The Formula 1 season endured by Mercedes in 2022 was remarkably similar to that suffered by Ferrari back in 2005.
Both teams were coming off the back of an unprecedented period of success, with rule changes introduced in both seasons to shake things up – although it must be said that the 2005 changes were tweaks as opposed to the all-out revolution of this year.
Both squads would only claim a single race win and slip to third in the Constructors as other battled for the titles.
But in response to their annus horribilis of 2005, Ferrari bounced back in 2006 to challenge Renault and Fernando Alonso.
It is something Mercedes are also well-equipped to do in 2023, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell having all the ingredients they need to spoil Max Verstappen’s attempts at becoming just the fifth driver to win three consecutive Drivers’ crowns.
Red Bull’s penalty and Mercedes’ understanding
Red Bull’s biggest concern going into the new season is that of the development penalty they will be forced to work with.
As penalty for breaching the cost cap in 2021, the team were handed a deduction in their wind-tunnel and CFD allocation.
As Constructors’ champions, Red Bull were already set for a prescribed lower quantity of development time on the sliding scale that has been introduced, with the 10% penalty giving both Mercedes and Ferrari even more of an advantage over Christian Horner’s Milton Keynes concern.
They will only be allowed 63% of simulations, with Mercedes enjoying a 17% advantage with 80% of a full allocation.
That is a sizeable development chunk in Mercedes favour, meaning Red Bull and technical chief Adrian Newey must be sure not to enter any cul-de-sacs and lose any more of their precious allocation in solving the problems that could arise.
Also threatening for Red Bull is the fact that Mercedes will be not be as far off the pace as they were in 2022.
After their early troubles with the W13, the team eventually discovered a fundamental design flaw in the car, relating to the design of the floor – something that was fixed in the car design back in October 2021.
The aerodynamic porpoising masked this flaw until it was far too late to be rectified in-season, but Mercedes were all too aware of the problem and how they needed to fix it.
Their US Grand Prix upgrade package worked well and gives the team a strong base for the W14, with Toto Wolff admitting that the team had already changed concept mid-season after writing 2022 off.
Excellent reliability for Mercedes
If there was a single chink the Red Bull armour in 2022, it was the early reliability failures endured by the team.
In the Bahrain opener, both Verstappen and Sergio Perez retired in the closing laps, while the World Champion also retired from round three in Australia.
Perez would also take an early bath in Canada as Mercedes were almost bullet-proof with just one mechanical DNF through the entire season.
That came for Hamilton in the Abu Dhabi finale when the hydraulics packed up on Lap 55 of 58 to bring his worst season to a close.
As for Ferrari, they suffered multiple failures at key points throughout the early and mid-part of the season, and were forced to turn down their power units to stop them from expiring in the latter races of the year.
If there is anything Mercedes can work on in this department, it is trying to eke out more performance from their offering, while retaining the excellent reliability record.
The driver factor
Up until Brazil, the Red Bull driver chemistry was rather cordial, but following Verstappen’s refusal to let Perez past to aid his (ultimately unsuccessful) push for P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, relations were stretched to say the least.
It stems from Verstappen’s belief that Perez crashed on purpose in Monaco qualifying to deny the former a shot at pole – something flatly denied by Perez when asked by RacingNews365.com.
While Verstappen is firmly cemented as number one and will not be challenged at Red Bull by Perez, it is a different scenario at Mercedes.
There is a firm ‘master and apprentice’ dynamic between Hamilton and Russell as one passes on all his knowledge and experience to he who will carry the Silver Arrows into the second-half of the decade.
That being said, Russell is certainly not deferential to Hamilton, and took Mercedes’ only Pole Position (Hungary) and win (Brazil) of the season.
But the relationship is different, with the drivers certainly open to team orders if the situation requires such intervention from the pit-wall.
Given the relative mess of Ferrari at the moment as it embarks on yet another rebuild under new boss Frederic Vasseur, it is Mercedes who are best placed to challenge Verstappen and Red Bull in 2023.
And given the motivation Hamilton still has to claim that eighth title that was snatched away at the death in 2021, another Hamilton vs Verstappen battle, with some Russell thrown in, is a tantalising prospect…