Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Mercedes warn development limits may lock in Red Bull’s advantage this year

2021 F1 season

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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.

Red Bull beat the world champions to pole position by nearly four-tenths of a second in Bahrain. While 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.”

Analysis: F1 field closes up as Mercedes lose two seconds in four months
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.


Analysis: Five factors will decide how close this title fight is going to be
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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59 comments on “Mercedes warn development limits may lock in Red Bull’s advantage this year”

  1. “Team with the biggest budget and a baked-in engine advantage for 7 seasons moans that another team has done a better job over the winter.”

    I think I can hear the world’s smallest violin playing…

    1. Bit of a difference don’t you think? Mercedes done a better job with their engines than every other manufacturer. While this season redbull have been giving a helping hand with a regulation change designed to hurt Mercedes

      1. Except that it wasn’t designed to hurt Mercedes, it was designed to not over stress the tires and the only time the idea was floated that it was designed to hurt Mercedes was when RBR showed their pace on weekend one and Mercedes themselves decided to put the idea out there that it was to hurt them, particularly LH and TW making the claim.

        Only about 8 weeks ago or so between the Mercedes reveal and testing, when Ted Kravitz and James Allison walked around the new Merc and talked about the things they addressed, Allison said it was an unknown as to how the reg changes would affect low rake vs high rake cars.

      2. And the last rule change before hit red bull the hardest. (front wing). For now rbr development seems better.
        Do not forget Mercedes started very early with the development of the current car.

      3. Designed to hurt Mercedes?! That is nothing more than a conspiricy theory.
        These changes were introduced for Pirelli not having to build completely new tyres for this season.
        And yes, I am aware of the fact that Pirelli built new tyres for this season, but they only decided so after the tyre failures at the British GP last year.
        Nice try, Otmar Szafnauer ;)

      4. a regulation change designed to hurt Mercedes

        Regulation changes are always designed to hurt the most successful teams. Over the time I’ve been watching F1 I’ve seen rule changes designed to end the domination of Williams, Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull. Before that, rule changes were designed to stop Lotus and countless others. Mercedes are just the latest dominant team to get hurt by a regulation change, it’s part of the game I’m afraid. They have seven straight championship doubles to console themselves with, more than any other “dominant team” in history…so they shouldn’t complain.

    2. Is the Mercs budget any bigger than Ferrari’s and Bull’s?
      And which baked-in engine advantage over 7 seasons are you talking about? The engine development token system was dropped at the end of 2016 season. And between 2014 and 2016, the token system was so broad, the manufacturers could introduced new engines for each of those seasons and developed them in-season too! And the token system didn’t apply to reliability-related developments / upgrades.
      Or maybe you are referring to something else?

      1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        7th April 2021, 12:05

        They don’t have a bigger budget but they get less time to carry out development work in the wind tunnel and computer modelling than all the other teams.

        It will be reviewed mid season to change percentages based on where the teams are in the WCC.

    3. @joshgeake

      Biggest budget .. that would probably be Ferrari .. although you wouldn’t guess it looking at their performance

      Let’s face it … they would have done the best job for 8 seasons in a row. It took the FIA to change a huge number of rules specifically designed to slow Mercedes down for one team to finally challenge them. Heck, they even invented a rule saying that best team gets lesser amount of wind tunnel time. Just think about how ridiculous that is.

      Despite that Mercedes still won the first race of the season… and will probably continue to win 8 in a row this season.

      Btw, I’m not a Mercedes fan… but lets give respect where it’s due.

      1. Mercedes have the biggest team budget, this is an undisputed fact. They also don’t have all the headaches and pressures associated with being Ferrari.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          7th April 2021, 12:45

          @joshgeake “Had” not have. The budget is now the same for all teams with probably only Haas not spending up to the limit.

        2. @joshgeake The top 3 teams all have roughly the same budget to spend on the car.

    4. I agree. I will go as far as to say Mercedes dominance has been the worst thing to ever happen to F1. The last 7 years has been dreadful.

    5. “Team currently leading both the drivers and teams championship says it really is the underdog this time”

      1. And still there are believers ;)

      2. “Team that was out-qualified by a whopping 4 tenths at a circuit where it had pole comfortably 4-5 months ago says it is the underdog” is what I think you meant. Do people not actually watch the sessions lol?

    6. Ferrari have the biggest budget and their engine caught up with Merc 2017-2018. Then, Ferrari had a whopping 65hp advantage in 2019. Get your facts straight

      1. * had the biggest budget

      2. have you chosen to forget the Ferrari engine was cheating regulations and was promptly neutered last season?!

        1. They still enjoyed that 65hp advantage during their campaign, illegal or not

          1. They enjoyed a c. 20hp-25hp advantage over Mercedes as I understand it, but lost 65hp as a result of the technical directive, meaning they ended up being around 40hp down in 2020.

  2. 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.

    Oh the horror!

