Mercedes explain fearless approach despite Qatar sprint-induced compromise

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Jeddah, March 2023.

The lack of practice time ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, due to the Sprint format, isn’t a concern for the Mercedes team.

The return of the Sprint format for this weekend’s race at the Lusail Circuit means that the Formula 1 teams have just one hour of practice to nail down their setups before entering parc ferme conditions for the remainder of the weekend.

It’s the fourth Sprint weekend of the year, following on from the Azerbaijan, Austrian, and Belgian Grands Prix, which means a standalone day on Saturday for a ‘Sprint Shootout’ to decide the grid for Saturday’s Sprint race.

Mercedes unconcerned having ‘learned quite a bit’ about W14

With the lack of practice time meaning deciding on a setup can be a daunting task for the teams, given there’s so little time to refine the setup before it’s unchangeable, Mercedes say they aren’t unduly concerned about having only 60 minutes to nail it down.

This is due to Mercedes having a fundamentally better understanding of their W14 than they had for earlier Sprints, particularly in Azerbaijan and Austria – tracks where they feel the strengths of their car didn’t suit anyway.

However, as head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin explained, the Qatar GP should be much more straightforward for preparation, even if Friday’s practice is set to take place in 40-degree heat, and it’s the first time at the track with the ground-effect cars – Lusail having held its first, and only, Grand Prix in 2021.

“You’re limited in what you can do on the approach, because you’ve got one hour to do the work of three hours, even in a three-hour free practice, where we’re on the track for the vast majority of it,” Shovlin said.

“We will have the drivers in the simulator, we’ll be preparing there.

“As a circuit, it’s probably a bit easier than some of [the others]. Like Baku was a particularly difficult one to have a sprint race at. If you look at tracks like Austria, we’ve not been great at Austria for a few years.

“So, again, that wouldn’t be our first choice of a track to have a Sprint at. But we’ll do the normal preparation, get them in the sim. We’ve learned quite a bit about the car since the last one.

“Hopefully, we can land with a better setup and go from there.” recommends

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Rosie Wait outlines importance of simulator work

Helming the Mercedes simulator to help hone the Qatar setup are sim drivers Mick Schumacher and Frederik Vesti.

Mercedes’ head of race strategy, Rosie Wait, explained how the sim is used to ensure the team come into a Grand Prix weekend in the best possible shape before even turning a wheel on track.

“The simulator is a real crucial tool to help us develop and setup the car,” she said.

“Whilst the track is the ultimate location where we go racing, it’s got a lot of limitations. We don’t have much time during practice but even if we did, we don’t have enough tyres and track evolution and traffic conditions are always changing. Unpicking the subtle effect of different setup changes can be very difficult.

“That’s where the simulator really comes into its own. Once we have understood the limitations of the car in P1 and P2 then the guys back at the factory, together with the simulator drivers, can work through many different setup options in completely stable conditions.

“Now obviously the simulator is not the track. We really rely on the simulator drivers to be able to translate and understand what’s going to work well when we get to the race track, and what’s more specific to the simulator. We are lucky to have two great simulator drivers in Mick and Fred, helping us with this work during races this year.”

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