Will Mercedes upgrades put them back in title fight? Five British GP talking points

2021 British Grand Prix

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After the triple-header in France and Austria, a two-week break before the British Grand Prix has given teams a chance to regroup and reset.

With only two races to go until the summer break, Mercedes face a crucial test of their competitiveness.

Mercedes’ upgrade promise

The indication from Mercedes is that their final upgrade package of major significance is coming at the British Grand Prix. Having lost the last five races to Red Bull, there’s a lot riding on it.

This package of upgrades represents the team’s latest attempt to shrink their growing deficit to Red Bull. If they can find the pace around Silverstone to challenge for the win again, then the title fight may stay alive into the second half of the 2021 season.

While it’s far too early to start talking about ‘must-win’ races, a continuation of Red Bull’s supremacy this weekend will bode badly indeed for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes’ hopes of retaining their crowns.

Will Norris get in among the title contenders?

Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Norris delayed the Mercedes in Austria
Toto Wolff blamed Mercedes’ inability to challenge for the win last time out on the time their drivers lost behind Lando Norris in the first part of the race.

Although Mercedes were quicker on a race fuel load, Norris had out-qualified them and was well within his rights to race them as long as he could keep Hamilton behind. It was clear that, once Hamilton had a run at the McLaren, Norris didn’t make life hard for him.

But McLaren may play a decisive role at the front again. Earlier in the race, Sergio Perez was sent tumbling down the order during a battle with Norris when he made a relatively risky, early move and ran wide.

If Norris’ exceptional qualifying performances continue, the top teams face the problem of needing to get ahead of him as early as they can, which his also consistently good race performances mean is not straightforward. Norris came home fifth at last year’s British Grand Prix, in what was a much less competitive car than this year’s McLaren.

F1’s Sprint Qualifying experiment

The big change to this weekend’s race format has already been covered at length elsewhere. Suffice to say, now we will finally get a chance to see whether the addition of an extra short race on Saturday will deliver the entertainment gains the sport hopes to see.

Will one driver become the first to scoop the new maximum of 29 points in a single weekend? Will the Sprint Qualifying race enhance the show or detract from the grand prix? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Pirelli’s Silverstone dilemma

After Lewis Hamilton finished the British Grand Prix on three wheels last year following a blow-out, two other drivers suffered similar failures in the same race, and further punctures occurred later in the year for Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll, changes were made to cars and tyres in a bid to prevent a repeat.

But in Baku Verstappen and Stroll suffered two more failures, prompting the introduction of tighter rules on tyres use.

On top of that, Pirelli tested a more robust tyre construction, allowing teams to run prototype tyres during practice at the Austrian Grand Prix. These were approved for introduction last week, giving Pirelli added confidence they will avoid a repeat of last year’s failures.

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Fans return to Silverstone

As part of the British government’s Events Research Programme, a capacity crowd will be permitted at Silverstone. Campsites, grandstands and general admission areas will be at regular, pre-pandemic capacity, with as many as 140,000 people expected on race day.

There are restrictions in place to minimise the risk of transmitting the virus. Admission to the site is conditional on providing either an NHS lateral flow test showing a negative result – taken within 48 hours prior to entry – or having been double-vaccinated at least two weeks earlier.

PCR testing and PPE will still be enforced for those in the F1 paddock. However, the UK government will no longer mandate mask wearing from July 19th onwards (Monday). Silverstone has said attendees are not required to wear face coverings within the circuit, on-site museum or golf course.

Those attending the grand prix will not be required to socially distance, Silverstone has confirmed. However, if anyone does display symptoms of Covid-19 they are obliged to leave the event, isolate and take a PCR test, with their close contacts also isolating until a negative result is proven.

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Are you going to the British Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Great Britain for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you:

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the British Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

How Silverstone has changed since its first F1 race

2021 British Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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31 comments on “Will Mercedes upgrades put them back in title fight? Five British GP talking points”

  1. Mercedes’ upgrade promise – Probably only a small-ish one, so I don’t think a massive change will arise.
    Will Norris get in among the title contenders? – On outright pace, I doubt.
    F1’s Sprint Qualifying experiment – I’m confident this experiment will work out decently okay.
    Pirelli’s Silverstone dilemma – I’m confident nothing will go wrong.
    Fans return to Silverstone – Probably no different than at Red Bull Ring last time out.

    1. No quarrel with any of that. I might add the real question for Mercedes is not whether some tweaks will put them back on terms with RBR (probably not), it’s whether Perez will actually start getting on par with Hamilton in the (usually) fastest Mercedes. That’s far more of a concern for them than Norris.

  2. Fans return to Silverstone – In light of the recent Euro final, will be interesting to see how the fans behave if Hamilton doesn’t win or Verstappen makes an Imola-type move on Hamilton. I remember well the booing of Vettel, cheering when he retired in 2013.

