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Ouch. That one hurt. Until lap 25 of the Grand Prix, Hockenheim had been a fantastic weekend. We had met thousands of colleagues in and around the circuit; enjoyed the incredible sporting history of our brand at the Fan Zone; celebrated 125 years of amazing motorsport; and rolled out our own commemorative touches with a special livery, paddock decoration, retro-themed garage and ‘50s style team clothing. As some of us joked going into the weekend – it was almost like we were tempting fate…!
Of course, motorsport is no place for superstition – it’s about split-second decisions, fine margins and attention to detail in our engineering. No matter what team kit we are wearing. Often these have been our strengths over the past five and a half seasons; in Hockenheim, we didn’t perform to our usual level as a team – and this was the result. A fantastic spectacle no doubt and a German Grand Prix for the ages – just not for Mercedes…
The great strenghts of our team is the respond to defeat
However, one of the great strengths of our team is how we respond to defeat. When things have gone wrong, it is easy to fall back to finger pointing and casting blame. That’s not what happens inside the team: instead we have a motto that we “blame the problem, not the person” and that begins at the very top of the company with Toto.
The level of honesty is high, so is the accountability, and we go through each mistake to understand how it happened and how to avoid a repeat; our debrief on Monday morning in Brackley was full of direct conversations and difficult truths – but we emerged from it as a stronger team than we had been the day before in Hockenheim.
It is one of the great privileges of working inside the team to see how it responds to defeat – and how that pain, which cuts to the core of each one of us, energises everybody to learn even more and avoid any possible repeat.
We head to Formula 1 in Hungary with optimism
This defeat would have been much harder to take had it been followed by a lengthy summer break – instead, we get to go again this weekend in Budapest. As I write these words on the flight to Hungary, the garage and cars are being prepared at the circuit. The weather looks to be warm – but not overly hot, as it sometimes can be. We head to Budapest cautiously optimistic: this has not traditionally been our strongest circuit – but we believe the slow-speed cornering content should mean our 2019 car performs strongly. Likewise we have reason to believe that there is more performance to be unlocked from the substantial technical upgrade we brought to the car in Germany.
Our rivals are fast on short circuits
Of course, our rivals have their tails up at the moment. Red Bull has won two of the past three races with Max Verstappen, who is emerging as a contender in the world championship. Ferrari salvaged P2 for Sebastian Vettel at the weekend after a strong comeback drive – and was the quicker car much of the weekend. They have been fast on shorter circuits so far this season and the Hungaroring is definitely one of those. So we remain cautious and sceptical when it comes to making any assumptions about performance.
But we know, too, that we did not deliver a performance worthy of our usual standards in Hockenheim. We can look back on the past 11 races and know that we have won nine of them – but as the baseball legend Babe Ruth used to say, “yesterday’s home runs don’t win tomorrow’s games”. We have one race weekend until the summer break – and we are determined to go and win it.