Mercedes still feels in catch-up mode, despite “calmer” W14 F1 car

The German manufacturer had an encouraging opening day to pre-season testing in Bahrain on Thursday, its 2023 challenger proving to be much better handling than last year’s troubled W13 as Lewis Hamilton finished sixth on the timesheets headed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Twelve months ago, the team had undergone a disastrous test in Bahrain as both its drivers struggled to contain the excessive porpoising that ultimately plagued its first half to the season.

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But while the W14 has shown encouraging progress on the handling front, Mercedes says that has not altered its belief that it is still needing to close the gap to last year’s pace-setters Red Bull and Ferrari.

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “The performance picture is always blurred after the first day so it’s impossible to say where we stand, but we’ve already identified several key areas where we can find some performance.

“We’ll work on the assumption that we’re playing catch-up and need to pull out all the stops to find performance ahead of the first race here in one week’s time.

“The next two days are going to be just as packed as today as we’re squeezing every bit of learning we can into the programme. Hopefully the car continues to run like clockwork, and we can make the most of the remaining track time.”

Hamilton, who ran in the afternoon session of the opening day, echoed Shovlin’s thoughts that the team needed to keep its head down despite the early potential shown.

“We’ve got to keep pushing, focus on ourselves, and stay focused,” he explained. “It’s difficult to know where we are in the order, but we’ll get a better feeling in the days to come.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Shovlin was uplifted that the team had encountered few problems during its early running, which had left it encouraged about the baseline that it has.

“The car has run faultlessly from start to finish and that has allowed us to complete an ambitious programme for day one,” he said.

“It always takes a few days to understand a new car, but we’ve got a reasonable handle on where we want to improve the balance.

“It was encouraging that it’s a much calmer, more stable platform to work with than the W13.”

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