  3. Debrief at Mercedes after the season opener:
    Engineer: “Guys, there is a slim chance, maybe 0.0001%, that we not might win the championship this season.”
    Toto Wolff: “In that case, make the press know that, if we were not to win, it’s certainly the FIA’s fault and not ours!”

    1. Hahaha, bit too much bit agree with the point. Disappointed by Toto on this. I thought he’d be bigger

    2. From what I’ve seen at Mercedes / Wolff @srga91, they would actually take this and use it to motivate the team even more. And come out winning in the end.

      Overcoming a disadvantage is a far better motivation for a team to pull tight and do all they can than just “oh, Lewis can win another title, more than any driver, and yeah we can win the tenth time in a row as well, go for it”.

      Also, let us not forget that all these answers are given to questions posed. Fact is, that Mercedes do have somewhat less areo development allowance than RB, and they will want to use that for the next generation of cars, so they do have limited options.

      1. @bascb
        I think it depends on the situation the team is in. If they believe they can turn it around and out-develop RB this season, then yes, it’s certainly a great motivation for everyone at the team. But if the opposite happens and their deficit to RB grows over the course of the season, I think we’ll hear vastly different statements from Mercedes. Lack of progress compared to your rival can quickly lead to frustration.

        Anyway, I was just kidding. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a team that has completely dominated the sport for almost a decade, getting beaten by the team, that has been blaming the current engine regulations for their lack of success since 2014, which has been previously dominating the championship for 4 years in a row?!

  4. Nik (@nickelodeon81)
    7th April 2021, 12:22

    Lewis Hamilton racing for Mercedes pretty much locks in some advantage for them this year….

  5. Oh boo hoo.
    Like the original engine token system didn’t lock in Mercedes engine advantage for a few years?!

    1. Nobody stopped you from developing your engines just that you were restricted on how to apply the new development.
      Honda wasted many tokens designing for reliability. Ferrari and Renault were able to use reliability tokens to find performance. Then all teams were allowed to design their engines as they could. All the teams were coming up with new engines every year from about 2016.
      2017-2021 no engine manufacturer has any excuses as Honda has shown finding performance is possible.

      1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        7th April 2021, 16:02

        The problem now is the engine is frozen for performance upgrades until the start of 2022.

        If you are behind on power you are stuck with what you have.

        MB were losing out on electric power as harvesting wasn’t working properly. If it requires an actual mod to fix they might not be allowed. Honda had a similar problem I believe a couple of years ago.

        Now IMHO Horner knew Honda were putting all their efforts and untold amounts of money and resource into this years engine and then starting crying for a freeze in October. I thought the freeze was for 2022 but it applies to this year as well.

        I thought at one point MB were against the freeze. Maybe they were but the rule change is in.

        1. @ Andy:
          No in-season performance development on the engines allowed in 2021, only reliability fixes are allowed.
          However, this year’s winter developments going into the 2022 season are allowed; the engine freeze from 2022-2024 starts with the first race in 2022.
          So for this winter, Ferrari is considering a complete new engine for the 2022 freeze, same with Renault. And the Mercs would also be working flat out to find performance for the 2022 freeze.
          This leaves a question mark for Honda; they have said they’ve brought their 2022 developments into 2021 but the question is whether they will continue spending money to develop it further for the 2022 freeze? If they don’t, then they have to hope that what they’ve done this year is enough to counter any further gains from the others going into 2022…

  6. These underdogs have it so hard.

  7. “I know that they won the last race [of 2020]

    he said it, not me. merc is still much quicke down the straights. I think the tyre is the culprit, testing this tyre last year put RB at the top of the time sheets.

    1. @peartree Red Bull wasn’t the only one testing this year’s tyres last year.

      1. @jerejj let me rephrase it. Last year in Bahrain, when everyone tested the new tyre, RB were quicker than Mercedes. Max complained about the tyre much to my surprise as he was faster than the mercs on the new tyre.
        @f1osaurus can’t find your figures, all mercs when I last checked out and during the race verstappen’s drs was much less effective than expected.

    2. @peartree Mercedes isn’t quickest down the straights. Hamilton and Bottas were clocked at 315kmh during the race. Verstappen 327.

      They weren’t fastest last year either. It’s just that Verstappen usually likes to run with a lot of downforce that he’s slower. Alpha Tauri was usually fastest on the straights while Verstappen was low on the list.

      But then Verstappen likes to pretend it’s just the engine that makes the difference on the straight. Without adding that he uses that higher downforce to gain back the time in the corners. It’s all Red Bull propaganda which they keep repeating over and over.

      1. Where did you see that. The only stat I’ve seen showed Verstappen had a top speed of 313.6 and Hamilton 314.2 at the speed trap. Fastest of all was Vettel with 323.1.

