Fearing their low-rake car has been penalised by the new floor regulations, Andrew Shovlin says Mercedes can still win the title, they just need to make “some clever decisions”.
In a bid to reduce downforce and speed to allow for the 2019 Pirelli tyres to be run for a third successive season, Formula 1 bosses introduced a new rule regarding the car’s floor.
The team had to cut away a small piece in front of the rear tyres, which would go a long way towards reducing downforce.
This change, though, as small as it is, has cost the sport’s low-rake cars more than it has their high-rake counterparts.
Mercedes feel they have been hampered more than the likes of Red Bull with the latter taking the fight to Mercedes at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen took pole position by 0.3s ahead of Lewis Hamilton, although strategy helped the Brit fight back on the Sunday, claiming the win by 0.7s ahead of the Dutchman.
It has been suggested that Red Bull’s rake philosophy has led to the change in competitive hierarchy.
Shovlin, Mercedes trackside engineering head, said: “Did this set of regulations drag back low-rake cars more than high-rake cars? It may well be the case.
“I know that they [Red Bull] won the last race [of 2020] but generally we were ahead at the end of the year and that’s not the case now.
“So either we took a bigger hit with the rules or they’ve had faster, better rates of development since they applied the regulation changes.”
But with Mercedes not able to change to a high-rake car this season, Shovlin says the team will have to work with what they have.
And he believes they do have a car capable of winning this year’s titles.
“It is what it is,” he added, “and we’ve got a car that could win a championship if we make some clever decisions and do some good work with it and operate well over the year, but whether or not it’s high or low rake we can’t do anything about that now.”
Shovlin says Mercedes have a fight on their hands.
“It’s definitely close,” he said. “We’ve had some tough years in the past few seasons. This is not alien to us and this is what we’ve got to work with.
“We’re two teams that seem pretty much neck and neck at the moment so it’s going to be a tough year and there’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well. They’re a sharp, well-focused team that don’t make many mistakes.
“Max is clearly a very mature and smart racer now, he’s difficult, and they develop well.
“They’ve shown over every season that they have the capacity to put a lot of performance on the car.
“So regardless of the start point, this is not going to be an easy championship. It’s going to be tight and it’s one we’re not going to give up on. They’re going to tell you the same.”