Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Mercedes: “Far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today”

2021 F1 season

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Mercedes have moved to downplay expectations of their performance in the first race of the 2021 F1 season, saying they aren’t a match for rivals Red Bull on race pace.

Pre-season testing ended today with Max Verstappen’s Honda-powered RBR16B on top of the times sheets. Lewis Hamilton, who shared the track with Verstappen in the afternoon, lapped over a second slower. He ended the day fifth, with Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri, Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo separating him from Verstappen.

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said the data collected by Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas during the test indicated they have a performance deficit to Red Bull in race trim.

“We’ve had another day with good reliability where we were able to run to plan throughout the day,” said Shovlin. “Valtteri was doing long run set-up work in the morning and Lewis doing a mix of long run work and qualifying work in the afternoon.

“We’ve made a bit of progress with the balance on higher fuel and the car was more predictable but we can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull.”

Earlier today Verstappen dismissed suggestions Mercedes have run into trouble with the balance of their car following changes to the aerodynamic regulations in the off-season, and insisted the world champions remain the team to beat.

Shovlin said it was less clear how the two teams compare in terms of outright, single-lap pace.

“The lower fuel work was a more confusing picture,” he said, “we didn’t gain enough and we need to go and look at our approach as far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today.

“We’ve had issues in recent years with pace in winter testing and managed to make good progress before the first race but we may have our work cut out this time. We’ve not got long before we’re back here for the race so we’ve planned a programme of work to try and understand some of our issues and will be leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to find some more speed over the next 10 days.”

Hamilton said he had been impressed by the pace of Red Bull, McLaren and Alpine during the three-day test.

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Keith Collantine
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53 comments on “Mercedes: “Far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today””

  1. Well, it certainly was their most difficult testing session of the hybrid era yet (though recall they have had a year where we thought they were nowhere, until they found their issue in the last few hours and rules, 2018 was it?), but fact they think they are at, or over pace of Red Bull in quali says they are nowhere as far off as that might suggest. But, if so, well glad that Red Bull have Perez to make it interesting then!

    1. This is not what I recall from the testing analysis in 2018, f1 metrics predicted based on the testing that mercedes and ferrari would be pretty much at the same level.

      1. @esploratore Actually, in 2018 people overestimated Mercedes. Coming away from the test, the consensus was that Mercedes was well and truly ahead, which was not the case. I think that @bosyber is referring to 2019, when it appeared as if Ferrari had the quickest car (which they kind of did) and Mercedes were on their back foot, but they were able to unlock the car’s sweet spot in the final days of testing and even more between testing and the first race and duly won the first 8 races of the season.

        1. Indeed @mashiat, got the year wrong.

  2. Granted this year their testing has been messier than usual but I think they’ve said almost every year they don’t consider themselves the ‘team to beat’ or the ‘pack has closed up’ or ‘they have some hidden gremlins’ or whatever, and they still bounce on to multiple titles almost entirely uncontested.

    Every time they claim to be the underdog I’ve watched them grab a dominant pole and win so regardless of their apparent struggles I wouldn’t expect anything than a 1st/2nd and a good half a second to the nearest competitor come the first race.

  3. Pedro Andrade
    14th March 2021, 18:55

    Mercedes blitzkrieg incoming!

  4. I don’t really believe them, to be honest. With the exception of 2015 and 2020, they have never had the fastest car in testing in the turbo-hybrid era, and yet they always win the championship. I do think Red Bull will be closer, but Mercedes are still going to be comfortable champions in 2021. The midfield are the group to watch, they look extremely close.

  5. Same old BS…I wonder if someone still believe in what they say after seven years of lies…

    1. Fool me once shame on you, fool me 7 times…

      This team have cried wolf so many times now it would be ridiculous if anyone believes them.

      1. WolFF ;P

      2. ..you can’t get fooled again ;)

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      14th March 2021, 21:13

      You say that but wait til they do the predictions on here and a load of people predict Verstappen to be champion….

      If Mercedes are not lying (they are) and they had real problems with the car (they don’t), they’ll still be faster than the rest in Bahrain will win both titles with races to spare.

      It amazes me that they feel the need to do this every year – maybe it’s a superstitious thing now like wearing lucky socks? Or maybe it’s just their sense of humour?

      1. @petebaldwin

        It amazes me that they feel the need to do this every year – maybe it’s a superstitious thing now like wearing lucky socks? Or maybe it’s just their sense of humour?

