Having hoped that its new W15 car would help it make the leap to get within striking distance of Red Bull, its recent struggles in Saudi Arabia have served as a wake-up call about how much more work still needs to be done.

But while the competitive picture did not look too good in Jeddah – as it found itself finishing behind McLaren and Aston Martin – the team feels that its true form is being disguised by one particular problem.

And that is a mysterious characteristic that makes the W15 not perform as it should in high-speed corners – where a combination of bouncing and loss of downforce plus grip are costing it a chunk of time to the opposition.

The team feels that this weakness is accounting for pretty much all of its deficit – as the car seems to be competitive in other areas of the track.

Ace Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said in Saudi Arabia: “We are quick everywhere else pretty much. We know that we have a smaller rear wing, we’re compensating what we’re losing through the corners. But it’s just at high speed where we’re losing all the lap time.”

Wolff’s remarks seem to be backed by real-world data, as GPS comparisons of the qualifying performance of Mercedes at the last two Saudi Arabian Grands Prix have exposed details of the issue it is facing.

Remarkably, despite the dramatic step forward that the team has been able to make between the W14 and W15, its 2024 challenger has shown itself to be actually slower in high-speed corners.

GPS overlays of the qualifying laps of 2023 and 2024 show that in the run from the high-speed Turn 4 apex through to Turn 8, the W15 car is notably lacking.

George Russell, Mercedes W15

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Comparing Russell’s data (as he was the quickest Mercedes both years), it shows that while 12 months ago he was easily flat out through the majority of this section, this time around he was having to lift quite a bit.

The speed drop-off (costing him around 10km/h) meant that having gone into the Turn 4 complex pretty much neck and neck, Russell dropped around 0.130 seconds in this short sequence alone – a deficit that wasn’t recovered until just beyond the bottom hairpin bend halfway around the lap.

From then on until the start/finish line, the Mercedes was notably quicker than last year. It ended the lap more than half a second ahead – proving that performance in top speed and medium/low-speed corners is much improved.

Given how much lap time is being left on the table in the high-speed corners, Mercedes knows where its focus must be, but right now it doesn’t have any clear answers as to what is going on.

And things are especially confusing because how the car is performing on track does not match what its simulation and simulator data back at the factory says should be happening.

The unpredictable losses of grip – which has a clear impact on driver confidence – has not been traced back to anything obvious.

And the problem also does not appear to be uniform throughout qualifying and the race. Snaps of oversteer on low fuel are exacerbated by bouncing, but in the race it is rather down to inconsistent grip and downforce.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

As Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “There’s more fuel on the car. You’re going a bit slower. And that seemed to calm down and wasn’t such an issue. And then the big one is we don’t really have enough grip there. So that’s one of the things that we are working hard on this week because Melbourne has similar nature of corners.”

Further adding to the complicated picture is the fact that the pace of the Mercedes compared to the opposition does not appear stable throughout a race weekend.

The W15 appears able to hit the ground running on Fridays – when teams normally are pretty consistent in terms of fuel loads – but is not able to make gains as the track rubbers in. In fact, Russell thinks the Mercedes drops away as the weekend progresses.

Speaking after the race in Saudi he said: “FP1 straight out of the box, we were top of the timesheets and always in the top three. FP2, P2. Then both weekends, the peace just falling away from us. That hasn’t been our competitors getting faster, that’s been us getting slower. So, we need to understand why that is.”

Since returning from the first two races of the season, Mercedes has thrown everything at trying to get on top of her problems. But any progress it has made is something that can only be proven at the race track, which is why it has talked about preparing “experiments” for the Melbourne weekend.

One of these tests is likely to be reverting to its Bahrain test-spec floor to see if its race one upgrade has introduced an unintended side effect.

With Albert Park’s run from Turn 7 through to the Turn 9/10 high-speed chicane being exactly in the 250km/h range that has exposed the W15’s weakness so far, Mercedes knows it needs an immediate response if it is not to endure more trouble ahead.

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