    1. I’m not sure… The sort of ‘English Fan’ you describe is more likely to attack Hamilton (and probably not because he didn’t win either)!

    2. Thankfully the UK F1 crowd doesn’t contain the idiotic rioting scumbags who love to fight. Rival fans sit contently side by side in the grandstands, enjoying a bit of banter as the race unfolds. I say that as a Ferrari fan who had to sit through the 2008 British Grand Prix in a sea of Hamilton fans as Massa spun repeatedly in front of us! We know that whilst it’s an emotional sport, it’s just a sport. For me, F1 fans are the best of British.

      Reply moderated
  3. The indication from Mercedes is that their final upgrade package of major significance is coming at the British Grand Prix.

    They will announce it, but I doubt they’ll race him this year.

  4. I think, more than the upgrade, mercedes could automatically be more competitive here just cause of the layout, will be hard to say how much impact the layout vs the upgrade makes.

    The last 5 races they lost, 2 were street tracks, which the last few years have been mercedes’ achille’s heel, and the other 2 were both austria, which were in the last few years relatively bad for merc and good for red bull\ferrari, and france was lost mostly on strategy, so can’t drag any conclusion for most remaining races based on that, however silverstone will be important, cause it can give some indication about the power values at spa and monza too, possibly more.

    1. You conveniently left out Paul Ricard, which should have been a walk in the park of Merc.

      Reply moderated
      1. Oh, really? I left out paul ricard? “The last 5 races they lost, 2 were street tracks, which the last few years have been mercedes’ achille’s heel, and the other 2 were both austria, which were in the last few years relatively bad for merc and good for red bull\ferrari, and france was lost mostly on strategy”

    2. Yes, Mercedes should be more competitive this weekend. Still, I expect RB to have the faster package around here as well.
      Let’s not forget that one reason why Mercedes were strong in Silverstone in the recent past, was their powerful PU. They don’t hold an advantage in that area anymore. Plus, they had to run more downforce than RB so far this season, to be able to match them in terms of cornering speed.
      As long as Mercedes’ upgrade doesn’t allow them to run less downforce, while keeping the same level of downforce, I don’t see them beating RB this weekend.
      The very limited amount of practice won’t help Mercedes either, as they need to evaluate the new parts.

      1. Going to be very interesting to see. I too think Mercedes should be more competitive just because of the track, and the potency of their upgrade is of course to be seen, but at the same time what few seem to be mentioning is that RBR may themselves have some tweaks to their package too. They of course fully know what to expect at Silverstone in terms of the type of track, and of course they fully are aware that Mercedes are bringing upgrade(s), so I doubt RBR have been sitting on their hands, and I’m sure they are ever eager to beat Mercedes here and really stamp their authority on the season. It’s going to be fascinating. The fact that it is a bit of an unknown bodes well for this season and shows that folks are still giving Mercedes that leeway that they are indeed the reigning Champs and are not to be taken lightly in spite of RBR’s form this year. We do know Max, CH, and RBR are not taking anything for granted about this weekend. They’ll be fully on it, operating by the assumption that Mercedes will be highly competitive here if not the team to beat.

        1. @robbie, you continue to surprise me with your thinking that both the teams are still working on and looking to upgrade their current season cars given your acknowledgment that budget caps and changes to the regulations for 2022 are so critical to the future of F1.

          It seems you’re still stuck a bit in the memory that big teams just spend and upgrade their way out of an issue, whereas I don’t believe they can this year. That’s not a criticism – it’s hard to break a mindset that we’ve all had for years, but I really believe we’re seeing budget caps starting to work.

          I recognise that they would have set some budget aside for this years cars but nothing like past years so I doubt they’ll get much more than a few “tweaks” rather than anything substantial. For this year RBR have started with a much better package than they usually do, and I seriously doubt Mercedes are going to be able to turn that around because they simply won’t have the wiggle room in their budget.

          Will minor tweaks work for Mercedes? – maybe, but that’s what makes this year one of the best for a long time.

          1. @dbradock, While i am not sure of Mercedes (this update is one already planned so all teams do) We see that Red Bull brings updates every race which means they still are developing. (maybe not on the level as in the past but you can be sure every team bar Haas is developing their car on a much lower scale.)

            Ofcourse Red Bull is going to continue developing as they are in the race to win the championship this year.

            I am sure that the 2022 car is already designed last year if we can believe Adrian’s Newey comments.

          2. @dbradock in the case of Mercedes, the indication is that it is very much more a case of a few modest tweaks to the design during the year, with relatively limited interest in throwing resources into a car only usable for a single year.

            Indeed, I believe it has been pointed out that the chassis numbers confirm that both drivers are still using a chassis that were originally used for the W11 back in 2020, and there do not seem to be any plans to produce a new one unless absolutely necessary (i.e. only in the event that an accident wrote a chassis off).

