Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2021

‘Wacky set-up direction’ may have hurt Mercedes’ race pace

2021 Styrian Grand Prix

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A “radical” change in set-up developed by Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes’ simulator may explain their deficit to Red Bull in the Styrian Grand Prix.

Hamilton trailed championship rival Max Verstappen throughout the race. The gap between the pair grew quickest at the ends of stints. Over the 10 laps prior to his extra pit stop at the end of the race, Hamilton dropped over seven seconds to the race winner.

Mercedes’ head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin said that while the Red Bull Ring has been one of their weaker circuits previously, their choice of set-up may explain their deficit at the end of Sunday’s race.

“We’ve had difficulties here before but often they’ve been because we’ve had insufficient cooling or last year we had an electrical loom that was degrading with vibration,” said Shovlin. “So they’re often not related to performance.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021
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“It is a difficult and quite peculiar circuit and Red Bull are normally strong here. But we’re also exploring a fairly wacky direction with the set-up as a radical approach, which I think was maybe a bit better on the single lap. The question that remains is whether we’ve hurt our degradation and we need to look at that in the next day or two.”

Shovlin revealed the change in set-up had been prompted by work Lewis Hamilton did in the team’s simulator after the French Grand Prix.

“Essentially the window that we work in was much, much wider,” he explained. “We were sort of going further than we’ve ever gone and just really understanding the effects of that.

“Lewis, before he came here, was doing a lot of work in the driver-in-loop simulator and it looked like an interesting direction. An important part of this year for us is adapting well to every track and we do need to be a bit brave and original with set-up direction to do that.”

Mercedes will scrutinise the consequences of the change in set-up closely ahead of this weekend’s race at the same circuit, where Pirelli will bring a softer range of tyres.

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“The one big area [of focus] is understanding this set-up departure that we’ve taken and whether or not that has made life more difficult for the rear tyres in the long run,” said Shovlin.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021
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“Some of that we can just do by data. We’ll see whether or not there’s work that’s going to carry into the Friday of the race weekend.

“Fundamentally the car’s very similar but there are additional challenges of extracting the grip out of that C5 compound, the very softest rubber on the single lap. That might be quite challenging if it is very hot here.”

Despite Hamilton falling over 15 seconds behind Verstappen before making his extra pit stop, Shovlin said the team are “not looking for massive margins” to close the gap to Red Bull.

“I think we were down by a couple of tenths in the race and there’s a bit of degradation. But the solution to both of those problems might be the same thing.

“We’ll just try and get the rears running a bit cooler and look after the rubber a bit better and you may find that both of those things come our way. So we will focus on those areas and it’ll just be a case of seeing if we can come back a bit stronger in a few days’ time.”

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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...
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29 comments on “‘Wacky set-up direction’ may have hurt Mercedes’ race pace”

  1. I thought Lewis said that they thought to use the low downforce rear wing but they would lose to much speed in corners and even more degrading rears as they have now.
    That means the Red Bull has a good downforce drag combo even using that skinny rear wing.

    1. Some pundits (e.g Mark Hughes) have mentioned how the Red Bull generates a greater proportion of its overall downforce from the floor as opposed to the rear wing. This explains why they remain strong in corners even with a smaller wing.

  2. They are a bit lost, aren’t they? I feel that the narrative of this season is not so much about Red Bull upping their game, but Mercedes being not at their usual best. The loss of downforce (from the floor) and the ban of DAS may have hurt them more than I thought.

    1. To me it sounds as a combination of the two. I think Red Bull upping their game put Mercedes in a place they’re not familiar with. As much as people say that Ferrari was a threat in 2017 and 2018: that might be true looking at the points standings, but I don’t remember Mercedes being as fussed by Ferrari at the time as they are by Red Bull right now.

      Also: I’m very surprised that, at least by the wording in this article, it seems the ranks at Mercedes don’t seem to be as closed as they used to be. Why would you specifically call out your lead driver, who is in the middle of a championship battle, for choosing a ‘wacky set-up direction’? Of course it would’ve been different if the set-up direction had worked (then the praise for a bold direction would be a confidence boost for Hamilton), but it didn’t, so now (to me) it sounds as ‘it wasn’t on us, it was on him’.

      1. Adam (@rocketpanda)
        28th June 2021, 10:14

        I was thinking that. Mercedes never seemed particularly bothered by the gap to Ferrari but seem to be clutching at straws against Red Bull. Then again I don’t remember Ferrari really winning against a Mercedes with no outward or obvious issues as cleanly or dominantly as Verstappen just did. That to me suggests their pace and Mercedes struggle with it is actually genuine.

        1. @rocketpanda I think with Ferrari Mercedes knew where their deficit was and that was in peak engine power. They were also probably pretty confident due to the big step forward Ferrari suddenly made that they were doing something dodgy to circumvent the rules. Obviously they couldn’t openly call them out as cheating, but I’m sure behind the scenes they were working flat out on two fronts; improve their own engine performance to cut their deficit, and push the FIA into looking closer at the Ferrari engine, while suggesting what areas they should be looking at.

