George Russell, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023

Mercedes’ rivals surprised by their “rocket ship” performance in Spain

2023 Spanish Grand Prix

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Mercedes’ rivals were surprised by the speed of their car in yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix as the team scored its best result of the season so far.

Lewis Hamilton rose from fourth on the grid to finish second while George Russell completed the team’s first double podium finish of the season having started 12th.

Lance Stroll said he thought his Aston Martin would be the second-quickest car behind the dominant Red Bulls and was surprised how easily Hamilton passed him early in the race.

“They had a rocket ship today,” Stroll told media including RaceFans at the Circuit de Catalunya. “I’m not really sure where they found that pace.

“I was expecting us to be the strongest car after Red Bull, I expected after all the races this year to have pace to do something good today, we just didn’t have it.”

Hamilton also overhauled Carlos Sainz Jnr as he moved his way forward. The Ferrari driver said “the biggest surprise is how close were Mercedes [to Red Bull] in this race.”

Sainz said Mercedes appeared to have become the closest threat to Red Bull. “I think our pace, when you look like we finished 45 seconds [behind], it’s more or less where we finished in Miami, where we’ve finished in recent races.

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“It’s just Merc has suddenly slotted in between us and Red Bull, probably where Aston should have been but I don’t know what happened to Aston today.”

Race start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023
Poll: Vote for your 2023 Spanish Grand Prix Driver of the Weekend
While Red Bull and Mercedes occupied the top four places, the Aston Martin pair came sixth and seventh behind Sainz – their worst result so far this year. However team principal Mike Krack is wary of drawing hasty conclusions over Mercedes’ performance.

“I think that would be too early or too easy to say because we have not seen the full picture,” said Krack. “It’s something that like in the beginning of the year we said we need two or three races to see where you are really, I think it’s the same. Now it could well be that others have made a bigger step, but our initial analysis so far doesn’t reflect that.”

However he admitted that even if the team hadn’t under-performed in qualifying they likely wouldn’t have been quick enough to beat the Mercedes drivers.

“If we had started second, still it would have been hard to keep the Mercedes behind in this initial phase of the race, the first 15 laps, because I think at times we were five to six or seven tenths slower. And this is something that we need to understand.”

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2023 Spanish Grand Prix

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Author information

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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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22 comments on “Mercedes’ rivals surprised by their “rocket ship” performance in Spain”

  1. > “They had a rocket ship today,” Stroll told media including RaceFans at the Circuit de Catalunya. “I’m not really sure where they found that pace.

    Lance didn’t notice that Mercedes changed some little details of his car? He should have capitalized when he had the chance. I can see Alonso keeping a bit up with the Mercedes duo, but it will be extremely difficult for Aston to return second.

  2. The Red Bull didn’t very well on the hards still they were as fast as Mercedes who were on the medium/softs.
    But that Mercedes made a step forward that is clear enough.

  3. They were strong last year too. Hamilton I remember was the fastest car on track last year here for quite a number of laps, but his race was ruined because of the collision with Magnussen in the first lap.

    1. Yes, and russell defended for a long time from both red bulls, which were the fastest.

    2. Wait, not the fastest, leclerc was uncatchable in front, but eventually had a problem, even so red bull was clearly faster than merc but russell could keep them behind for a bit.

      1. True, but part of that was probably that Verstappen had that off track excursion and then was hampered by a half-broken DRS that didn’t work most of the time.

    3. …but the car ( W-13 ) was useless in Monaco, this one was decent and if they’ve had more time to unlock the package qualifying would be better and podium was quite possible. Not the same story mate. Max was pushing all the time and this race was truly representative of the gap between the Bulls and Merc. They are about 3 – 4 tenths behind. Now they’ll grind it away gradually, as they always did. After the summer break we’ll watch them fighting and I can’t wait to see that happening.

      1. I don’t think Max gave it all in Barcelona as you notice when he went for the fastest lap he knew he could do it (Said Max himself) and he did it easy even with keeping far from the with lines in turn 5 and 10 ….

      2. Max was pushing all the time

        I seriously doubt it. He looked to be cruising for the majority of the race. Even if you look at his fastest lap, he was being very careful not to exceed track limits and was still over 3 tenths up on the next fastest. I’d conservatively estimate they still have at least half a second in hand.

    4. If i recall last year, not only did Hamilton suffer a puncture at the start, but he had water cooling issues towards the end and was told to back off to extent that he gave up a place.

  4. Silverstone (& onwards) new tires introduction should aid the Mercs as well. If it also hinders the RBs it should close the gap somewhat more and we might get some exciting racing at the front. The season is still long.

  5. Let’s see if they are able to maintain this form now.
    They have been having good weekends since their first update package last year, but the next one was always a disappointment.

