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What has gone wrong for ‘hugely disappointing’ Mercedes?

Mercedes suffered their first double retirement in over five years at the Australian Grand Prix as frustration grows at a team that dominated F1 for several years.

Lewis Hamilton is having his worst start to a season in F1 with just eight points to his name after three races in his final year at Mercedes before he joins Ferrari in 2025.

George Russell has outqualified and outperformed Hamilton in every meaningful session so far this year but is just seventh in the drivers’ championship following his accident at the end of Sunday’s race in Melbourne.

Russell was battling for sixth place against Fernando Alonso until he crashed while Hamilton was fighting for the lower points-paying positions when his engine failed and he came to a halt on Lap 16.

In qualifying, Hamilton was knocked out in Q2, which was his worst qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix since 2010.

We spoke to Sky Sports F1′s Karun Chandhok to understand what has gone wrong at Mercedes as they look set for another difficult year.

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Lewis Hamilton says the gap from Mercedes to Red Bull is the same as last year after he retired from the Australian Grand Prix following an engine failure.

Why was Melbourne showing so hard to take?

Mercedes’ Melbourne pain was excarcabated by Ferrari’s one-two as Carlos Sainz returned from appendix surgery to end Max Verstappen’s winning run.

McLaren followed Sainz and Charles Leclerc home in third and fourth as Lando Norris took his first podium of the season, with Oscar Piastri letting his team-mate through at one point in the race.

Prior to Russell’s crash, the Mercedes driver was 48 seconds behind leader Sainz in the 58-lap race, underlining their deficit to Red Bull and Ferrari.

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Lewis Hamilton reports an engine failure and retires from a chaotic Australian Grand Prix!

“They will be hugely disappointed with Melbourne. In Jeddah, they realised their downforce packages, neither of them were perfect. The low one was a bit too low and the high one was a to bit high,” explained Chandhok.

“They were always going to be compromised in Jeddah. Speaking to people in Jeddah, they felt Melbourne would be more clean cut for them and they should have a more competitive package. They will go away from the weekend disappointed.

“The DNFs are bad but just in terms of their pace they will be hugely disappointed. At no point did they look like being a close challenger to Ferrari or Mercedes in the race.

“For a team that finished second in the championship last year, it’s looking tricky for them to repeat that this year.”

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A panicked George Russell calls for a red flag over Mercedes team radio following his crash on the penultimate lap of the Australian Grand Prix. Video contains content that some viewers may find distressing.

Why haven’t changes to the W15 worked?

Mercedes changed their car significantly over the winter after their first winless season for 12 years in 2023.

The team changed the chassis design, floor and aerodynamics to give the drivers more predictable rear downforce, so they could attack the corners but it looks like this hasn’t paid off.

Hamilton described the Red Bull as a “rocketship” when Sergio Perez blasted past on the backstraight at Albert Park and was almost astonished on the team radio in Jeddah by McLaren’s performance in the high-speed corners.

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Karun Chandhok says Lewis Hamilton can’t predict what is going to happen with his Mercedes at the moment which is costing him time on the track.

Chandhok also thinks Mercedes are yet to understand their new car, which has left them trailing their rivals.

“They keep talking about this potential for performance and there are clearly still question marks around it. The cars are so complex but you have to say Ferrari and McLaren have done a better job in the off-season,” he added.

Lewis Hamilton’s worst starts to a season in F1 after three races

  • 2009: DQ, 7th, 6th
  • 2010: 3rd, 6th, 6th
  • 2023: 5th, 5th, 2nd
  • 2024: 7th, 9th, DNF

“Despite the fact Mercedes were second in the constructors’ championship last year, it was Ferrari who had the quicker car towards the end of last season and McLaren too.

“Mercedes had good drivers and were able to have less mistakes and reliability, that’s how they got second. It wasn’t on speed.”

Lewis Hamilton
Image: For the first time in his career after three races, Lewis Hamilton hasn’t scored a podium

Should Toto Wolff be held responsible?

Toto Wolff has admitted that it is “fair” to question his position as Mercedes team principal following their disappointing start to the season leaves them 71 points behind Red Bull.

Wolff oversaw a period of historic success as Mercedes won eight successive constructors’ titles between 2014 and 2021, but on Sunday faced questions over whether he has considered his future as team principal.

“As a corner of this business, I need to be sure that my contribution is positive and creative,” Wolff said.

“I look myself in the mirror every single day about everything I do, and if I believe that I should ask the manager question or the trainer question, I think it’s a fair question, but it’s not what I feel at the moment that I should do.”

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Toto Wolff responds to the rumours that Max Verstappen could potentially join Mercedes if he were to leave Red Bull.

Wolff and Mercedes technical director James Allison signed long-term contracts in January, with the latter only returning to the F1 team last April.

“I don’t think you can blame a single person in a team. Toto and James are the ultimate leaders of the team and therefore carry a greater responsibility for the overall performance than people in individual departments,” said Chandhok.

“But they are not the ones drawing the car or the ones looking into the detail of it. I don’t think sacking Toto or James is going to fix the problem. What they need to do is understand what Red Bull have got right and how Red Bull have been able to unlock this amazing performance in this era of car.

“Whether that means poaching some people from Red Bull, that might be an answer. That’s where Toto and James come in. It’s about making sure they are hoovering up the right people in the team.”

James Allison returned to the Mercedes F1 team in April 2023
Image: James Allison returned to the Mercedes F1 team in April 2023

Concern over talent at Mercedes?

Since Hamilton last won the drivers’ championship in 2020, Mercedes have lost several key members of the team including engine guru Andy Cowell that year. James Vowles left to become Williams team principal at the start of 2023 and head of vehicle performance Loic Serra will join Ferrari in 2025.

Amid all of that, Allison was focusing on Ineos Team UK Britannia’s America’s Cup team from 2021 to 2023 and during that time, Mike Elliott was in charge of Mercedes’ cars, including the 2022 machine which suffered from heavy porpoising (bouncing).

Mercedes have signed Ferrari’s Simone Resta and Enrico Sampo for 2025. Resta worked alongside Allison at Ferrari between 2013 and 2016, so the pair will be reunited at Mercedes.

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Carlos Sainz produces an incredible performance to win the Australian Grand Prix for a Ferrari 1-2, while George Russell crashes out on the final lap for a Mercedes double DNF.

“Every organisational structure will have gaps that need to be plugged. They must feel, reading the press release, it sounds like Simone Resta is going to work alongside James on the overall structure of the team, rather than detailed design,” said Chandhok.

“What perhaps they need to understand is further down the food chain and in terms of detailed design, are there people at Red Bull who they can have? In the same way they lost Loic Serra to Ferrari, that’s quite a loss to them because Loic was highly rated at Brackley.”

How likely is a Mercedes turnaround?

Mercedes have watched rivals Red Bull win 24 of the last 26 races since George Russell gave the Silver Arrows their last victory at the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Hamilton hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since December 2021 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and Chandhok feels Mercedes may already need to put more of their focus into the new 2026 regulations.

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Ted Kravitz is in the paddock to review all the biggest stories from the Australian Grand Prix.

“I look at it and go, they think their existing team can still do the job. That’s the question. Do they have the confidence in the people who are there, who haven’t been able to do the job in the past few years, are going to get it right in the fourth year?” he said.

“It’s looking unlikely because next year’s car will probably be an evolution of this year’s car as everyone looks to 2026.

“It’s tricky times for Mercedes because at this point, next year is not looking great as it’s an extension of this year for everyone. It’s all about how do they get the right people and right concept for 2026?”

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