Formula 1 in 2018: What we learnt at the Mercedes W09 launch

Mercedes hope they’ve cured their ‘diva’…
“We hope that we have retained what made us fly and taken the edge off and hopefully sorted the things that are troublesome” – James Allison, Mercedes technical director.

Mercedes may have wrapped up both titles for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, but the varying performances of their car, particularly at twisty, high-downforce circuits, led team boss Toto Wolff to famously dub the W08 ‘a diva’.

Their hope for their 2018 car is that they have ironed out those weaknesses but maintained the characteristics which propelled its high-maintenance predecessor to a world championship double.

Watch Mercedes launch their new car for 2018, the W09.

But the W09 is evolution not revolution
The W08 was the longest car on the grid in 2018, an attribute which was considered to have been the cause of its relative struggle at slow and windy circuits such as Monaco and Hungary.

But Mercedes have resisted the temptation to move towards the car design philosophy of rivals Ferrari or Red Bull and decided very early in the W09’s design process to stick with their longer wheelbase.

The W09 has instead had a hefty aerodynamic overhaul, with Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz pointing out: “What they have done with the rear of the car is massively impressive, that is as tight as I have ever seen.”

Another refinement will also see the W09 run a marginally higher rake to its predecessor, but not to the extent of the Red Bull.

Mercedes reveal ‘work of art’ W09
Hamilton and Bottas drive new Merc
F1 in 2018: The new cars revealed

Champions wary of fight at front
Launch season is a dangerous time for predictions but that doesn’t mean the F1 paddock doesn’t like making them. And despite all the usual caveats, Mercedes themselves offered some tentative yet tantalising forecasts at Silverstone.

“Ferrari is very strong, Red Bull is very strong,” observed Wolff. “And I’m very curious how McLaren is going to perform with the Renault engine.”

Hamilton later opined: “Given that we ended last season Ferrari, Red Bull and ourselves very close, I anticipate this year we’ll be quite similar in that sense.”

With four title doubles behind them, Mercedes know they’re in the law of diminishing returns and 2017 certainly served as a warning that their rivals are gaining in strength. It may not have always been the fastest, but the W08 was last season’s best car. If Ferrari and Red Bull build on last year’s progress, the W09 will need to show similar traits if it’s to become another title-winning Silver Arrow. Either way, F1 should be the winner.

Lewis Hamilton says he has no desire to move to another F1 team and believes a new Mercedes contract will be signed before the start at the new season

Hamilton as hungry as ever…
World champion Lewis Hamilton returns in 2018 fully recharged after his longest winter break and confident he can improve on his title-winning campaign.

“It’s quite simple, I want to somehow be better than I was last year,” Hamilton said.

“Last year was I think the best year that I had performance-wise. How can I top that? How can I improve what was a very, very strong year? There are a lot of areas actually.”

…while a new deal is weeks away
And by the time the season gets underway in Australia on March 25, exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, Mercedes hope to have their star driver tied down to a new contract.

Hamilton’s present contract expires at the end of the upcoming campaign, but Hamilton and Wolff expect the final details on an extension to be sorted in the coming weeks.

“I know that there is no one better so [Toto’s] not going to be looking anywhere else, he knows that, and I know there is nobody better so I’m not looking anywhere else,” Hamilton said.

“We are comfortable and we are committed to each other. It’s just about sorting out the details always.”

Wolff believes the new deal may be just “a few weeks” away.

F1 in 2018: The new cars revealed
WATCH: Mercedes launch their 2018 car

Bottas ready to deliver
Valtteri Bottas begins his second year at Mercedes under pressure to deliver after a tough second half to 2017. With his current Mercedes deal expiring at the end of the season, the Finn knows he needs an impressive campaign.

“The team is expecting more from me and so am I,” said Bottas.

“Lewis is definitely the toughest team-mate I’ve ever had. He is one of the best drivers ever in F1. He was the best driver last season but there is no driver who is unbeatable.”

Halo brings mixed views
The biggest visual change to the W09 is the addition of the Halo.

Its introduction has proved far from universally popular and Wolff was stinging in his criticism of the Halo, saying he would take it off with a chainsaw if given the chance.

But Hamilton attempted to put a more positive spin on the device, suggesting the Halo will become accepted in a few months.

“I think after a few races we will forget that it’s even there. Often you look at old cars and think they look dated.

“This is the world right now and I’m sure it’s only the first step in the evolution of this safety level.”

Russell won the 2017 GP3 Series and this year makes the step up to Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix.

Wehrlein failed to land a 2018 seat in F1, having driven for Manor and Sauber the past two seasons, and has returned to DTM for Mercedes’ final year in the category.

“George Russell does a brilliant job for us in the simulator, he has met our expectations in winning the GP3 title, Force India were very impressed by him and F2 is the next step. We’re keen to see how he is going to perform,” Wolff said.

“With Pascal, we couldn’t find the right solution and he is back in DTM but he is our reserve, so we will see.”

Sky Sports F1 is the only place to watch every Formula 1 Grand Prix, qualifying and practice session live in 2018. Get Sky Sports F1.

Using Comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click ‘Report’.