Motor racing-Mercedes targeting big gains says Wolff

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 4, 2023 Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff during practice REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) - Formula One champions Red Bull are in a league of their own but once-dominant Mercedes can see big gains ahead after going back to the drawing board with their car.

Speaking to reporters at last weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, team principal Toto Wolff said he would have no shame if the revamped car ended up resembling a Red Bull, so long as it was quick.

"We are just storming full steam ahead now and changing things," said the Austrian.

"We are making really big steps at the moment with our R&D, with our understanding in the (wind) tunnel, that is really big steps because we just needed to have the confirmation in Bahrain that we got it wrong.

"I think if we continue to do the big steps that we’ve already done in the last 10 days then I think we come to a stage where we are really able to respond."

George Russell and seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and fifth in Jeddah, still a long way off Red Bull and behind Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso but ahead of both Ferraris.

In Bahrain, the March 5 season-opener, they were the fourth fastest team.

Red Bull have won both races to date one-two, dropping only one point for a fastest lap.

Double world champion Max Verstappen went from 15th to second in Saudi Arabia, powering past Hamilton -- who said on Saturday he felt "at a bit of a loss" with the car -- as if lapping a back-marker.

"The kind of gains that are coming in, in our R&D and in aero, are much bigger than we've had over a long time," said Wolff after Russell qualified fourth before moving up to third on the Saudi Arabian starting grid.

"We've unlocked some potential because we simply look at things from different angles now. We have a different perspective, because of our learnings of the Bahrain test and race."

Wolff said he did not want to sound "foolishly optimistic" but all the car's visible aerodynamic surfaces were being reconsidered.

"The car is being turned upside down at the moment and there's a lot of goodness that we see," he added. "We see low hanging fruit with things that are encouraging."

"We have no dogmatism of how the car should look like. It just needs to be the quickest possible race car. If that car looks like a Red Bull ... I don’t care. I will have no shame if it’s quick."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)

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