Mercedes fear Lewis Hamilton and co are set for another challenging Grand Prix weekend. F1 will travel to Imola for the fourth race of the season and the Silver Arrows, who have yet to find their best form, believe they have another tricky few days ahead.
For the first time this season, there will be a sprint race to determine the grid for Sunday's showpiece. The team’s Motorsport Strategy Director James Vowles thinks the constructors' champions will be very limited this weekend.
“Imola is going to be a challenging event,” said Vowles, speaking on Mercedes’ own YouTube channel. “It is our first sprint race of the season, so unlike previous events where we had FP1, FP2 and FP3 really to get to grips with the car and test how we are going to improve the car performance.
“We now just have one free practice session and that free practice session dominates what happens in qualifying and in the race, so it is very limited in terms of what we can learn and what we can do. When we get back to the European season, teams would generally bring more performance upgrades,” he added.
“I suspect you will see an evolution of our competitors and we need to make sure we, at the very minimum, keep up with that.” Team principal Toto Wolff also downplayed his team’s chances of success ahead of the Italian race, but also praised his team for the hard work in preparation for the event.
“There’s been a lot of hard work over the Easter weekend in the factory to bring improvements to the car and get it ready to head to the next race, and that shows the team’s dedication to turning the situation around,” the Austrian said. “Of course, we must be realistic, it will take time to make the gains we want, but we’re learning as much as we can from each race and finding avenues to push us forward.”
Despite his team’s slow start, Hamilton remains hopeful Mercedes will compete at the front of the grid once again. "I prefer to stay optimistic. There are 20 races to go,” he said.
"If you think realistically in terms of the way the sport goes in terms of development, the top teams often develop at a similar pace. Will that be the case with this new car? Who knows.
"I'm really hopeful we can get in the fight but with every bit of improvement, Ferrari and Red Bull will probably make a similar sort of step so it's not going to be easy. Yes, the gap is pretty big right now but there is a long way to go."
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