Pivotal performance by Mercedes in Barcelona gives the team new hope

While the team is elated there is also acknowledgment that there is still an awfully long way to go

There was deserved elation at Mercedes after taking a double podium at the Spanish Grand Prix, the tension etched into the faces of some team members draining away. But as the team heads back to Brackley they are more than aware that they have only reached basecamp. The mountain lies ahead.

With Lewis Hamilton taking second place and his team-mate George Russell third in Barcelona, it was their best result of the season and indeed the outstanding performance of their car in terms of drivability, pace and balance. Hamilton called it the best performing car Mercedes had built since he last challenged for the title in 2021.

They were right to enjoy the moment, the past year and a half has been torturous for a team used to competing for titles but reduced to hammering round in uncompetitive cars scrapping largely for at best a podium as Red Bull and Max Verstappen marched into the middle distance, champions elect already this season with 15 races remaining.

Yet there is also acknowledgment after the success in Barcelona that there is still an awfully long way to go. Hamilton, it is clear, still wants an eighth title; Mercedes want more titles but they will not be coming this year.


Verstappen finished 24 seconds up the road from the seven-time champion and the Dutchman was largely cruising for the final third. The gap is enormous and while Hamilton posited the hope of fighting Red Bull for a win by the end of the season that remains a major ask.

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, while clearly pleased also had to manage expectations. “We learned we have a good car, we are much closer but you see where the benchmark is,” he said, referring to Verstappen’s advantage.

At least perhaps for the first time this season there was also real optimism in his eyes. “We need to chip away and we are good at grinding once there is a set-up direction we just go for it,” he said. “Let’s keep our expectations real, there is such a long way to go to catch Red Bull but this is a good moment to see the development direction is right.”

What became clear then in Barcelona was that for Mercedes this was a pivotal performance not on track on Sunday afternoon so much as it was for the long term. For the past season and half the car had been a mystery, hard to set up and which behaved unpredictably, making it difficult to develop consistently.

In Barcelona beyond the headline of outpacing Aston Martin and Ferrari what really mattered was that finally, after 15 months, Mercedes have a platform they understand and that is key, as Hamilton pointedly noted, for the chance for him and the team to challenge Verstappen properly next season.

It cannot, however, be taken for granted that they have necessarily leapfrogged both Aston Martin or Ferrari yet. The former were unusually below par in Spain. How they react to a resurgent Mercedes and whether they can keep pace with them will be a fascinating subplot moving forward.

For Ferrari the indications in Spain were far more troubling. Having begun 2022 fighting Red Bull for wins they have fallen further and further away. They brought upgrades to this weekend’s race which, far from improving matters, may have been another blind alley. Their car remains vicious on its tyres and Carlos Sainz, who started second on the grid, finished fifth, 45 seconds off Verstappen. This was most certainly not the result the Scuderia had been anticipating.

Barcelona then, often lays bare a car. It is the circuit against which performance and data can be measured with ease, such is the volume of testing that has been conducted here. Hamilton knows this all too well, it was in pre-season testing in Spain that the strengths of some of Mercedes’ most dominant cars became clear and here in 2022 that the weakness of the design under the new regulations was first exposed.

“They normally say if you’re quick in Barcelona then the car should generally be good everywhere,” he noted after the race with a smile and sense of purpose. “This weekend particularly, we’ve understood the car even more. So, I think we can count on that being strong moving forward.”

This understanding is crucial and while too much cannot be read into the Barcelona result it is without doubt significant. Mercedes have a long way to go to catch Red Bull but whether they can do so this year to challenge even for a race win still seems doubtful. Verstappen has, after all, long since already set off on his final ascent to the summit. However with their exceptional development capacity and a driver pairing that is without doubt formidable the Spanish GP might be considered the first step in returning the team to the giddy heights of fighting for the title.