          3. @dbradock It’s not so much that I’m stuck in the past (as in, last year lol) and think that Mercedes is going to spend their way into beating RBR by season’s end. But after their dynasty run I also am not ready to believe with so many points to be had that ‘this is it’ for the season and RBR will run away with it. I mean, as a fan I hope it is so, but it’s just that I don’t know how to define what the budget caps means for Mercedes in actual dollars. Nobody does but them. If their current major upgrade indeed helps greatly, surely they have to continue to allocate money towards keeping their foot on the gas in order to compete, and we don’t know what that means exactly. All we know is ‘budget caps’ and I’ll not trust TW just yet when he downplays their chances because of that. In other words, I’m not in denial but I’m not ready to believe Mercedes cannot compete or is no longer willing. I just need to see and hear more given we’re not quite half way through the season. If their major upgrades help, perhaps their minor tweaks will be significant too.

            Agreeing to the budget caps as I have does not mean I think that teams will get locked in to being perpetual losers if they don’t nail their package from the getgo. It’s supposed to mean teams won’t be able to have banks of engineers in front of computers in a room far far away from the race, assisting, just because the have teams can. It’s supposed to mean each teams cars will gravitate towards being closer to each other. Until I see the actual proof, there’s a chance Mercedes’ new upgrade, which they obviously can afford, will put them much closer to RBR and RBR in turn will not be able to respond with a major upgrade of their own.

            All this to say I’m just not as willing yet as you are to come to the conclusion that the season is already decided. I prefer the stance that they run all the races before they hand out the trophies for a reason. Let’s see how it unfolds. The middle third of the season is going to be very telling.

  5. Sprint Qualifying will fail. 100%.

  6. Given 90+ pages of rule changes and a title sponsor for the sprint races, no matter the outcome, it will be spun as a success.

    Reply moderated
  7. Merc was 1 full second (!) clear of RBR in qualifying last year.

    More than on any other track (also in %, not just absolute time).

    If RBR wins on this track (on merit, so on pure pace), the championship will be sealed.

    1. Yea, that’s what I’m thinking as well. If Mercedes are quicker here then I’d say its game on again. Fingers crossed…

    2. @trib4udi It seems like an age ago they were crushing the opposition with ridiculous time advantages like that, but it was only last year like you say.

      It will be hard to imagine Red Bull has overcome such a deficit.

      1. Deficit due to the regulation changes for this year, methinks.

  8. I wonder what kind of upgrade Mercedes will bring to Silverstone. Updating the floor makes the most sense to me, as it should allow them to run less downforce and lose less time on the straights to RB.

    “Norris came home ‘best of the rest’ at last year’s British Grand Prix…”
    Really?! Leclerc dragging last year’s Ferrari to P3 (and also P4 in the 2nd race) didn’t make him ‘best of the rest’?! Ferrari were far away from being a top team last season.

    1. There HAS to be a mistake, I had watched right today the anniversary highlights cause I liked it since verstappen beat both mercedes in a season they were otherwise dominant, and noticed a great race from leclerc, he was best of the rest there like you say, but for the other race, called british gp, ricciardo was ahead of norris and he was with a renault! There’s no way norris can be considered best of the rest even if you exclude leclerc, which isn’t fair given the 2020 ferrari values.

  9. The only upgrade they need is George Russell

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  10. The weather may also play a part in proceedings. It’s going to be a hot one

  11. It’s probably “will Mercedes actually bring an upgrade?”

    1 hour to test it and bed it in is ridiculous to say the least – they’d have to be absolutely 100% confident that it will make a positive difference before even attempting it because they’ll be severely hamstrung if it turns out to be worse.

    It’s just simply not a weekend that they can really make the most of it.

    Mind you – I’ve still not seen the detail of what Parc Ferme conditions will apply from when. can anyone provide the details?

    1. They had a lot of flow-vis on in practice at the last race, so they’ve been working on it I think. And they have CFD. I think they have FP1 to see if it works on track. I’m just not confident they can “upgrade” back the loss of the floor sections. It could be that their longer car and overall more efficient low rake shape is better for the super fast corners at Silverstone. Or it could be that the lost diffuser efficiency from the floor cut is more exposed here.

    2. @dbradock I don’t have those details either and that is exactly what I have been wondering about too. I am hoping that after Friday’s FP1 and qualifying they can go ahead and do what they want ahead of Saturday’s FP2 and the Sprint Qualifying. To me it wouldn’t make sense to ‘lock their cars in’ after Friday’s qualifying for the rest of the weekend.

      1. @robbie I find it a bit sad that they’ve not been made public.

        My understanding was that it was going to be applied from the start of first qualifying with only some minor things (like clutches) being able to be changed for the rest of the weekend. Doesn’t seem logical to do that but it’s F1 :)

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