Lewis Hamilton ‘much happier’ with Mercedes’ 2024 F1 challenger

For the past two Formula 1 seasons, Mercedes has struggled with their racecar. The team brought a surprising “zeropod” design to the grid in 2022 with the W13, and after struggling with the physics all year long, the design was scrapped midway through the 2023 season with the W14, last year’s challenger.

Those difficulties led to two tough seasons for the team, and caused much frustration for drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

However, they seem to have something working with the W15, their challenger for the 2024 season. The team seemed confident coming out of pre-season testing, and following the first day of practice before the Bahrain Grand Prix, that confidence has been raised a few notches. The team topped the timing sheets in FP2, with Hamilton just ahead of Russell. With each team trying their hand at some qualifying runs during the session, there is a thought that Mercedes could truly be in the mix this weekend.

The quotes from the team following practice speak to their confidence in the W15, even if they remained realistic about how the grid stacks up.

“We’re not going to get carried away after one day of practice. Our qualifying pace did look strong. We made some changes from the test and the improvement exceeded our expectations. But ultimately our long run pace is where it counts,” said Russell in the team’s post-practice media report. “Verstappen looked comfortably quickest, and it was very tight with the Ferraris, the McLarens, and the Aston Martins. So we’ve likely got a real fight on our hands there.

Nevertheless, we’re pleased with how our day has gone; the car is performing well. We will sit down and understand where the main improvements came from and try to sustain that. We want to be fighting for good positions on Saturday night.”

Hamilton shared Russell’s excitement with the car, as well as a more realistic view of the grid on the whole.

“The car was feeling good, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know there is more to extract, and our long run pace isn’t in the fight with the Red Bulls,” said Hamilton. “Overall though, I’m feeling much happier with the car than last year. We’ve made some good improvements and it feels much more like a race car. It’s a really good platform for us to build from. We just need to keep our heads down and keep chasing.”

According to Andrew Shovlin, the team’s Trackside Engineering Director, the team was concerned about their one-lap pace coming out of pre-season testing. However, the results on Thursday indicate that Mercedes has taken some positive steps on that front.

“Following the test we were most concerned about our single lap pace. We had both drivers in the simulator before returning here. From the running today, it looks like we have improved,” outlined Shovline.

The strength of Mercedes on Thursday, contrasted with the one-lap pace from both Red Bull and Ferrari, led many to speculate that the Silver Arrows had cranked up the engine a little bit more than their rivals, and that both Ferrari and Red Bull would respond in kind on Friday. Shovlin gave a nod in that direction with his post-practice comments.

“We’re certainly not getting carried away, as there is plenty of scope within power unit modes and fuel loads for several cars to find a chunk of time before tomorrow,” added Shovlin. “It’s encouraging though that the picture we had last week seems to have improved.”

As with their drivers, Shovlin remained realistic about where the team stands heading into qualifying. However, he shared this basic belief: The W15 is a big step forward for the team.

“The long run data also looks close. Verstappen is still comfortably out front, as we saw last week, but behind him it’s going to be a tight battle for the remaining podium spots. We know we’ve got plenty to fine tune on the balance,” described Shovlin. “It’s still early days with the W15, and we’re learning how to get lap-time out of it with each run, but it’s already feeling very different to the last two years that we have been here.”

The mood is certainly different around the team heading into 2024.

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