Mercedes fear being outpaced at Imola, Portimao

Date published: March 31 2021 - Jon Wilde

Mercedes Red Bull pit wall, 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

Mercedes fear the high-speed nature of the next two grands prix at Imola and Portimao will exacerbate their perceived inferiority to Red Bull.

The consecutive seven-time World Champions started the 2021 season with a narrow victory in Bahrain where Sir Lewis Hamilton held off Max Verstappen in a thriller.

But it was a win that owed much to strategy, with Hamilton having track position out in front heading into the decisive stages, while in qualifying Verstappen had taken pole position by 0.388sec.

Given the step forward Red Bull and their engine supplier, Honda, have made since last year, Mercedes think they themselves are second best at present – and that it could be underlined at rounds two and three of the campaign in Italy on April 18 and Portugal on May 2 respectively.

“I don’t think we are good enough in the high-speed and there’s plenty of that in Imola and Portimao,” said Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, quoted by Motorsport.com.

“That’s one area where they [Red Bull] have an advantage on us at the moment.

“Bahrain is quite an outlier circuit – it’s very hard on the rear tyres and it was really windy. We had 30-40 kmh wind, which is pretty much the upper end of what you would see in a normal race season.

“We are certainly hoping it wasn’t one of our finest tracks because we really had quite a tough time and I think we got the car in a decent window by the end. But it was awfully hard work.

“If you look at Red Bull through the test, through free practice, their car just works really well. They haven’t looked weak at any point. Hopefully, we’ll find circuits that suit us more than Bahrain.”

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Lewis Hamilton in front of Max Verstappen

Asked what the mindset is regarding their own performance, Shovlin added: “We still don’t think we’ve got the best car, but we don’t think we’ve got everything out of the package yet.

“When you develop a car, there are lots of areas you look to exploit for performance and some of them we don’t think have delivered everything they should. So we’ll work pretty hard to bring performance to the car in the next couple of races, but I think it will be tough.

“With the next two circuits, there are elements I think will move us in the right direction. We struggled with the rear end in Bahrain and those circuits are a bit easier in that regard.

“But high-speed is something we wouldn’t be naive to think will be a strength of ours at those tracks.”

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