2024 F1 season previews: How will the final season for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes unfold?

Let’s face it.

Putting together a season preview for Mercedes in 2024 is a journey into uncharted waters.

Given everything that has happened this off-season, and is set to happen at the end of the upcoming campaign.

As you likely know by now, seven-time Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton rocked the Formula 1 world with his decision to leave Mercedes for Ferrari. Not ahead of this season, however, but at the end of it, meaning that Hamilton still has one more year at Mercedes.

How will it all unfold?

There are certainly reasons for optimism. Hamilton is still in the seat for one more season, and George Russell is certainly a very capable driver. Toto Wolff has expressed optimism regarding the W15, the team’s challenger for 2024, and they are coming off a year that saw them fend off Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship, an improvement from 2022’s P3.

They also needed a steady, mature drive from Russell in the season finale to secure that result, as his P3 in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped the Silver Arrows fend off Ferrari at the death.

Will 2024 be a true season of redemption for the team, or will Hamilton’s decision linger as the impetus for a season to forget?

F1 2023 Spanish Grand Prix

Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

2023 highlight: Spanish Grand Prix

Coming into the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix, there were a number of storylines grabbing the attention of the F1 world. One was certainly Max Verstappen, who had won four of the six races at that point in the season and looked strong again during practice sessions, eventually capturing pole position during qualifying.

There was also hometown hero Fernando Alonso, and his pursuit of an elusive 33rd grand prix victory.

There was even hope for a jumbled field, and perhaps a strong day for Alpine. Both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly advanced into Q3 and when all was said and done on Saturday, Gasly qualified fourth with Ocon in seventh.

Then there was Mercedes. After more than a season working with the “zeropod” design they brought to the grid in 2022 with the W13, they had finally moved in a different direction for the Monaco Grand Prix with the W14. While that did deliver a double-points result for the team — with Hamilton finishing fourth and Russell right behind him in fifth — there were still questions on whether their alterations to the W14 (and the result in Monaco) were circuit-specific.

How would the upgraded W14 handle Barcelona?

There were some early stumbled that weekend. Hamilton managed to find a spot in Q3, but could only qualify fifth. Russell failed to advance into Q3, and Saturday ended with him slated to start the race in 12th, and some frustration within the team regarding an incident in Q2 that saw the Mercedes teammates come together.

“Of course, it doesn’t help when you have a misunderstanding between the two cars. It was a lack of communication that we should have handled in the garage,” said Wolff after qualifying in the team’s media report. “It was an intense moment at the end of Q2 though, so there is nobody we need to blame.”

As dawn broke Sunday Mercedes might have been an afterthought, but the race did not play out that way. On one of those afternoons that saw the W14 get into the ideal window, both Hamilton and Russell worked their way through the field, Hamilton even surviving contact with Lando Norris on the opening lap. Both drivers were inside the points after ten laps, and by the halfway point of the race, they were in podium positions.

When the dust settled, that is where they finished. Verstappen pulled away from the field, but Hamilton settled into a comfortable P2, while Russell managed to hold off Sergio Pérez for a third-place finish. It was the team’s first double podium since Brazil back in 2022, and would ultimately be their only double podium of the season.

“The lower temperatures today and on Saturday really suited us; it was nice and fresh, not too hot nor too cold, and the car was in a mega window,” said Wolff following the race. “We took a decision to go in another direction early in the season; it was a risky move, but everyone has just pushed forward and we’ve got a good race car.

“We now need to just keep chipping away. We are a good team at grinding away; once there is a clear direction we just go for it. Let’s keep our expectations real though. We’ve got a long way to go to catch Red Bull but it’s good to see we are moving in the right direction.”

2023 lowlight: Dutch Grand Prix

Thanks to weather, last year’s Dutch Grand Prix was one of the more dramatic afternoons.

Unfortunately for Mercedes, the weather — and some decisions — added up to perhaps their toughest weekend of the season.

The return of Daniel Ricciardo, and his subsequent injury which forced AlphaTauri to turn to Liam Lawson, was the first frenetic event of the weekend. Then came qualifying on Saturday, which saw mixed results for the team in rainy and breezy weather. Russell managed to qualify in third, while Hamilton struggled with the setup of the W14 and was eliminated in Q2.

Their fortunes flipped in the race itself.

Weather was the story again on Sunday, with heavy rain impacting the start of the Dutch Grand Prix. Despite starting in third, Russell stayed out until Lap 4 before coming in to make the switch to intermediates, and rejoined the fight in P19. Hamilton endured a similar fall, pitting to make the change and coming out in P20.

