Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021

Will power unit gains and lower downforce level mean a better weekend for Mercedes?

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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[raceweekendpromotion]Mercedes did not expect to annex the front row of the grid at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, a track which has not played to their strengths in previous seasons.

Red Bull’s untouchable pace in the race, which Max Verstappen won comfortably while his team mate heaped pressure on Lewis Hamilton, was a reversion to the expected balance of power.

With Hamilton now trailing Verstappen by 19 points in the standings, Mercedes can ill afford more races like that. Will Interlagos prove a better venue for them this weekend?

Mercedes have some grounds for optimism. The exceptionally high altitude of the Mexican track has always been a bugbear for them. While Sao Paulo is quite a lot lower, it’s still the second-highest venue F1 visits. But the team believe recent gains with their power unit has addressed their weakness at high altitudes.

“We have optimised it for these conditions,” team principal Toto Wolff said on Saturday in Mexico. “At the end, you’re trying to extract power unit performance throughout the calendar, and the outliers are somehow difficult to take account for.

“But it’s more a tuning question. It’s not that we’ve put the engine upside down, it’s just we better understand why it didn’t perform in high altitude.”

The team’s weakness compared to Red Bull in Mexico was less to do with their power unit than the performance of their chassis, trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believes.

“The issues this week were focussed on the chassis side and how we could get a bit more grip and stop sliding around and overheating,” he said in the aftermath of the team’s defeat on Sunday.

“It didn’t feel like we had a deficit on the power unit side. But we’ll do analysis on that. It’s difficult to isolate everything that’s going on at one single race, you need to really look them over a sequence of events to understand that.”

The thin air of Mexico City requires a maximum-downforce configuration despite its long straights. Interlagos, on the other hand, is not as high, and its long straights mean a more compromised downforce level is needed.

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“One of the advantages they had here was they they were able to go up a step on downforce from the rear wing they normally run to that max-downforce wing,” said Shovlin. “But actually for us, that’s the one that we run normally. It’s just their car seems to have more low downforce than us when we’re on identical-size wings and I think that played into their favour.

“In Brazil that should be less of an issue. But it’s very hard to predict.

“Very much as we did coming here […] we’ll look at the weaknesses of our car, work out how we can minimise them and what we need to get the tyres in a good window.

“But making predictions about whether you’re going to be fast or slow is quite meaningless. It’s more about knowing the jobs that you need to focus on and do a good job of getting the car sorted.”

This points towards a better weekend for Mercedes. But as Shovlin acknowledged, the margins between them and Red Bull are often so small, making predictions becomes extremely difficult. And if that is true of a known quantity like Interlagos, it’s even more so of the final three races on new or heavily revised tracks.

“There’s reasons that we would expect it to be closer. The thing is, what we like to spend our time doing is worrying about things that might go wrong and that might catch us out. So as I said, it may well be. But it’s so unpredictable at the moment.

“You look at qualifying, obviously single-lap can be more variable than the race pace. But we don’t need to go back far and we clearly had the most dominant car through the weekend in Turkey and I think so in Sochi as well.

“Within the remaining four circuits, there will be circuits that suit us. So we’re going to just keep trying and do everything we can to win the championships.”

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2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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18 comments on “Will power unit gains and lower downforce level mean a better weekend for Mercedes?”

  1. Will power

    Nice one Keith :D

    1. Yeah, when I saw the title, i immediately started wondering whether anyone would be so bold to draw Power in for a weekend, or maybe having him as guest would help them @andae23.

      1. Indeed here too @bascb and @andae23, had a grin to myself at that

  2. The speed advantage of Merc over RB in Monza was as big as last weekend’s RB advantage over Merc.

    Merc clearly the better car on most circuits since the summer break on a variety of tracks: (twisty Hungary, slippery Turkey, rectangly Russia).

    Interlagos will be close. Decided on details (strategy, driver, setup, tyre temps etc)

    1. Very close the setup and temperates will be the decider.

  3. Let’s hope so. Mercedes/Lewis need to win this, we can’t allow Red Bull/Max to win this WDC/WCC because of the floor regulation everybody keeps ignoring which is the reason why Red Bull is so strong.

