Mercedes has endured a difficult start to F1’s new era and is currently looking like the third-fastest team on the grid at best, having been unable to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull for victories at the opening two rounds in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

Lewis Hamilton managed a podium in Bahrain - only after the two Red Bulls dropped out with late engine trouble - while new teammate George Russell finished fifth in Jeddah, over 30s behind race-winner Max Verstappen. 

Mercedes is struggling to get consistent performance out of its W13 challenger, which has been suffering from severe porpoising. The team is confident the car has inherent pace, but has been having to run with a compromised set-up that is masking the W13’s true potential in a bid to reduce the bouncing problem. 

After the opening round, Mercedes chief technical officer James Allison said he believed the issue could be solved within ‘two-to-three’ races. But the team made little progress in Saudi despite dedicating Friday practice to experimenting with different set-ups and wing configurations. 

The Mercedes power units have also been curiously down on the straights, with both the works’ cars and its customer teams struggling in terms of top speed. But it is porpoising that is causing Mercedes the biggest headache. 

"There's so many factors at play between the mechanical stiffness of the car and then the stiffness of the floors, the design of the floors, tyre pressures," Russell explained after the Saudi Arabian GP. 

"Engine mode as well, the faster you go the worse it gets, so it makes it harder for qualifying because we turn the engines up, maximum power, go quicker down the straight which causes more downforce and causes more porpoising.

"So we almost need to pre-empt this issue and also in the race when you have the DRS closed, you have more downforce than you do with the DRS open, and that's another factor we need to consider.

"We're still learning and that's why we're far from optimal. But that's why I said if we solve the porpoising, that would cure I would say 99% of our issues.”

Russell admitted he does not know how long it will take Mercedes to address the issue but called on the team to start making bigger steps forward. 

"We are going to start trying to develop the car around the issues but we need to solve the underlying problem, which is the porpoising,” he added. 

"All of these cars perform best at low ride height and we just can't get anywhere close to where our rivals are running. Timeline, to be honest really no idea.

"We definitely got information, we're continuing to learn. At the moment we're making baby steps so we need to make some leaps and bounds, and we're struggling to find that silver bullet to resolve our issues.

"I've got no doubt when we do that, we will find a chunk of lap time, but as I said before it's easier said than done.”

After salvaging just a single point from one of his worst weekends of recent memory, Hamilton conceded that based on Mercedes' current form wins feel “a long long way away”, while he said his car needs “more power and more grip”. 

Hamilton is the only driver in F1 history to have taken at least one victory in every season he has contested. Unless Mercedes can find a solution soon, the top step of the podium is looking like a very steep climb. 

“Right now, we’re not fighting for the top step,” the seven-time world champion said. “We’re so far off the guys ahead. We’ve got a lot of work to do. It feels like a long way away.

He added: “We are still really down on speed and on the speed trace. I don’t know if that is just one fix or several things, I don’t know how much drag we have compared to the others, but it feels like a lot.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described his team’s current situation as “entirely unacceptable”, “painful” and “an exercise in humility” and added the eight-time constructors’ champions have been humbled by F1’s biggest regulation overhaul in decades. 

“We were right in the middle of those fun games at the front, and talking as a F1 stakeholder and benefitting from a great show, that is really spectacular to look at,” Wolff said. 

“But on the other side, it’s extremely painful to not be part of those fun games, and by quite a chunk of lap time deficit. 

“We’re not going to rest until we’re back in the mix. But it’s no fun at all. [It’s] an exercise in humility, and it’s going to make us stronger in the end, even though it’s not fun right now.”

When asked for a timeframe on when he expects Mercedes to improve, Wolff replied: “I think we are not running the car where we are wanting to run it, and therefore it is very difficult to really assess what the lap time deficit is if we were able to run a car lower. 

"I would very much hope that the gap is much closer to what we’ve seen [in Saudi] but there are deficits everywhere.”

‘Phased’ updates to be introduced over coming races 

Mercedes turned heads in the paddock when it debuted a radical new sidepod design during the second week of testing in Bahrain, but the concept has not been delivering what the team expected from it. 

Mercedes are set to bring ‘phased’ updates to the W13 over the coming races, with the first planned for introduction at the Australian Grand Prix as the team looks to get a handle on its problems.

It is understood that a new rear wing will be among the first updates to come in Melbourne in a bid to fix the W13’s drag issue. A new floor is also expected to be introduced at Imola. 

“We're under no illusions what that performance gap is and in Jeddah, it was ultimately a bit bigger than in Bahrain,” Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said in the team’s post-race debrief video from Jeddah. 

“But we've got quite a lot to find both in qualifying and on the long run if we want to challenge the Ferrari and the Red Bull cars. However, behind us it looks like we have a bit of margin to that midfield. 

“We need to do a good job to be ahead of them, but we have a bit of margin and that buys us a bit of breathing space to allow us to experiment on the weekends, to try and bring solutions to lift the level of performance of the car. 

“Ultimately though, this is a problem that is going to be fixed back at the factories both in Brackley and Brixworth. Everyone is working very hard to try and understand the issue and bring solutions and we are going to be doing that in a phased way over the next few races. 

“At the track we are going to be doing as much as we can to minimise damage, to score as many points as possible. 

“So, really there are two elements to this: maximising the performance in a given weekend but then the bigger part of this is trying to get back to a level where we can compete for pole positions and for race wins.”