          With Redbull they are starting to make similar, subtle claims about their engine performance (Hamilton in particular) but I’m not sure if there is any substance behind that. They just seem to be genuinely on the back foot with no real answers when they have already committed to not developing their chassis this year. So I think it could be that – they have no real options this year and just have to make do and optimise what they already have.

      2. Shovlin and the other Mercedes guys that do those interviews have always been rather candid. Maybe you haven’t watched many of their features?

      3. I think a lot misunderstand the Mercedes ‘no blame culture’ and how it operates. Its not about covering for the guy who made the mistake, but giving the guy the confidence to come out immediately and say, ‘that ones down to me.’ And then working together on solutions to resolve that issue.

    2. Red Bull were already up there by the end of 2020. Max won Abu Dhabi rather comfortably despite Merc’s DAS. This season is very much a case of them alongside Honda upping their game considerably (which – if I may say so – is what they should have done ages ago instead of everyone blaming Mercedes for their excellence).

    3. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      28th June 2021, 11:03

      I don’t think its either Red Bull upping their game or Mercedes being not at their best. I thinks its exactly what they are saying it is. They have made a strategic decision to which they are 100% committed, i.e. not developing the car this year.
      Obviously they are acting a little strangely because this is an unfamiliar situation.
      Normally even if Reb Bull were a little bit ahead Mercedes would be confident they could out-develop them. Wolff and Shovelin are a little rattled for sure. Their hoped for worst case scenario is they lose to Red Bull this year win next year. Of course the actual worst case scenario is they lose this year AND next year…

      1. They have made a strategic decision to which they are 100% committed, i.e. not developing the car this year.

        That is not what Toto said. They still aim at this car and the moment to switch to 2022 will come soon.
        But you do know that is exactly the same story they told last year about this year’s car
        The reason they lost Bahrein was because they stopped the development. If so the really fu#€&up this year.

    4. @matthijs It’s interesting to compare the qualifying times from 2020 (Austrian edition not the Styrian!) to 2021, Max’s Pole time is very close to his 2020 time whereas Bottas 2021 time is around 1 second slower, as we have seen at other tracks Mercedes have lost a chunk of time from their one lap pace with the 2021 floor changes.

      1. @ju88sy Indeed. Red Bull is performing well compared to 2021, but nothing special. Alpha Tauri and Williams made bigger gains. It is Mercedes who has fallen back (probably because of rule changes), therefore it seems that Red Bull made a huge leap.

        1. Compared to 2020, sorry

      2. @ju88sy Isolating the floor change though is being selective. The tires are also different, how about the track temperatures, and how and where the teams have clawed aero back from the floor change. There’s the improved Honda pu as well. It has been up to the teams to adapt to several things, not just the floor change. The floor change hasn’t hurt Mercedes at other tracks where they have won this season.

        1. But some teams claim the floor change has affected them more because of their design philosophy, and they’ve said this long before the season started.

  3. Why did Shovlin saying all this? If he didn’t think Lewis’s setup was not the best option, he should write it off himself. He had the technical authority to do that, didn’t he?

    1. I think in the end the responsibility for the set-up lies with the driver, definitely if the driver in question is a 7-time world champion. Still surprised though that Shovlin says this in the media.

    2. @ruliemaulana It was the usual Hamilton stroking (1. he was actually doing ‘a lot of work’ in the sim, and 2. was very ‘brave’ in the setup direction)

  4. So does this mean there is an issue with correlation between the simulator and on track behavior? Also, you’d expect them why to try a more “conventional” setup to compare.

    1. Yes there is a correlation issue
      Lewis does not make mistakes in the simulation but in real life.

  5. I guess that must be the barn door rear wing Horner described it as

  6. No quick fix unless mercedes comes with a much faster car than red bull cause max is faster than hamilton.

  7. Long story short, max is better.

    1. Impossible conclusion to come to, they don’t drive the same car.

      1. Absolutely. If you’re better than your team mate and drive the fastest car, you’ll win races as we’ve seen over the last decade. Someone who looks unbeatable suddenly starts making mistakes and looks much weaker once they’re no longer in the fastest car.

        That’s why records and Championships don’t mean anywhere near as much as some like to believe. If you drive the fastest car for 5 years and have a slow team mate – 5 Championships is the expected result. 4 Championships would be a poor result.

        1. that’s formula one. The almighty and ultra fast Verstappen only needed the fastest car to succeed. Like virtually every other champion.

  8. Philip Porter
    28th June 2021, 13:06

    Merc run a longer wheelbase chassis, which compromises performance in low to mid speed corners, to run the lwb chassis, it has to bring benefit of generating addotional downforce from the extra floor space, as the FIA have clamped down and reduced this area this year, the case for running a Lwb chassis is massively reduced. Basically they are left with all the compromise, and the upside has been minimised. This is not really surprising, as this was the intention of the changes by the FIA.

    Reply moderated
  9. Only Merc can get it right. Therefore if they are not on top the rivals must be cheating. So why should Merc look for technical imperfections, why try to improve, they don’t need to change a thing. You can’t improve perfection.

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