        Marketing. Beating up perpetually inferior opposition isn’t as good for selling yourself. Dominating a season or two looks good, but when you completely roll over the field for over half a decade, you just look too big. Whilst I hate soccer analogies, there’s a reason Bayern isn’t on the same level of international adoration as Barcelona or Real. Let’s just say there’s a reason Red Bull was always more concerned about Ferrari’s engine shenanigans than Mercedes were.

        1. @petebaldwin While I get the sentiment about their downplaying of their own performance as they often do, I don’t really see what they are ‘feeling the need to do’ right now. I mean, it’s not like the are saying anything other than what they have observed so far in testing. Haven’t we all seen it? They seem to be struggling a bit right now. Others seem to have gotten off to a better start. They will pull out all the stops to sort some things for the first race. And we know they often do just that.

          This time it doesn’t seem like they are bluffing and actually have a rocket on their hands and were simply sandbagging. It is interesting that they have gleaned race pace info from what they have observed of others, even though it is ‘just testing’ but then they’re there and we aren’t.

          For me, while it may be annoying to some, that they tend to downplay things that is, I think it is just what a dominant team is better off doing rather than sounding arrogant. Who likes a team rubbing their superiority in our faces, no matter the sport? Isn’t that a great way to maximize the number of people that want to see said team knocked off the block? And if you want the other team(s) riled up and even more motivated to beat you, just tell them how great you are and imply how much they suck.

      2. @petebaldwin this years testing has been a bit different.

        In past years, and when there was actually time for teams to really test their cars, Mercedes have turned up and run for hundreds of laps like clockwork. They rarely even tried a fast qualifying lap.

        This year they started with a major mechanical issue and have been visibly struggling to keep their car on the track at speed. That’s not something you’d plan for or work into som elaborate sandbagging scenario.

        They’ve got a problem, it’ll be interesting to see if they can fix it in 2 weeks.

      3. It amazes me that they feel the need to do this every year – maybe it’s a superstitious thing now like wearing lucky socks? Or maybe it’s just their sense of humour?

        Maybe that too, but in a way it’s actually bigging yourself up. ‘Look, we managed to beat those favorite top teams!’

  6. Their pace is gonna be fine. That rear instability however is probably a bit of a worry, I would imagine.

  7. Applemusicisbetter
    14th March 2021, 19:19

    This is closer to a gambling site manipulation of any merc employee is betting that the actual truth

  8. Having watched quite a lot of the testing coverage I’d actually agree with Mercedes on this one. The car by was off the road a lot and both Hamilton and Bottas struggled with the drive-ability. Spinning, running wide, big twitches, lock ups the car was simply all over the place the last few days. I honestly think they’ve gone the wrong way with the car design, whereas Redbull have nailed it. Honda was arguably the best engine last year and they’ve made some good steps forward. Redbull were extremely strong towards the end of last season too. That combination looks to be a winner. Of course there’s more pace to come from every team , but something feels very different with Mercedes this year. There’s usually a faster high fuel lap or sector which really catches my eye, but so far Mercedes have shown nothing to make me believe they are the team to beat, maybe not even top 3.

    1. Spot on. RB have it all to lose this year

      1. Glad someone agrees! I’ve kept up to date with the last few years of pre season testing and I can understand why people think Mercedes are bluffing. They usually downplay things, but this year feels different. The car looked awful and I can’t remember the last time I saw Hamilton spin and end up off the track so much. One lap it was 3 corners in a row. I expect they’ll pull
        Something back and turn the engine up, but I still think Redbull are quite some way ahead.

    2. Exactly what I was thinking as well. Last year the car was on rails and it was very clear from their race sims that, apart from RB, no other car could even get within a second of them.
      This year it’s a completely different story. It’s the RB that looks on rails and is fast on long runs. The Mercedes, as you said Tom, looks like a handful to drive. There’s more to it than them running just more fuel than the others. If that were the case, the car would understeer, but it also oversteers quite a lot and that’s the worrying part for Mercedes.

    3. Mercedes was comfortably the best engine in 2020, even Honda admitted that the gap to Mercedes grew from 2019 to 2020.

      1. F1oSaurus (@)
        14th March 2021, 20:03

        @mashiat, @tifoso1989 Honda also estimated that the engine difference accounted for only about 2 tenths in lap time on average. So there was a much bigger chunk of time lost somewhere else.

    4. Honda was arguably the best engine last year and they’ve made some good steps forward

      By Honda’s own admission, the Mercedes PU was the class of the field last year.

