Mercedes’ start of the season is something we’re definitely not used to after their 8-in-a-row phenomenal championship winning stint. New generation of cars brought more troubles for the team from Brackley that one could expect, and so far their performance is nowhere near the level of the past few years. With Russell currently P4 and Hamilton P7 in the drivers' championship, the team works hard to address the issues that are keeping them away from the podiums.
During the post-race debrief, Andrew Shovlin, the trackside engineering director at Mercedes F1 was asked about the issues George had during the race with the balance of the car, and why his front-wing was not adjusted during a pitstop in order to solve it. Despite the issues Russell was able to finish on P4, but that did not come without sweat. To that, Shovlin replied: “Well, when we make an adjustment at a pit stop we actually use an electronic gun that can put a pre-programmed number of turns in there and we have to do that because the stops have gotten so quick you can no longer make a manual adjustment where the mechanics on the front-wing would count the number of turns. We have a gun that does this and we can programme how many turns we want it to do and it will deliver that. The issue we had with this particular stop was actually that both guns had got knocked as they went in on the front-wing endplate, the front-wing endplates on these cars are much bigger and that had caused the gun to reset. So, it wasn’t so much that anything had broken, it was really one of those issues that was a feature of the changes that we have made on the car, it hadn’t occurred to us before in practice sessions where we are trying pit stops or pit stop practice itself.“
Hamilton on the other hand did not have as much luck as Russell in terms of place and pace, as he got stuck for majority of the race on P14, behind the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly and eventually finished the race behind him (Albon, Gasly and Hamilton finished one position higher due to Ocon’s 5s penalty). Asked about what was the reason Hamilton could not get himself to overtake the AlphaTauri, Shovlin answered: "Well, it's the same problem that we had in the sprint race. When you are in what we are calling a DRS train. Now, the combined effect of the DRS in Imola plus the tow gives you around half a second of advantage to a car that you are following. The issues is that if that car is following another car and they themselves have DRS almost all of that advantage is wiped out and that was principally the issue that Lewis had. That because Gasly had DRS, they were following almost an identical speed profile down the straight.”
The tyres turned out to be a big problem for Mercedes, especially their warm-up during the race that costs the team a lot, especially during the Emilia Romagna GP. In regards to the issues with tyre warm-up, Shovlin said: “It is fair to say that we struggled with tyre warm-up this weekend, it was the coldest track we've been to, the first time we've been running wet conditions in the race and that certainly cost us in qualifying leading to those fairly disappointing positions starting the sprint race. On Sunday, the situation wasn’t as bad. Now, whether that's a function of it being a formation lap rather than out lap the drivers also worked very hard on how much temperature they could get into the tyres during that formation lap, they knew that was going to be a challenge but as you saw with George in particular he made good progress off the line, it was challenging for the first few corners but temperatures did come up okay and that contributed to his strong finish.”
Lastly, Shovlin was asked about Wolff’s comment that the team “haven’t found the key to unlock the solution”. In regards to that, Shovlin admitted: “Well, it is obviously a bit of a cliché, but the reality is we can't run the car where we designed it to be run. We're having to run higher ride heights and by running higher ride heights, it's got less performance. Now, that might be true for almost every car on the grid. Lots of people are suffering with this problem and we know that lifting the car is a way of alleviating it. A lot of the work that is going on in Brackley has been to understand the phenomenon and whether we can actually control it, whether we can engineer it out of the car and when Toto talks about finding the key what he is really talking about is, is there an aerodynamic solution that we can apply to the car that will make this problem go away.”
After a quite difficult start for Mercedes, the team hopes they can bring new updates already for Miami that will hopefully help to solve at least some issues they have with this years car. Although the upgrades might bring some of the performance that is lost with this year’s car, the team will definitely have to work even more if they want to once again stand on top of the podium.