Mercedes are still competing to secure P2 in the constructors’ championship this season but their drivers have never been able to lay a glove on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the hunt for the drivers’ title.
Hamilton and Russell both signed fresh terms to remain at Mercedes but technical expert Gary Anderson insists that next season’s W15 will still be problematic.
“You would expect a team of Mercedes’ stature, experience and budget – they are there to win, not finish fifth and seventh – to improve their car during the season but they have not,” former Jordan technical director Anderson told The Telegraph.
“It is very unlikely that the team will have miraculous development over the winter.
“Looking at the current rate of progress within the top five teams, I would expect Mercedes to be at best the fourth fastest team at the start of next year.
“You have to prove to yourself that you understand your problems and after 20 months and 38 races since these ground effect rules came into play I am yet to see this.
“A team cannot just put all their hopes into the winter.
“Not much has changed since the start of last year. They appear to go into a race meeting not having a clue what to expect.
“If I was at the team I would not have confidence that the direction they are taking next year – whatever it is – is the correct one.
“They will probably be heading in the visual direction of Red Bull, but the visual side is only a small part in the overall performance of the car.”
Mercedes began this season sticking to their ‘zeropod’ idea but, after just one race in Bahrain where they disappointed, they conceded that the philosophy was flawed.
McLaren, notably, have proved that copying Red Bull’s concept can yield greater results.
But Anderson again warns that being inspired by the RB19 goes beyond what the car looks like: “The visual concept is something that makes the car work, but you have to do all the other non-visual stuff with it too, like understanding the detail on the under-floor.
“McLaren seem to understand that well now after their woeful start. Becoming Red Bull-alikes, if you will, has taken them (and other teams) forward.
“This is the main area where Mercedes are lost. If they are going to start again with their car, they need to begin in this area.”
Hamilton’s new contract with Mercedes, which will take him to the age of 40, has piled the pressure on Toto Wolff’s team to deliver their illustrious driver a car capable of winning.
Yet, Anderson fears a third year of struggle for Hamilton and Mercedes.
“The overall package is just not working and I do not see that they have a route planned out of this,” he said.
“Pinning your hopes on development between seasons is a little blind and is concerning.
“If they are not making progress when the cars are on track, how are they going to do that when there is no running in the off-season?”