Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2021

Mercedes try “extreme” fixes and run different rear wings again to unlock Baku pace

2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Mercedes had to try some “extreme things” with their set-up to unlock the performance from their W12 after the team struggled in practice.

Lewis Hamilton qualified second on the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, crucially ahead of championship leader Max Verstappen. The front-row start for Hamilton was a major turnaround in fortunes for Mercedes after a dismal first day of practice which saw both cars finish second practice outside the top 10.

Speaking after qualifying, Hamilton explained how the Mercedes mechanics had worked until 11pm on Friday looking for a way to resolve their lack of pace.

“Basically, when we arrived here, it didn’t feel too bad in FP1 and then obviously as we got through the rest of the sessions, FP2 and FP3, were pretty much a disaster,” explained Hamilton.

“We did some changes overnight, which didn’t rectify the issue going into today. Then in FP3, we tried a few different things and then we tried something right at the end just with the set-up, and it unlocked the potential a little bit.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Mercedes were seventh out of 10 teams on Friday
Hamilton said his team “were here last night until 11 o’clock” working on the car and continued tweaking it until 10 minutes before qualifying began. “Then just had to shake it off and go for it and just go all out.”

Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff said the team took risks with their cars’ set-ups which did not pay off as they searched for a solution to their poor performance.

“In FP3 we worked through some really thorough engineering programmes and we were not shy of trying extreme things,” he said. “Which, at the end, were extreme as we expected, and weren’t the silver bullet.

“But it was just really crunching through the numbers, trying things, getting the feedback of the drivers. And eventually we had the car in a more decent place. So it was the last run in FP3 where we tried to confirm the step and the car was there or thereabouts.”

One obvious approach Mercedes took was running different rear-wing specifications on their cars, as they also did at the Portuguese Grand Prix last month. On that occasion Hamilton ran a slimmer rear wing with a twin-pillar mount, while Valtteri Bottas used a steeper, single-pillar wing.

Valtteri Bottas' rear wing, Baku, 2021
Valtteri Bottas’ rear wing, Baku, 2021
Lewis Hamilton's rear wing, Baku, 2021
Lewis Hamilton’s rear wing, Baku, 2021

This weekend the two have reversed: Bottas has the twin-pillar wing with a shallower main element. On the face of it, Hamilton would appear to be at more of a disadvantage running a steeper wing, producing more drag, at a track where straight-line speed is critical.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Bottas ‘towed’ hamilton in qualifying
However Hamilton went into the weekend knowing he would have the opportunity to take a tow from his team mate in qualifying. Mercedes rotate which of their drivers has first say in the qualifying running order – which is standard practice for many teams – and this week was Hamilton’s turn to have first call. The expectation he would benefit from his team mate’s slipstream may have given him the confidence to run a steeper rear wing.

Wolff said the difference between the drivers’ rear wing choices did not account for the gap between the pair in qualifying, where Hamilton was 1.2 seconds quicker, but indicated it could play a role in the race.

“I don’t think it was a big pace disparity today,” he said. “Tomorrow, it might have a slight effect.

“But the difference was that the car was very tricky all weekend and somehow Lewis found the confidence for qualifying and Valtteri struggled. I think, on a circuit like this one, that is important.”

Hamilton said the key factor in Mercedes’ turnaround had been working out how to get their tyre temperatures into the optimum levels more reliably.

“It was really just about getting the tyres to work,” he explains. “We just can’t get our tyres to switch on like the others generally can. And so the night-and-day difference feeling was that all of a sudden the tyres started working and we’re kind of back in the game. So it was just then about pulling the lap together.”

Having found more pace in their car over the course of Saturday’s running, Wolff believes that the team have a reason to feel confident about their potential for Sunday.

“We had a quick racing car yesterday,” Wolff said. “In the long runs, we had good tyre degradation and we have good straight line speed. So it should put us in a decent position for tomorrow.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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35 comments on “Mercedes try “extreme” fixes and run different rear wings again to unlock Baku pace”

  1. Toto is trying his best to not admit that his rear wing flexes now as well, because it quite clearly does.

    1. *I will point out that these comparisons using the onboard cameras and the on-screen lines are not perfect, as the line remains in a static place while the car will naturally pitch backwards a little bit. But if there is flex then it is pretty much equivalent to the Red Bull’s now.

      1. Awesome.

        Mercedes showed they can adapt fast and beat their competitors using similar ‘edge case’ designs.

        They’re legal – CH’s words.

      2. I’d also like to add, the RB still has more flex.

        https://youtu.be/JZx3ZhB_rKk?t=56

        1. And seems less ‘wobbly’ than the Mercedes rear wing (which I presume isn’t as aerodynamically efficient).

      3. @randommallard to him I’d say, “weird flex, but okay”. Not sure if that meme translates to other English speaking areas of the world or just mine.

        1. @neiana I can confirm that meme does translate where I am as well!