  6. Only the Red Bull floor and DRS to copy now :)
    The Mercedes looked strong on the soft tyres, finally, plus the new front suspension should also be good for tracks with slower corners – I guess Canada will provide a clearer idea. It feels like genuine progress this time. Also, as Alonso said, the two Merc drivers are consistently good (I think he’s tacitly contrasting with Ferrari and Red Bull, not Aston Martin…)

    1. @david-br

      Only the Red Bull floor and DRS to copy now :)

      Although it may appear simple at first glance, replicating the RB19 floor is no easy task. Aston Martin, who undoubtedly possesses a comprehensive understanding of what RBR are up to, has designed a floor that closely resembles that of the RB19. However, the notable discrepancy lies in the area beneath the gearbox.

      RBR gains an advantage thanks to their narrower gearbox, in contrast to the larger gearbox used by Mercedes. Consequently, if any team intends to emulate the Red Bull floor, they must also replicate their gearbox.

      1. Thanks @tifoso1989 that’s interesting to know.

  7. The Red Bull RB19 shows maximum advantage in quali, where use of the DRS is allowed, often locking out the front row. Also very quick in a DRS pass. Commentators refer to their ‘powerful’ DRS.

    Two things. Firstly aero drag affects a car in two basic ways [and lot of minor ones, but bear with me], parting the air at the front, and filling in the low pressure area behind the car, an ideal shape to avoid this would be the teardrop. Not possible for all sorts of reasons. An efficient rear wing, beam wing and diffuser will exacerbate this issue by amplifying the low pressure zone at the rear to achieve maximum possible downforce. In doing so it slows the car on the straights.

    Some of the photos from Monaco give a clue to what RB might have achieved with their DRS. Here are the weblinks to the pics, which for clarity you’ll need to download and brighten to see what’s going on in the diffuser area, sorry about that, but it just takes a minute.



    The RB19 has an abrupt change from an essentially horizontal floor to a diffuser angle at what is usually referred to as the kicker point, the point of lowest underbody pressure. This angle surely challenges the ability of the flow to remain attached to the floor. That it must does is proven by the cars cornering speed. The W14 has a much less ambitious diffuser kicker angle by comparison, a conservative choice.

    Now consider the influence of the beam wing and the main wing. These are designed to act in concert to lower the diffuser exit pressure, energise the underbody flow and stave off flow separation in the diffuser. Now suppose a cunning old aero engineer sees that by removing an element of this system via operating the DRS the adverse pressure gradient thus created behind the diffuser causes flow separation at a kicker point that’s designed to be close to stalling thereby relieving a chunk of the rear of the car of low pressure air. Without this sucking it back the car becomes faster and passing is much easier. Crucially it also improves qualifying where DRS usage is unhindered by needing a car in front to legally deploy.

    Tricky to perfect the design however..

    1. Some of the photos from Monaco give a clue to what RB might have achieved with their DRS. Here are the weblinks to the pics, which for clarity you’ll need to download and brighten to see what’s going on in the diffuser area, sorry about that, but it just takes a minute.


      Interesting – I hadn’t seen that photo before, it gives a better view of the diffuser architecture.
      Two things from it:
      1. Checo made a complete mess of the left side diffuser components by the look of it. I’m sure the engineers were well pleased – not.
      2. The turbulence in the outflow of the diffuser / beam wing combo probably explains the massively different air flow visible behind the RBR and all the other cars. Go back to photos of the 2022 pre-season testing in the simulated wet session to see the rooster tail on everything except the RBR.

      In all honesty, given the noise the FIA made about ensuring cleaner air behind the cars, the noise Ross Brawn made about changing regs to make teams comply if need be, and the obvious difference in air flow I’m not sure how we haven’t already had one of Ross’s promised changes.
      I wonder if the other teams have compared how easy it is to follow RBR vs. a.n.other car?

      1. This is an interesting take. Maybe, it’s allowed since all buts and parts have to pass FIA scrutiny but why aren’t others doing same? Are they not seeing it or what?

        This regulation change is almost two years old, it should not be difficult to envisage…

  8. If MB was a RocketShip then i suppose RB was StarTrek ship right?

    1. i suppose RB was StarTrek ship right?

      I think warp drive is outside the regs, so look to the Ferrari – they have more experience with dodgy engine specification. :)

  9. isthatglock21
    6th June 2023, 15:01

    I mean they were also good here last year which led to more false hope. Don’t buy this whole ‘if you’re good here you’re good everywhere’ bs that every pundit suddenly decided to churn out this year.

    1. It used to be the case for Barcelona but as you say, last year Mercedes looked to have solved their problems at this track but everything went back too on how it was straight away after… Maybe it’s something to do with the new regs?

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