Mercedes had quite a tough start to their Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, which is not what many Formula 1 fans had hoped to see.
The W14 has not been exactly what Mercedes had hoped it would be throughout the 2023 Formula 1 season. But the introduction of several key upgrades has helped the team drastically.
That showed when Lewis Hamilton earned his first pole position since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The big reason for this surprising surge of pace in the W14 is not so evident to the naked eye. The evolution of fuel in the car has made quite an impact on Mercedes. Low fuel runs in qualifying made Hamilton slightly faster than the dominant Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
Once Sunday came around, however, a car filled with fuel resulted in Mercedes struggling for race pace. It started with Hamilton dropping three places into P4 right at the start, and it persisted for much of the race.
One of the key things to notice about the W14was how much pace was gained once the fuel levels decreased toward the end of the race. Both Hamilton and teammate George Russell were absolutely flying on track at the end, running several tenths quicker than some of the cars in front of them.
Hamilton also openly acknowledged the differences in pace from the start to the end of the race.
"“The pace we had at the end was very strong and if we had had that throughout, we would have had a much better day.”"
The difference in pace was quite staggering and could be seen in the final 20 laps of the 71-lap race around the 14-turn, 2.722-mile (4.381-kilometer) Hungaroring road course.
Hamilton was nearly able to make up a 20-second gap on Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, and Russell finished ahead of both Ferraris. He caught Carlos Sainz Jr. and nearly Charles Leclerc, whom he finished above as a result of Leclerc’s five-second penalty.
Going into the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend and additional Formula 1 races after the summer break, this should be an eye-opener for Mercedes.
For one, it tells them that in near-ideal situations, the car is capable of competing with Red Bull and makes them a consistent competitor for a P2 and/or P3 finish each race weekend.
Additionally, the setup and strategy they go for when the car is filled with fuel should be more carefully considered. Every race is long, and Mercedes are a team fully capable of finishing near the top. However, being able to drive without much distress for the duration of the race is what will give them the success they seek.
Mercedes have put together a critical part of their puzzle, and if they are able to connect the other pieces, they could be very lethal and make themselves very comfortable in P2 of the constructor championship after the summer break.