Mercedes’ extremely critical judgement of its own performance at the Monaco and Azerbaijan Grands Prix reflects the view it is falling short of its Formula 1 title-winning standard.
Team boss Toto Wolff said he felt pain, “overwhelming” frustration and “anger” in the wake of its second bitterly disappointing race in a row last weekend in Baku, while trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “We know the level it takes to win championships and we’re not at that level right now.”
The Monaco and Baku circuits were not expected to suit Mercedes so it is no surprise it struggled compared to Red Bull. But these weekends cannot simply be dismissed as a result of tracks that just didn’t suit the W12.
Mercedes suffered shortcomings in several key areas. “Lots of things that are not running smoothly as they have in the past few years,” in Wolff’s words.
Technically it could not find an answer to its tyre warm-up issues and had one car severely lacking performance at each race, with Lewis Hamilton suffering in Monaco and Valtteri Bottas in Azerbaijan.
Operationally, Mercedes cost Bottas a first Monaco podium with a botched pitstop and a front right wheel change that started on Sunday afternoon and was only finished on Tuesday morning back at the factory.
Mercedes also found itself dramatically on the backfoot in Baku, searching for performance all weekend and ultimately relying on Max Verstappen’s unfortunate tyre blowout to escape without suffering even more damage in both championships.
And seven-time world champion Hamilton compounded its struggles by accidentally selecting a brake preset at the final start in Baku that caused him to lock up and turn what looked like a fortunate victory into a point-less 15th-place finish.
As such, returning to conventional circuits will not solve all Mercedes’ ills. Even if it will address the biggest one, which is the lack of outright performance the W12 has had at back-to-back street circuits.
“It just feels painful,” Wolff said after the Baku race. “We had the hand almost close to the trophy because Max didn’t score. The emotion of frustration is just so overwhelming at the moment.
“What I take away is that we must bring our A-game to fight for this championship, and our car was not there all weekend.
“Operationally, we just need to perform faultlessly and all of us haven’t done that the last two weekends.”
Mercedes knows it has a team, car and driver line-up capable of winning the drivers’ and constructors’ titles for an eighth year in a row.
But it has needed some “tough and honest” conversations in the days since Baku, discussions that will stick a finger in an open wound and be even more uncomfortable than the surprisingly candid comments made in public.
It seems there’d be little consolation even if the dramatic final laps of the Azerbaijan GP hadn’t happened and Hamilton had rescued a podium, behind both Red Bull drivers, from a weekend that started with both Mercedes men outside the top 10.
“They are the toughest [races of my career],” Wolff said.
“Not having performance in Monaco, Valtteri who would have made it solid on the podium [but had a] a pitstop of 36 hours, is not really a great achievement based on the standards that we’re setting ourselves.
“And then a car that was almost in all sessions [in Baku] nowhere.
“To be honest, cruising in third was OK, but it’s just not acceptable that we’re not getting the car into a performance position after the start or out of the pitstops.
“We’re losing seconds over seconds with the car [not] in a happy window where it functions. It just takes too long.”
And that’s without even considering the baffling circumstances of Bottas’s weekend-from-hell in Baku, as he qualified 10th and had a mystified run to 12th in the race – a merited result given his absence of pace.
“We just need to be the best of us, the best that we have, and we haven’t given the drivers a competitive package this weekend – far from a competitive package,” said Wolff.
“And that is the frustration. It is not only the incident at the end [Hamilton’s mistake] that frustrates, it’s overall not meeting our own expectations – all of us together, Lewis, the engineers, myself, everybody.”
There is, Mercedes admits, much that needs improving. And Wolff has promised that a team “which is so strong and so angry” will “turn that anger into positive form and come back”.
Mercedes has recovered from setbacks in the past. This time it has deficits on-track and off it, hence the extent of its self-criticism.
It is a tactic questioned by Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who says he disagrees with Wolff’s “roasting” of his own team. But Mercedes has a habit of confronting its shortcomings openly. And there is a difference between throwing team members under the bus and acknowledging that there has been a collective failure as a group.
Wolff says Mercedes needs to buck its ideas up “to make sure that we are actually able to compete for this championship”.
Confronting the reality of the last two weekends, rather than hiding behind the hope that ‘normal’ tracks will fix everything, is key to that.