Max Verstappen, the world champion and 2022 championship leader, believes Mercedes will soon be back in the hunt for victories.
The Red Bull driver acknowledges that his rivalry with the German team and Lewis Hamilton has taken a back seat for the time being, but “it will be different if we fight each other again.”
Hamilton has recently returned to the podium, and George Russell claims he wasn’t far away in Austria.
“The positive thing is that I was only about 15 seconds from the podium,” said the 24-year-old.
Mercedes, having apparently solved its ‘porpoising’ issue with the 2022 car, is now pressing the throttle on car upgrades at essentially each race.
“Our best upgrade will be one that you don’t see,” an engineer at the Brackley based team is quoted as saying by Auto Motor und Sport.
Toto Wolff says the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari is now only “two to three tenths” – even though he admits it is often bigger than that.
“We still have to solve that problem,” he said.
Paul Ricard, with its very smooth surface, is expected to particularly suit the innovative W13 design, especially in terms of one-lap qualifying pace.
“If they can start further up the grid, they would already be up there at the front,” Mathias Lauda, son of Mercedes’ late chairman Niki Lauda, told Servus TV.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said: “We expect Mercedes to be fast at Paul Ricard. There are clear signs that they are keeping their porpoising problems under control.
“They’re getting closer to us,” he added. “I expect a six-driver fight which is a fabulous thing for the fans.
“They’re getting involved which will sometimes help us and sometimes hurt us in the battle for the world championship.”
Verstappen agrees that race wins are even back on the cards.
“Maybe at the end of the season. We’ll see,” said the Dutchman.
“They are better than at the start of the year but they need just a little bit more.”
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone even thinks it will be enough to motivate Lewis Hamilton to stay in the sport rather than look elsewhere for challenges.
“At the beginning of the year, I was ready to bet that Hamilton would win the eighth title and leave,” he is quoted by Speed Week.
“But now it does not look like he will leave Formula 1. Maybe he realised that making money in the fashion industry is not as easy as it is here.”