Mercedes will sort car problems within three races, Budkowski predicts

2021 F1 season

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Mercedes will recover quickly from their sub-par start to the 2021 F1 season, Alpine’s executive director Marcin Budkowski has predicted.

The world champions qualified almost four-tenths of a second slower than Red Bull at the opening race in Bahrain. An off-season change in the technical regulations forcing teams to change their rear floor designs has been blamed.

But with an unusually long three-week break between the opening races, followed by another two-week gap until round three, Budkowski expects Mercedes will make rapid gains with their W12.

“You have clearly Red Bull in front and Mercedes not very far [away],” he said. “I think they’re behind at the moment but I would be curious to see where they are in two or three races, because I think they are a big, very well-structured and very competent team and they clearly have some issues that they will sort.”

However Mercedes has indicated it may not be able to close the gap to Red Bull this year. Trackside performance engineer Andrew Shovlin said new restrictions on development during 2021 will hinder their efforts to make progress. Teams also have to weigh their current development programmes against the need to produce entirely new cars for next year.

Behind Red Bull and Mercedes, Budkowski believes Alpine is part of a large midfield comprising all the remaining teams bar Williams and Haas.

Analysis: F1 field closes up as Mercedes lose two seconds in four months
“You have McLaren who are strong, AlphaTauri were strong, Ferrari were strong, a little bit stronger than we expected them [to be]. And then there’s us, there’s Aston Martin.

“I think that group with McLaren, with Ferrari, with AlphaTauri, with ourselves and Aston Martin – and I think Alfa Romeo were not far off either – that group is very, very tight. It’s almost like fifth or sixth to 16th is going to be tight. Circuit to circuit and conditions to conditions it’s going to be variable.

“So our objective is to be at the front of that group rather than at the rear. At the moment we’re somewhere in the middle of it and we’re short of a few tenths to get to the front.

“It could be different the next race and it’s going to be interesting to watch because people are going to develop their cars a little bit, but not that long this season because of the ’22 regulations coming. So it’s going to be interesting. That midfield is going to be very, very competitive all season long.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Mercedes will sort car problems within three races, Budkowski predicts”

  1. Interesting coming from a person whose team won’t even directly compete with Mercedes this year.

  2. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    8th April 2021, 7:51

    I think they are a big, very well-structured and very competent team and they clearly have some issues that they will sort

    Ah yes, someone working at Renault uses this to make a point. Somewhat ironic, as that team hasn’t managed to do the same in several seasons. Does that mean that Budkowski is saying that his team is not very competent? I’m sure that Toto Wolff is also covering when he says that it’ll be a tough decision to choose between working on the 2021 or the 2022 car, but with the token system I can see an issue being more of a major problem than before. Mercedes might have the funds and the knowledge, but so did Red Bull. And it cost them more than 3 races every season to catch up again.

    Although I guess you could wonder whether some people at Red Bull (we all know who) are what Budkowski would call ‘very competent’…

  3. Would have to agree with his assessment. Mercedes are pretty rapid and efficient at fixing problems with the car.. and given that there was a 3 week break after race 1.. and another 2 week following it, it should give plenty of time to Mercedes to develop a solution by race 4 and make a further step on the update in race 5.

    What makes this season interesting is that Red bull were notorious for starting off the season with a lot of issues in their car and then ending the season strong due to their in season development, which I believe is second to none in the paddock. So, by the time Mercedes gets on top of their issues by race 4 or 5, we should also see Red Bull with some performance upgrades that will cause Mercedes trouble.

    This season might actually just be a development race between two of the best in-season development teams over the past decade. Which would also bode well for next season as both the top teams would put more resources in 2021’s car as compared to 2022. I’d still predict Mercedes to win this year… but I think it should go down to race 19 or 20 at least.

    1. @todfod Well said and I continue to be intrigued with the concept of teams developing this year’s car balanced along with the work on next year’s, and the resultant resources allocation issue, and am currently not convinced they (at least the top teams) can’t do both very very well without taking too much away from one or the other.

    2. I’m not so certain they will. If they’ve got an aero problem, and it seems they do, they also have very finite limits on wind tunnel and CFD testing this year, and I doubt they’ll spend money on developing something unless they can verify it via their wind tunnel.

      It’s going to depend on how big (or not) their issue is. If it’s big, in their terms, I see them just trying to battle on with what they have while hoping that RBR also stick pretty much with what they have.

      I certainly don’t see either team sacrificing work on 2022 to win this years WDC/WCC as I’d expect that if you don’t hit 2022 with a great interpretation of the chassis rules, it might take several seasons to work your way back.

      If the 2 teams are close to 50/50 (and the first race suggested that’s pretty close to the mark) they might both decide to enjoy the fight and we’ll finally see a close battle for an entire season.

      1. I certainly don’t see either team sacrificing work on 2022 to win this years WDC/WCC as I’d expect that if you don’t hit 2022 with a great interpretation of the chassis rules, it might take several seasons to work your way back.

        In 2008, BMW threw away a realistic title shot with Kubica by stopping development on the 2008 car in order to focus on the rule changes in 2009. Brawn and, later on, Red Bull nailed the new rules and BMW never featured on the front rows again.

