A curious episode in the Sochi paddock this afternoon as Force India’s Sergio Perez claimed that the team’s Mercedes Formula 1 engine has been caught up by rivals and now only Honda’s power unit is inferior.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who is powered by Renault has refuted the claim that Renault has caught up.
So why would Perez downplay the potency of Mercedes at this stage of the season?
Ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Perez has said that Ferrari and Renault have made “massive” gains to catch up with the class-leading Mercedes engine this season. Ferrari has won two out of the three races this season.
When asked if Mercedes had lost the advantage it had in 2016 in power, Perez replied: “Yes. I definitely think that Ferrari is at the same level as Mercedes and Renault is more or less there. We only have the advantage to Honda.”
His former team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg, joined Renault for this season and his best finish was ninth at the Bahrain Grand Prix this month. Perez has had three points finishes, finishing seventh in Bahrain from 18th on the grid.
In a tight midfield battle this season between Mercedes-powered Force India and Williams, Ferrari-powered Haas and Renault’s factory team, Force India’s fourth place finish in 2016 is under threat.
“I think [Sochi] should be a bit better to us. I think Bahrain really exposed all of our issues in one go. It was also a very tricky weekend up to quali with all the issues that I had personally with the car.
“I think Bahrain was always going to be a very hard race for us given the track layout, how it is. It was probably one of the hardest races for us. I think here we should be a bit more competitive. I at least have the hope that we can be more competitive and closer to where we should be,” he said.
Aerodynamics play a bigger part with the wide-ranging 2017 rule changes bringing in higher downforce and faster cornering speeds. As a result, a power-deficit can be countered a little easier by a solid chassis this season – Perez said earlier this season to Autosport that he had to undergo an “extreme diet” to counter the VJM10’s heavy weight during pre-season testing.
The Mexican driver, when asked whether the rules changes have made power less important, replied: “It’s the opposite I think.
“This year with these cars, the engines are much more important than in the past. The amount of time you spend full throttle is a lot less, and the amount you recover is also a lot less. Definitely Ferrari and Renault have done a massive step forward to catch Mercedes.”
Verstappen contradicts claims that Renault has caught up with leaders
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has said that Perez’s claims are untrue because “there is still quite a deficit” between the Renault engine and its competitors’.
The Dutchman’s lack of confidence between the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi comes after he has earned the team’s only podium this year in China, with two DNFs between Verstappen and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
“Of course they are working really hard,” Verstappen said to Autosport. “We’re also working really hard to improve the car.
“But I think there is still quite a deficit. So we need to continue working hard together to make it better in the upcoming races.
“We are not on the same level in terms of downforce as well, so we cannot make the differences in the corners.”
JA reported yesterday that the F1 Strategy Group is tightening measures to prevent teams from burning oil as fuel to gain extra power in qualifying – illegally – in 2018.
Perez’ view is not one you have heard often this year; certainly most drivers and observers would say that Mercedes is still the benchmark, but that Ferrari has closed up impressively since its poor showing in 2014, the first year of hybrid turbos. Unlike Honda the collaborate with outsiders and the part played by MTC on electric motors in the hybrid system isn’t to be underestimated.
So effective has been the work of Mattia Binotto’s team in the engine department at Maranello, that he was promoted to technical director last summer and many with knowledge of the Ferrari ecosystem tip him as a potential team principal after Maurizio Arrivabene.
Renault has made a big gain over the winter, but so far has not been able to display all its gains on track due to a fault in the hybrid system. A failsafe part has been used but the full upgrade package should be on display soon. This will give the full 35kW step from 2016 to 2017.
Is Mercedes’ dominance in power still evident, or do you think Ferrari has caught up? Is it unfair to say that Mercedes is only better than Honda now? Comment in the section below or on the JA on F1 Facebook page.