      1. Tom I do hear you but there is a reason they run all the races. Even if Mercedes is for a change a bit on their back foot initially, they of course cannot be taken lightly and I’m sure RBR et al will expect them to sort themselves out, even if not for the first race then likely sooner than later. At least, they’ve earned that respect and the other teams’ job will still be nose to the grindstone no matter where Mercedes appear to be now. For all we know now they’ll come out in two weeks as a worse case scenario (for them) a solid second, with all the potential in the world to sort it.

  9. Sat here like a sad muppet for all six sessions over the last 3 days. Missed Barcelona and 3 days was crazy short. Sand bagging quips aside I thought the car (Merc) looked shocking. Rear instability was very obvious. I actually do think Mercedes are behind Red Bull on both long run and single lap pace. It had to happen sometime, they couldn’t be best forever. I also think the McLaren look damn stable and now represent a real challenge for wins, or at least the title of the fastest Brixworth powered car on the grid.

    1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      14th March 2021, 20:52

      God I hope your right, I don’t wish bad luck on anyone or any team in F1 but it would be nice to see Lewis get his elbows out again. Last year and the year before were too easy for him given his boring teammate and Seb and Max not being able to challenge consistently.

  10. Patrick Ngaira
    14th March 2021, 19:24

    i watched the gear shift display on both HAMILTON and BOTAS and at no time did they engage unto gear 8 plus top speed peaked at 301kmh meaning Mercedes may have limited the available power from their engine.
    This is classic sandbagging..

  11. Ah good old Mercedes. Only 2 years ago they were telling us they were half a second slower than ferrari. Looking forward to them rocking up in 2 weeks and qualifying by 7 tenths ahead of redbull.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      14th March 2021, 20:04

      Well they were indeed “half a second slower on the straights” (which is what they actually claimed) in 2019.

  12. Nah, they’re still going to be the team to beat throughout the season.

  13. RocketTankski
    14th March 2021, 19:39

    Mercedes will now be 2 seconds a lap faster than anyone in the first race and I will roll my eyes and say “well that’s it for another season..” :-)

  14. Gavin Campbell
    14th March 2021, 19:58

    Thing is 2 years ago Ferrari got their setup all wrong in Melbourne and it looked hilarious after all the testing hype. But in the first half of 2019 Ferrari were probably the quickest.

    In other years Merc have done things like only run medium tyres and often were fat with fuel. But today they were running C5 (softest) rubber and looked like they were doing low(ish) fuel work. It’s not like they had 3 sectors you could add together to make a good lap either.

    There’s a suspicion that there’s a power unit/ gearbox gremlin with Astons and Mercs issues but on the whole it doesn’t look like a settled car.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      14th March 2021, 20:07

      Yeah 2019 was weird. Ferrari had the fastest car from the start, but they couldn’t get the potential out of it properly from the start. Although they were 5 tenths faster in Bahrain and in Baku Leclerc looked faster than the Mercs too (until he crashed).

      Ferrari did end up fastest in the second half though. It’s just that team and drivers messed up almost all their races. 9 poles and only 2 wins.

      1. 3 wins, and I’m one who says ferrari 2019 is a bad car, but apparently those who talk the car up talk down the wins!

      2. @f1osaurus So you actually took a topic about testing form and turned it into a bash of Hamilton’s rivals in a championship campaign several years ago.. Don’t you ever give it a rest?

        1. F1oSaurus (@)
          15th March 2021, 12:50

          @balue It goes to show that test results do not always translate into expected results.

          But yeah, cry me a river if you don’t want to hear the truth. It wasn’t me who brought it up.

      3. @f1osaurus

        Ferrari did end up fastest in the second half though. It’s just that team and drivers messed up almost all their races. 9 poles and only 2 wins.

        Similar record to the 2002 Williams, the only difference is that Schumacher fans are not quite deranged enough to claim that he won that season with an inferior car.

    2. no they did not, actually on todays coverage Martin hinted how sometimes some teams feed them false info in the hope they end up disclosing it. I actually called it. I wrote a comment expecting Ferrari to be .6 slower and they were.

  15. I get that people are sceptical about Mercedes’ true pace, with their history of expectation management, sandbagging etc … but it does feel like they had a difficult few days. I can understand running the car with high fuel, harder tyres etc to conceal its pace, but not sliding around and spinning every five minutes.

    Seen some suggestion that they’re holding it all back for their filming days, but sounds like wishful thinking to be honest. I can’t imagine Mercedes are so confident that they wouldn’t have brought most of their best kit to the only actual pre-season test.