    1. @noname, I agree. Even though the floor change was solely for helping Pirelli, it’s still the reason this season has been close. With entirely stable technical regs, this season would’ve probably been similar to last, which, in hindsight, would’ve been better for Lewis’ record-breaking 8th WDC chance.

    2. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      11th November 2021, 12:25

      @noname Exactly. Brought about because a certain garbage-tyre producing company couldn’t get their act together. And still produced garbage this year anyway.

      1. It’s wrong what you are saying. Objectively, the Pirelli tyre is extremely high performance. Even the tain tyre that people love to hate has extremely good water displacement figures. Pirelli makes the tyres according to what the FIA asks of them. They basically tailor make a the tyres to degrade according to a certain profile.

        Speaking of degrade, I find that it’s distasteful when people degrade all the good work of those engineers at Pirelli who are just doing thier job. These tyres are engineering marvels and it’s unfortante that people like you don’t take time out to appreciate all the work that’s gone into them.

    3. The fact that you keep repeating this, does not make it true. Apart from that: if it was true, should we say all Merc titles since 2014 are the result of the engine rule changes are unfair an dhould not have happened.
      Just nonsense.

    4. We don’t have to say this over and over It’s not the FIA it was all the teams who signed oof on the reduced floor. And Red Bull was the one not favoring it as they thought it would hurt them more with the high rake concept. (less floor less downforce)

      Now Mercedes concept for this year was not one very easy to setup but Mercedes atleast got they setup right and it’s still a fast car. The Experts (not us armchair experts) says Mercedes clawed back as it’s now 50/50 on most tracks. Mercedes has the problem their setup works in a smaller area then Red Bull.

      So saying that Bull doesn’t deserve the WC is riduculious because of that reason is silly and childish as the real F1 fans knows what is happening.

    5. Lol. Mercedes had a unbelievable 0.5 – 1 sec power advantage for years. The floor change was a FIA decision to cut some downforce. Not RB their fault.

  4. I think something else to consider here, is that Interlagos isn’t really a very strong track for Hamilton personally. He’s only won here twice, one of which was a wet race, and the other was mainly due to Max’s collision with Ocon. Rosberg generally had the measure of him at this track during their time as teammates.

    But comparing the car performance, from the general trend, the Red Bull seems to suit rear-limited tracks more so than Mercedes. Bahrain, Monaco, Baku, Austria (x2), Monza, Austin and Mexico seem to be the main rear-limited tracks that we’ve visited so far this year, and Red Bull has had the advantage in all bar Monza (but that was due to straight-line speed more than anything). This surely is too much to be a coincidence? On that case, Interlagos is more front-limited, so this may come to Mercedes.

    1. @mashiat

      Bahrain, Monaco, Baku, Austria (x2), Monza, Austin and Mexico seem to be the main rear-limited tracks that we’ve visited so far this year, and Red Bull has had the advantage in all bar Monza (but that was due to straight-line speed more than anything).

      Yeah, but it’s still mixing marginal advantages if not evenly matched long run pace (Bahrain, Austin) with significantly big advantages that left the competition standing almost no chance of winning [Monaco, Austria (x2) and Mexico]. Not denying there might be a correlation, though.

  5. Considering just how succesful Hamilton is, Interlagos has to be his worse track whereas one the strongest for Max.

    1. @peartree

      Considering just how succesful Hamilton is, Interlagos has to be his worse track whereas one the strongest for Max.

      Nice opportunity for Max to become almost as assured of the WDC as Rosberg was with three rounds remaining in 2016. If his lead increases to 24 points, he can afford to finish behind Lewis every remaining race, not even worrying about the FLAP bonus point, and still clinch the title. Things still wouldn’t be completely granted for him though, because as much as mathematically he’d depend only on his own strengths, the machinery delta factor still can come into play. Should Red Bull be off-pace in some of the tracks remaining then his title guarauntee is over. It might sure enliven things if Max increases his points advantage again this round.

  6. No.
    (This is the best argumented and objective comment ever, that no one can contest and ….
    Why are you laughing ? … 😁😇)

    1. Totally agree it won’t
      Too late for the Merc chauffeurs to learn to become racers

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