  2. “oh we got so lucky, the change we made at the end of FP3 just happened to put the car on the front row, and running a high drag wing on Valterri’s car just happened to give us a tow. We were just amazingly lucky”

    Yeah right…

    1. You should try reading the article maybe?

      Bottas has the twin-pillar wing with a shallower main element.

    2. Couple of things; Hamilton had the high drag wing, and stop acting like they qualified half a second ahead of everyone like they used to.

      They didn’t even take pole and for the second race running only had one driver manage to switch the tyres on and extract performance from the car.

      It’s a far cry from previous seasons.

    3. Agreed. I get so sick of Merc’s BS sandbagging.

    1. Go right into the wall hopefully.

  3. I simply don’t know why the Mercedes clan cries all the time. If you discount Ferrari’s race pace tomorrow, Hamilton is effectively on pole for win. Honestly they downplay their chances so much all the time, it has become difficult to believe anything that they say.

    1. Just stop believing them, it’s what I’ve done. They’re liars. “Bono my tires are dead”, then sets two consecutive fastest laps. Hate ‘em.

    2. Agree, that’s what I said earlier this weekend too, that I just can’t believe what hamilton and wolff say; I think bottas and some strategist are a bit more honest.

    3. I agree, it is getting so ridiculous now that I simply turn the volume down when Lewis or Toto speaks. And I used to love this team and respected their achievements. They have become more hollow with every interview I have seen this year. I used to love Lewis too, but now I can only appreciate his driving skills. They are so full of

  4. The only reason Hamilton is there is because of the tow. What ever they found didn’t played any role on qualifying so all this mambo jumbo chat from all the team is dust in our eyes.
    I hope at least in race pace they will be better but in the life of me i don’t understand what is happening with the Mercedes the last races. Its not that the others did huge improvements.

    1. Yeah….I am a bit mystified as well. Surely they are faster than alphatauri and mclaren and ferrari but the last couple races make you wonder…..Is it just the characteristics of the street circuits? will they be back to their normal behavior come next few tracks?….Time will tell.

      1. Softer tyres for Monaco and Baku, which they can’t get working as quickly. Reading the report, that’s what Hamilton says they worked out, though Bottas struggled still – it’s been the one main area where he’s been far apart from Hamilton for a season or two now though, especially in races.

    2. @bluechris Leclerc also had a tow off Hamilton so, roughly balancing out, that suggests Mercedes/Hamilton did have a similar pace to Ferrari and the others at the front. Whether they’ve compromised their race (tyre wear) in so doing, we’ll have to see tomorrow. I guess not even they know given how late the changes were.

      1. But no one conserves tyres like HAM does so it might not hurt Mercedes.

        1. @greenflag I completely agree that Hamilton is probably the best tire saver on the grid, but the different circumstances may come into play here. The merc is probably much less likely to build a 10 second gap in 10 laps and give space for him to conserve the tires anymore, and instead Lewis may find that he can’t conserve the tires while also keeping Max behind at a circuit where overtaking is relatively easy compared to others. And dependent on how fast he moves through the field, Red Bull also (for once) might be able to pull out the No.2 driver card, as Perez is probably the second best tire conserver on the grid, so could really help RB.

          1. @greenflag,@randommallard

            I completely agree that Hamilton is probably the best tire saver on the grid

            He’s been extremely brilliant at managing his tyres in the last seasons but judging by his entire career I think Fernando and especially Kimi are far superior than Hamilton in that particular department.

          2. @tifoso1989 Fair enough. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really considering them as they probably aren’t going to be in contention for the win. But it is Baku so anything could happen still…

      2. Yeah im not ignoring that and a great strategy from Hamilton to let this happen to have a Ferrari near the top to mess with Verstapen.

      3. @david-br Charles was much, much closer to Ham on that P1 lap, giving him a much, much better tow.

        1. Even so @neiana Charles said himself his pole lap was actually fairly scrappy, so he should have been able to add more time too. Though in the race I don’t expect much from Ferrari.

        2. @neiana I know. I was so surprised about how close they were. I honestly think Mercedes cost themselves pole by giving Leclerc that big a tow.

    3. Lewis had a decent time in all 3 qualifying sessions. He might have had a tow or two, but so did the others.
      He and Mercedes are clearly on top of the issue that plagued him before, even if Valtteri still is struggling – in a reversal from the Monaco antics.

    4. isthatglock21
      5th June 2021, 22:39

      e tow only gave him 0.3-0.6 seconds max. Even without it he would still be P4/P5 or with no changes he would’ve been were Bottas was who was 1.2 off Lewis. Even if Bottas got a tow he would be P8, So that’s where Lewis would also be, so I imagine they did find some gains

  5. Yeah, yeah, yeah, underdog bla bla sandbag

    1. Yup. I just hope both he and Boatass find the castle wall tomorrow.

      1. You must be fun at parties

  6. Bottas was not driving the car with confident this weekend. He missed a lot of the braking points. Don’t know the difference of Bottas vs Hamilton in sector 1 and sector 2, but guess Hamilton is faster there.

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