    I am sure they will still be the team to beat come the Grand Prix. But they might not have it all their own way, for once.

    1. @red-andy it’s not as if drivers can’t spin intentionally if necessary. Ask Nelson Piquet Jr.
      I won’t believe they are “so wrong” until the championship is over (or with both WDC and WCC sealed by Mercedes with 5 races to go as usual)

  16. F1oSaurus (@)
    14th March 2021, 20:09

    @red-andy Indeed, sometimes it makes sense to only bring the final package at the first race, because they are still working on it. In this case there is just not enough time between testing and the first race for that.

    1. My thought is that mercedes is testing some additional ideas here and there in the test, their race car will be more likely different… i think, they were testing what was working and what was not… and make adjustments and changes to race spec… i dont believe they forgot how to race overnight… i dont think they are sandbagging, but they didnt bring the real package together yet. they have been working on the new reg car for sometime as evident from last year’s lack of updates…

      they are probably watching out others, and understand who is where

      1. I think you’re somewhat spot on. I think they all were sandbagging on engine modes. They all were miles off from last Bahrain pole. The big issue for Mercedes is rear stability and understanding tires. You can put that extra horsepower to work on an unstable car. Hamilton talked about not doing sim work because he didn’t know what to expect from the rear and tires. I think that’s why he was caught out so many times. Now having the data will allow them to run millions of computer simulations as to what is the best baseline setup. Remember modes won’t play a role in qualifying and the races.

  17. Maybe it’s the same old story and they will just sort these issues out before the first race and dominate the championship again.

    But maybe, maybe these are the first signs of a domination coming to an end. At some point it will have to come to an end, right? RIGHT?

  18. Here we go again… the quick tyre times were poor but you can’t massage race runs by over filling the tank, their slow laps were too fast. There is still about .5 to a sec between the top and the midfield. Same goes with last years merc, their race runs were way quicker than the low fuel runs.

  19. Looks like Mercedes are taking their trolling to a whole new level this year. Once they get all the upgrades working together on that car in Bahrain I can guarantee they’ll be at least a half second quicker than anyone else.

  20. I’m not so sure they are crying Wolff yet again…

  21. There are two elements I see here, that may prove prophetic to keep in mind:

    1. The necessity to change the a ‘higher rake’ aerodynamic approach to the car design for this year to cater for the tighter rear-end floor width restrictions (based on 2021 TECH REG changes), is probably going to affect the team/s with the “LOW RAKE long wheel-base” approach the most. Affect as in “challenge to get right, first thing outta the box”. Those team/s (MERC a high profile example) have to completely re-engineer and re-learn for HIGH RAKE aero design from front to back of car. =Risk. Whereas a Red-bull team have been occupying the high rake aero design approach for years under Newey, are in their comfort zone. McLaren and Renault have high-rake aero pedigree over last few seasons also.
    2. All the difficulties with rear-end snap, instability in cornering and lack of drivability observed for MERC during testing, seems to point to this being a Aero-gremlin that they have to work through. How bad it is… well a 7 time world champion getting pitched off track multiple times in same lap, seems to say it ain’t minor. Did not see other teams struggle this way anywhere near as much. MERC have the powerhouse of Engineering to fix this. But one wonders how long it will take for the HIGH RAKE ethos in aerodynamics design from front nose to rear diffuser will take. It may see MERC playing fix and catch-up for a good few months of the Season 2021.

  22. maybe the rule changes for this year have simply done what was intended, i.e. they have closed up the filed. Merc probably don’t have the room to maneuver as much and so maybe only find an additional tenth or two as they’ve been so dominant and have maxed out every aspect of the design philosophy of their car in recent years – whereas the others have a bigger bandwidth to paly with and are now finding their max potential in their designs / set ups thereby gaining up to a full second in lap times and essentially closing the gap to the Mercs, this brings pressure to Merc and they have to push the envelope in design resulting in a car that’s now become hyper sensitive and twitchy (and subsequently isn’t as fast ???)
    I’m not an engineer or anything fancy – so its just a thought ……

  23. Same story every year. Mercedes sandbagging again

  24. Siviwe Malgas
    16th March 2021, 5:12

    Personally knowing this team I don’t believe what they say now this is just to get other teams comfortable in what they do and have. I hope all the other teams are not showing their best just yet. Both merc drivers got so much to prove this year so they’ll sure be doing their best and we all know that will end up having the team finishing the season in 1 2 with drivers and follow the rest

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