July 23, 2024

Red Bull finished the 2023 F1 season with more than double the points gathered by any other team while Max Verstappen alone scored more points than Lewis Hamilton and George Russell combined

Toto Wolff compared the Mercedes’ challenge of catching rivals Red Bull in 2024 to climbing Mount Everest.

You wish, Toto. Scaling the biggest mountain on the planet seems a whole lot more likely for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell than either of them dethroning Max Verstappen next season.

They are, after all, two incredibly fit, accomplished athletes at the pinnacle of their sport. You wouldn’t bet against Russell and Hamilton reaching the top of the world’s tallest peak if you gave them some climbing equipment and a Sherpa.

It would take a lot more guts to wager on Mercedes to defeat Red Bull the following season. This is not meant to cast doubt on the skills and judgment of those who make the important decisions at Brackley; the majority of the brains that produced a string of eight constructors’ titles between 2014 and 2021 are still present in the corridors of Mercedes’ F1 headquarters.

However, a plethora of factors, not to mention the intensity of the competition, are conspiring against them. In 2023, Red Bull’s car technology was so advanced and Verstappen’s performance so dominant that they could have easily won both titles without even fielding Sergio Perez.

The performance disparity is still very large. Furthermore, that comes after Red Bull neglected to develop their RB19 car at all for months in order to concentrate entirely on their next racing vehicle, as Hamilton noted after hobbling to ninth place in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Red Bull has an enormous advantage over their next opponent in terms of preparing them for the 2024 season. At this point, it’s difficult to envision anything other than Christian Horner’s team showing up to preseason testing in Bahrain with a car that is unmatched.

Teams chasing a leader in the past have been able to solve the issue by simply throwing money at it. Mercedes has never been short of cash; last month, they revealed enormous profits from the 2022 season, even though they were outperformed by Red Bull in the race.

But they are no longer able to do that. Though it’s a great way to put all 10 teams on a more equal financial footing, the budget cap is very restrictive for teams that need to invest heavily in car development. Mercedes’s options for wind tunnel testing are further restricted by the cap, and since they lost the championship to Ferrari by a narrow margin, they will have less than the Italians and marginally more than Red Bull in 2024.

A lack of talent is not the problem – Wolff has plenty of that at his disposal both on the track and off it. But all the factors in play mean that his analogy of climbing Everest doesn’t quite do justice to the size of the task facing his team over the next 12 months.

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