      2. @f1osaurus @ronald
        Race maximum speeds at speed trap:
        1 14 F. ALONSO 330.2
        2 3 D. RICCIARDO 329.3
        3 22 Y. TSUNODA 327.8
        4 33 M. VERSTAPPEN 327.0
        5 31 E. OCON 325.4
        6 55 C. SAINZ 325.1
        7 5 S. VETTEL 325.0
        8 11 S. PEREZ 324.7
        9 4 L. NORRIS 324.2
        10 63 G. RUSSELL 323.6
        11 18 L. STROLL 322.3
        12 10 P. GASLY 320.6
        13 47 M. SCHUMACHER 320.2
        14 7 K. RAIKKONEN 319.2
        15 77 V. BOTTAS 318.9
        16 6 N. LATIFI 318.7
        17 99 A. GIOVINAZZI 316.1
        18 44 L. HAMILTON 315.2
        19 16 C. LECLERC 311.2
        20 9 N. MAZEPIN 263.4
        Source: FIA.com event and timing information.

  8. It’s interesting to think how dominant Mercedes has been if you compare engines.

    In 2014 that PU106A Hybrid blew everyone (and themselves) away how good it really was. Slowly Ferrari were able to catch and finally surpass Mercedes with their own power unit. Then we all know what happened with FIA but now Honda is almost 0.5s faster in a track where in 2014 Mercedes was a full second faster than then second fastest engine Renault.
    As Shovlin said “We’ve had a lot of years where we’ve been able to rely on straight-line speed” they have had that advantage for a long time. In the end between 2014-2021 two engine manufacturers out of three had or have built a faster one.

    Still Verstappen was 0.3s faster in the middle sector in Bahrain and only a couple thousandth faster in sectors 1 and 3. Is Honda really that much powerful compared to Mercedes or as we know from the history is Red Bull just the best car in those tricky middle sectors?

    1. @qeki The Mercedes engine was estimated last season to give a 0.2s advantage over Honda. Not sure which track that was, but it clearly was not the deciding factor.

      Honda might have closed up some of that, but Mercedes losing another second per lap on aero is a much bigger chunk of time.

  9. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    7th April 2021, 12:55

    I still really doubt the advantage is anywhere near what they’re suggesting and its still impossible to say when the gap was so small after just one race. But the idea of Mercedes of all people complaining about a possible ‘locked in advantage’ for another team after they’ve literally had a locked in advantage for the past 6 odd years and taken multiple championships with it is grimly hilarious.

    1. Ferrari caught up 2017-2018. Ferrari had 65hp advantage in 2019.

    2. I still really doubt the advantage is anywhere near what they’re suggesting

      Better believe in Rocket Panda commenting in a site than in a super high performance engineer from Mercedes.

  10. Why all the vitriol. I’ve been saying all year that teams won’t be able to just spend money on development for their 2021 cars because there’s a budget cap.
    Couple that with the lower limits on wind tunnel time for Mercedes and they’re hardly likely to risk their 2022 development.

    RBR has finally managed to not screw up their chassis at the beginning of a season, something they’ve managed to do for at least the last 4, so actually have a bit of an advantage over Merc who seem to have done a RBR this year.

    They have limits on their development potential which in the scheme of things might mean a close season.

    1. to just spend money on development for their 2021 cars because there’s a budget cap.

      that’s part of the reason Mercedes started last year.

    2. @dbradock

      RBR has finally managed to not screw up their chassis at the beginning of a season

      Yeah they copied Mercedes rear suspension setup.

  11. Shovlin doesn’t blame FIA though:

    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

    They’re engineers, given a problem to solve, explaining how those solutions will require more ingenuity than usual given the restrictions this year. That’s all.

    1. Unlike Otmar Szafanauer of Aston Martin, who solely blames these regulation changes for his car’s lack of performance.

      1. Thanks Ian! set aside for listening later.

  12. This kind of talk is getting a bit old after one race which they even lost last year, being totally dominant elsewhere.

    The only thing to hope for is the championships will not be decided as early as last year, so they can’t put all development into 2022 car early. Or at the very least if Red Bull also sorts 2nd at the same time and can do the same early start to 2022.

    1. Every mercedes employé has to follow a crash course “how to become a underdog”

  13. **Grumpy Cat**
    GOOD.

  14. MERCEDES SMOKESCREEN & SANDBAGGING ALERT!!!!
    Definitely the very very Top Team at the above!!!!

    1. Conspiracy theory to match your sandbaggin alert: I really believe that Mercedes are hiding pefomance to make F1 more entertaining this year. In the end, they´re going to win with a little tiny margin.

      It´s finaly time to F1 be more a Netflix series — full of unpredictability and instant gratification — than a sport.

  15. There is no way the FIA knew for a fact that the rule change would effect Mercedes more than any other team. They’re just not that reliable in their judgment. It may be the change did hurt them most but I doubt it was planned. All of this could have been prevented had the teams just agreed to use the latest tyre compounds 2 years ago.

  16. Ben (@scuderia29)
    8th April 2021, 7:59

    *lewis Hamilton Wraps up his 8th title with 6 races spare*

    Toto “lewis has done an exceptional job with only the 4th fastest car on the grid, we were really disadvantaged this year”

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