The first of the two rounds set to be held at the Red Bull Ring for championship stage 8 and 9 started off with the Styrian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen dominance saw him extending his Drivers’ Championship lead to 18 points over Lewis Hamilton.
From the Briton’s and the German team side, it was a silent weekend fighting for pole or the win, as Toto Wolff said just after the race “it’s been the first race really in eight years where you are just lacking the pace.”
Mercedes’ head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin spoke to RaceFans.net about what could be the reasons behind Mercedes’ lack of performance: “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, so they’re often not related to performance.”
“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 hinted Mercedes’ problem could be a tyre-degradation matter, something the World Champion team will have to work into now that the compounds Pirelli chose to bring to the second race at the Red Bull Ring will be the softest, compared to the mediums at Styria. Plus, he explained the set-up change decided for this race was a result of Hamilton’s simulator work: “Essentially the window that we work in was much, much wider. 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.”
“The one big area, is understand 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. 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.” said Shovlin.
“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.”
Even though Lewis Hamilton’s extra pit stop to chase the fastest lap record dropped him to finish 35.743s behind Max Verstappen, there was a moment on normal race pace that he was even over 15 seconds afar the 23 years-old Red Bull driver, but at Mercedes, they’re neither clueless nor dishearted for the Styrian GP development: “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.”
“The softer tyres will mix things up a bit next week and we’ve clearly got a bit of pace to find but we’ll use the next few days constructively to try and do everything we can to close that gap.”
“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.”