Mercedes trackside performance engineer Andrew Shovlin says the team may not be able to out-develop Red Bull because of new restrictions introduced for the 2021 F1 season.Lewis Hamilton took a narrow win for Mercedes in the race, it was aided by Max Verstappen experiencing a differential problem on his car.
Shovlin is concerned Mercedes won’t be able to overcome Red Bull’s core speed advantage this year. The world champions have been hit hardest by new aerodynamic development restrictions which are linked to teams’ 2020 championship positions. Teams are also restricted to one specification of power unit this year, preventing them from introducing upgrades.
“The key thing this season is it’s different,” said Shovlin. “Normally you would look to the wind tunnel to try and just put on a bit of downforce over the course of the year. You’d also look at power unit, try and find a bit of power. But both of those are very restricted by regulation.
“So we have very little time in the wind tunnel. The dyno is also heavily restricted, you can’t develop the engine for performance this year.”
Mercedes is therefore exploring other ways to become more competitive. “We’re having to look at more subtle areas to do with driveability characteristics,” Shovlin explained. “I think also arriving at the circuit with the car well-sorted, well-balanced, doing your homework, knowing how long the tyres will run [will help].
“This season, this championship is actually going to come down to the fine margins, I think, more than normal. I don’t see us really being able to develop to a point where we could get clear ahead and hopefully Red Bull won’t develop to a point where they’re clear ahead.”
Red Bull were no slower than Mercedes at any point on the Bahrain International Circuit, said Shovlin.
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“We don’t really have any strengths relative to them, is what I would say. We’ve had a lot of years where we’ve been able to rely on straight-line speed or high-speed cornering or interconnected corners. If you look at it here, we weren’t taking any time out of them anywhere.
“There were a couple of corners they really took chunks out of us in qualifying: the high-speed, also turn nine and 10, they were very strong there. And that’s really the main thing is you think qualifying we’re just bang on their pace in our best corners and they’re quicker in the others. So we need a faster car. Simple as that.”
While all teams lapped slower in Bahrain than they had done the year before, Mercedes lost much more ground than their rivals. This is due to new regulations reducing rear floor dimensions to cut downforce, which are suspected to have hit low-rake cars like the Mercedes harder than Red Bull’s high-rake design.
Shovlin said “it may well be the case” that low-rake cars suffered more under the new rules. “I know that they won the last race [of 2020] but generally we were ahead at the end of the year and that’s not the case now. So either we took a bigger hit with the rules or they had a better rate of development since they applied the regulation changes.
“But it is what it is. We’ve got a car that could win a championship if we make some clever decisions, do some good work with it and operate well over the year. But whether or not it’s high-rake or low-rake, we can’t do anything about that.
“What we certainly can’t do is suddenly say ‘we’re going to lift the rear of our car 30 millimetres and work with that’ because that would write off the season. We would lose so much in doing that to recover it, it’s just not practical.”
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