Mercedes Executive Director Toto Wolff has said that the team needs to undertake “24/7 shifts” to beat Ferrari in the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix this weekend. On a tricky weekend for Lewis Hamilton in Russia, the team is still trying to diagnose the issues which led the 2015 champion to finish fourth.
The lessons of the first four races are that the 2017 Pirelli F1 tyres are working well on the Ferrari across a wider range of situations than the Mercedes, especially the softer end of the range. While Valtteri Bottas got the car working in Sochi to take the win, the team lost the front row of the grid for only the second time in the hybrid turbo era and Lewis Hamilton couldn’t get the car dialled into the tyres on a consistent basis all weekend.
“I always enjoy going to Russia but it was a tricky weekend for us,” said Wolff.
“The prevailing feeling is that there is lots of homework to do to come back stronger with a car that can perform on a consistent level every weekend. I have the feeling that we are moving in the right direction but we need 24/7 shifts to achieve our ultimate targets.”
Hamilton encountered overheating issues early on in Russia, forcing him to stay out of the wake of opponents to provide cool air for the struggling radiators.
Furthermore, Mercedes found it very difficult to keep the softest tyre compound in the optimum temperature window which was an issue that blighted Hamilton more than team-mate and winner Valtteri Bottas, leaving heads scratching.
“We expected Valtteri to develop through every single race and step up his performance and he’s shown that. He’s coped extremely well with his calm approach to setbacks and he hasn’t been carried away with success,” continued Wolff.
“It came early in Bahrain with the pole position and then he had a setback in the race. He replied with an exceptional performance in Sochi, in just his fourth Grand Prix for Mercedes, and showed that he’s on the right path.
“On the flip side, Lewis had a difficult weekend in both qualifying and the race. We have spent our time since then unpicking what happened to understand why we couldn’t get the car in the right window so he could feel comfortable with it – there are no magic bullets to understanding that, just a lot of hard work and attention to detail. We must give him the tools he needs to do the job in the next races and that will be a big focus for us.”
Change of atmosphere in Barcelona
The mood in the Mercedes camp has evidently been shaped by Nico Rosberg’s battle with Hamilton in 2016. The two team-mates collided on the first lap of the Spanish Grand Prix last year, with neither driver admitting blame for the crash which strained their relationship and sparked a season-long rivalry.
Rosberg received team orders in the following race in Monaco last year, having had to begrudgingly let Hamilton past early on, and the scrap between the two carried on until the champion retired before the 2017 season.
At this early stage, Bottas and Hamilton seem amicable, but Wolff implies that things could still heat up as the Mercedes drivers battle Ferrari and Red Bull and between themselves.
“This inter-team battle is a totally different situation that what we have seen over the last three years,” said Wolff.
“You simply need to adapt to the challenge and that’s what we are doing, playing the hunter as well as being the hunted. At the moment there are two top teams fighting for both championships and I expect Red Bull will also eventually join the club.
“The small margins we are seeing this season are demonstrated by the closeness at the top of the Drivers’ championship and even more so by the one point advantage we have in the Constructors’. This fight will continue on to the end of the season and we will be prepared for that battle.”
Pre-season testing showed that Ferrari was catching up to Mercedes in defiance of their poor form in this hybrid era. Wolff is quietly optimistic that this trip to Spain will result in a familiar dominance by the Silver Arrows.
“Barcelona will be interesting as our pre-season was not spectacular in Spain. It’s a very different track to Sochi and we’ll be running with harder tyres. We are taking this season one race at a time. If we deliver the best possible work from Friday onwards, then we’ll be ready to win and fight with Ferrari.”
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