Mercedes believe that they are the only ones to be experiencing significant rear stability problems.
Mercedes may have a tricky start to the 2021 season ahead of them, with pre-season testing at Bahrain illuminating some issues with its car. The reigning champions’ new Mercedes W12 has already been named a “snappy and unforgiving” machine by driver Valtteri Bottas, and both drivers noted the unstable rear-end they had battled with over the tough weekend.
Moreover, the Mercedes duo of and Bottas and Lewis Hamilton completed a combined 304 laps over the three-day test, the lowest lap count of all ten teams. Following their difficult weekend, Mercedes’ trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin admitted that the car’s newfound rear balance problems are a key focus for the team’s improvement.
“The wind made it tricky,” Shovlin said in a video from the team. “When the wind is behind the car you lose a lot of downforce because effectively the airspeed is reduced.
“So some corners where the wind was behind, it was prone to doing that, and then also the tyres are quite easy to overheat on that circuit and if you start sliding, you tend to lose grip and it gets worse. So there are a few problems.”
To add to the woes of Mercedes’ testing weekend, the crew noticed that its opposition did not seem to be encountering similar rear balance issues, heightening their concern that the confident advantage they previously held over the rest of the field may not be as great in 2021.
“Importantly, we could see that some of our competitors weren’t struggling in the same way as us, so we need to put quite a focus on understanding why the rear end was a bit weak, how we can get it more stable and predictable and that work is going on now.
“Hopefully when we get to the race weekend it won’t be so difficult for the drivers because they were having to work pretty hard to do the lap times that they were doing.”
Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles added:
“It was pretty evident from [testing] that [our] car was handling poorly and conversely the Red Bull, in fact, looked what we would call ‘planted’. It was a very stable car especially through the last sector of the lap.
“I think that’s a fair observation, it was visible to the outside and I would say the lap times mirrored that as well. But it’s also fair to say that we don’t have answers as we are sat here now, it is just 24 hours after the end of the test. [There’s] huge amounts of data available to us and now a long journey ahead to try and understand what was causing that.”
“I would say Red Bull are ahead on performance. They are the class act from the test. But it is a test, it is not a race and it is one event out of 23 [races].”
“Red Bull are a fierce adversary, they’ve got a strong package and clearly came out of the box very, very quick. The result of that is across the season and across different types of track layouts, I am sure you will see us move forwards and backwards relative to them but I don’t believe we are going into this particularly finding all the performance that is missing or being ahead of them.
“So, in short, yes, I think we are going to have a close championship this year.”