mercedes will have an excellent first driver in the coming years. Hamilton simply shouldn’t be his concern anymore.’