The veteran driver managed to fight through the field, ultimately finishing inside the points in P6. Russell did not enjoy the same success, eventually finishing in P17.

Both drivers wondered after the race what could have been.

“But overall, it’s a feeling of what could have been: if we’d made different calls, we had the pace to challenge the top two,” said Hamilton in the team’s post-race report. “We weren’t far off in the dry – and it would have been good to be in that fight.”

“That was a tough one today – I went into the race expecting to fight for a podium and I ended up P17. We were expecting the rain to say for just a few minutes, and it ended up being close to ten,” said Russell. “It was ready for inters but I thought I could brave it out for another lap or two if it was only going to be short – but that’s not what happened. We’d rather have a fast car and a bad day than the opposite, but it was a missed opportunity today.”

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Previews

Photo by Edmund So/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Outlook for 2024

Keeping the focus on 2024, there are reasons for optimism at Mercedes.

The team managed to bounce back from an underwhelming P3 in the Constructors’ Championship in 2022 to finish second in 2023, which in a year that saw incredible dominance from Red Bull is certainly an accomplishment.

Then, as the team launched the W15, they spoke of optimism, and the belief that if nothing else, the W15 will be more consistent than its predecessors, which should make life easier for their drivers.

“A big focus has been on improving the previous car’s unpredictable rear axle,” said Technical Director James Allison in the team’s W15 launch report to the media. “We have worked hard to ensure that both axles, but particularly the rear axle, retain better control of the tyre than on the W14. There’s also been some housekeeping on areas in which we had room for improvement, including the DRS effect, and pit stop performance.”

In addition, Mercedes believes they have a much better floor on the W15 this year, a critical component to success with the current generation of F1 cars.

“With this current generation of cars, so much of the performance comes from how the floor interacts with the road. Whether or not a car is effective is down to how well that floor is permitted to behave aerodynamically,” added Allison. “We feel like we have had a good winter, but F1 is a relative game and only time will tell how big a step we’ve made. We’re focused on getting the most from the car we launch, but we are excited by the development race that will follow as the regulations are still young and opportunities abound.”

For Wolff, who has long maintained that failure is a necessary prerequisite to success, the struggles with both the W13 and the W14 may very well pay off with the W15.

“As the saying goes: when it stings, it sticks. I believe the previous two years were necessary for us to readjust, recalibrate and reinvent ourselves in certain areas. That root-and-branch approach is never easy,” said Wolff at the launch of the W15. “But we’ve made progress and look forward to taking the next step with the W15. It won’t be a linear path, but when we stumble, we will get back up and keep climbing.”

Development is not linear … that sounds familiar.

So there may very well be reason for optimism at Mercedes, given their new direction.

Yet, there is still the looming specter of Hamilton’s departure, which will likely overshadow every moment for the team this year. There is reason for optimism on the track, but how will (gestures in the general direction of everything else happening at Mercedes right now) impact their season?

Person under the most pressure to perform in 2024: Toto Wolff

Weeks ago when I put a first draft of this piece together, James Allison’s name was here.

After all, with the team looking yet again to try and get the physics right with their challenger for the upcoming year, Allison’s technical vision is certainly a massive talking point as Mercedes enters the 2024 campaign. The ill-fated zeropod design of 2022 and the struggles last year to refine and develop the W14 have hardly been forgotten. After all, even the W13 won a race. The W14 became the first Mercedes design since the W02 back in 2011 to not taste victory.

Meaning yes, there is a lot of pressure on Allison this season, who outlined back in December the team’s “ambitious” program for the W15. “But we have nevertheless set a pretty ambitious program. We have quite a lot of strength in depth here and we’ve made quite a lot of progress with next year’s car,” said Allison on the Performance People podcast. “Whether it proves sufficient or not, only time will tell, but that’s what I’m hoping for us and I know that all my colleagues and team-mates around me will be hoping for the same.”

All of the above changed with Hamilton’s thunderbolt.

With Hamilton’s departure now coming at the end of the season, the focus shifts to Wolff. How does he keep the team together this year? How does he manage the relationship in the garage with a legendary driver slated to depart come year’s end? Who does he tap to slide into Hamilton’s soon-to-be-vacated seat, one of the most coveted in all of motorsport?

Simply put, Wolff has a lot on his plate this season.

2024 Mercedes lineup

Team Principal: Toto Wolff
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
Challenger: W15

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