        The opposite examples exist as well. Early 2013 was very competitive. Red Bull got spooked and kept on developing their car throughout the season, resulting in a rout and a clean sweep for Vettel. Then, they were massively caught out by Mercedes in the 2014 hybrid era. (To be fair, all teams were caught out.)

        Having to choose between a competitive 2022 and a very realistic title shot now, at a title that is long overdue… I am not certain that RB and VER would prioritise 2022.
        Hindsight will tell, but either could turn out to be a foolish decision.

        1. Frank I agree and I believe that no team should sacrifice something they actually have at hand in the moment over a hope for next year. To me that would be foolish as one never knows what the competition might bring for the next season anyway, so better, imho at least, to go for it now while it is real and tangible and upon you as a team, than project for the future.

          Of course I see the value as well of wanting to nail the new car for the next season(s) and not get left behind, but I think since that is more the unknown, as I say better to go with what you do know now.

        2. There was NO realistic shot for Kubica, that is nothing but fan hype.

          Reply moderated
        3. In 2008, BMW threw away a realistic title shot with Kubica by stopping development on the 2008 car

          No. No they did not. Kubica never had a realistic chance to compete for the WDC.

          1. @f1osaurus I would argue he did. He was never the favorite, but there was enough there for a title challenge. Midway through the season, Kubica was 8 points ahead of eventual champion Hamilton. Both Hamilton and Massa (and their respective teams) made a lot of unnecessary errors in the 2nd half of the championship that someone like BMW and Kubica could have looked to capitalise on. Renault, for example, pressed on with the development of their 2008 car, and as a result, Alonso scored more points in the 2nd half of the year than everyone bar Hamilton. So BMW, had they continued to press on with their 2008 title charge, would likely have been able to achieve similar results to Renault, perhaps even more given how much better their car was initially.

          2. @mashiat Yeah in Canada, Hamilton drove into Raikkonen and Kubica was gifted the race. Plus Massa spun off in the first 2 races. That was pretty much the last time Kubica played any role of significance with respect to the championship. Hardly a championship contender.

            Besides the whole story that BMW switched focus on 2009 is a construct from Kubica. Together with that the team should not waste time on helping Heidfeld get a car that he could work with. While in fact Heidfeld had been the better driver by far of the two over their whole time together. Just when he was a head for one season they should suddenly not focus on the other.

            Kubica is always full of empty promises and putting blame on others. Same with his latest run at Williams. It’s always someone else’s fault.

    3. True, red bull is indeed notorious for their in season development, normally catching up to mercedes by the end of the season while starting behind, so hopefully an interesting season, and obviously mercedes’ development is also good, while ferrari was a bit lacking.

  4. Mercedes won the last race, 1-3. They didn’t face tyre wearing issues, or straight line speed deficit. They finished way ahead of 80% of the field.

    Do they have a “problem”? Only if you were expecting them to be as dominant as the last 7 years. 0.5sec/lap faster than anyone. Hat trick wins.

    If Verstappen had finished the usual third, would one say Mercedes had a problem? RBR is faster this year. That’s the problem.

    I hope both teams lock horns until season’s end, using all available resources to achieve marginal gains. Yes, RBR can also improve.

    But this will make a dent is 2022 chassis development, for both teams, opening room to a more diverse field next year.

    1. Actually, Max has ended up with the same amount of wins, 2nd and 3rd places as Bottas in 2020, but also with 5x as many DNFs..

      Reply moderated
      1. Bottas had 5 races in which he scored none or only a few points.

        1. Bottas even outscored Verstappen over the season!

          It is, however, just as usual for Bottas to score 3rd as Verstappen ;)

          Reply moderated
        2. @f1osaurus The British GP, Eifel GP and both Bahrain races he lost about 64 points (assuming he would have finished 2nd in all), while Max lost about 69 points due to his retirements in Austria, Monza, Mugello, Imola, and Sakhir.

          1. @mashiat Exactly. That’s totally different picture than saying Bottas had 1 DNF versus Verstappen 5.

    2. @Only Facts!

      But this will make a dent is 2022 chassis development, for both teams, opening room to a more diverse field next year.

      IMO that’s the best we can hope for this year, but then all it takes is poor reliability or another DNF of some sort and even that goes out the window, leaving both free to start developing earlier than the rest who will likely have to fight until the last for the following places.

      1. In a perfect world, Alonso-Verstappen-Leclerc-Ricciardo and whoever drives the Mercedes stealing poles from each other in 2022.

  5. @ only facts good point but over 1 lap redbull are clearly ahead. But all in all lets hope this year is interesting.

  6. But ofcourse they will. Was that ever a question for anyone then? I mean that Mercedes, FIA and Liberty say it is understandable. That media has an interest to join them is clear. Everything in society is about money and viewing nrs. Meanwhile the average F1 viewer already knows it is all a farce.

  7. No, Mercedes will be sandbagging the whole season. Just so we can say RB is faster.

  8. At some point Mercs may stop playing along just for the sake of F1.

  9. So, Max has only two chances left to finish ahead.
    Please stay inside the white line for the next overtake Maxy, for the love of God.

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