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What We Will Learn from a Tough Weekend in São Paulo

It's fair to say the São Paulo Grand Prix weekend was one of the toughest of the 2023 Formula One season for the team, scoring just a handful of points at Interlagos.

The issues were evident from the very start of the weekend. It was challenging to find the right working window for the W14 in both qualifying sessions, while our race pace wasn't particularly good in the Sprint and the main race on Sunday.

As you can imagine, it was far from plain sailing for the team as we tried to recover - and with limited options, given the cars were in parc fermé conditions from Friday's qualifying session onwards.

"There was something fundamentally wrong, mechanically," said Toto after the race. "It's not the rear wing or the car being slightly too high, because we're talking a millimetre or two. That is performance but it's not the explanation for why we were so far off."

It was made even more puzzling by the fact we were racing for podiums in the previous two race weekends.

We've typically found across the season we've not got the most out of Sprint weekends and struggled more to find the set-up sweet spot with the car, during the sole practice session.

"Sprint weekends generally haven't been our strength," Toto admitted. "We are working ourselves out of problems most Sprint weekends."

That's something we need to improve for 2024.

We are working ourselves out of problems most Sprint weekends.

Toto Wolff

A positive from both the Sprint and the main race were our fast starts, with our drivers making up ground on both occasions. In the Sprint, George jumped Perez and Norris to storm into P2, but sadly our race pace couldn't hold the faster cars behind and we dropped back.

It was a similar story in the Grand Prix. Lewis made the jump from P5 to P3, weaving around both Aston Martins off the line, while George moved from P8 to P6. However, we quickly had a red flag due to a first corner accident and another standing start.

This time, Lewis lost the place to Fernando, while George jumped ahead of Perez. But despite running P4 and P5 at the end of the opening lap and some hard-fought battles, we just didn't have the race pace across the first stint to hold back the second Red Bull and Aston Martin.

Lewis and George gradually dropped positions through the race, struggling to keep up with the cars ahead and suffering with overheating rear tyres - something we'd also seen in the Sprint as well, and was very hard to correct with the limitations.

"There are moments the car works and then moments it doesn't," said Lewis. "It's so inconsistent throughout the lap. So, we have to figure out what it is. We're slow on the straights and then slow through the corners, sliding through them. Hopefully there's lots of learnings from this weekend."

Lewis eventually crossed the line in P8, but George didn't reach the chequered flag due to high Power Unit oil temperatures. There was a real risk of imminent failure if he continued so we needed to retire the car with 15 laps remaining.

"We were over all the metrics on cooling," explained Toto. "It was the last race for the PU but it is what it is."

On the weekend itself, George added: "We need to regroup and try and understand what's gone wrong this weekend. Because 12 months ago this was our strongest race and 12 months later, it's our weakest. Very strange."

For the team back in Brixworth, the focus is on investigating why the Power Unit temperatures were so high on George's car. We weren't due to use that PU again anyway, but it's still useful learnings for the future.

We need to regroup and try and understand what's gone wrong this weekend.

George Russell

For the crew in Brackley, it's all about digging into the data and leaving no stone unturned. First, through each department looking into their own areas and uncovering findings they can present to the wider group. So, things like competitor analysis, looking into ride heights, tyre data, aerodynamic performance.

On Tuesday morning the wider performance group will sit down for the main post-race debrief, where each department presents its findings from the weekend and the learnings we can take forward. This particular meeting will be crucial to properly understand our São Paulo struggles.

After the debrief, the departments then go away for separate meetings to work out how to tackle the analysis and actions. Dividing up the workload to ensure everything is covered. This includes work in the simulator, where we'll replay our set-up decisions and see areas we could have improved. A very useful place for us to take learnings from and bring some of those - where relevant - into the final two rounds.

"We have a proper structure, a solid team and that didn't look like a solid team," said Toto. "It's interesting in three consecutive races you're finishing a strong second in two of them, challenging Max and then a week later you're ending up nowhere."

And finally, one thing we won't be forgetting in a hurry is the amazing support we experienced in Brazil. The reception each day was incredible. The response on the drivers' parade was amazing and it really helped us through a difficult weekend.

It was very special to see so many Mercedes caps and flags in the grandstands and also to see your support at home, too. It means a great deal to all of us and makes a big difference. So thank you. We'll come back stronger in Vegas.