James Allison thinks a “stronger weekend of development” for Red Bull than Mercedes proved decisive in United States Grand Prix qualifying.
The Austin action had begun with Mercedes easily the class of the field in FP1, Max Verstappen only just within a second of fastest man Valtteri Bottas, but thereafter the tide turned.
Sergio Perez topped the timesheets in both FP2 and FP3 at the Circuit of The Americas and was on course to claim his first F1 pole position, only to be pipped in the closing stages by Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
Therefore, the two World Championship protagonists will line up on the front row of the grid with Perez just behind, giving Red Bull a two-against-one advantage as Bottas starts down in ninth having incurred an engine penalty for the third time in the last four races.
Asked on Sky F1 whether the convergence in performance had been due to a dip from his team or a Red Bull improvement, Mercedes’ chief technical officer Allison said: “Probably a little bit of each.
“We were running, in qualifying, very similar set-ups to where we started in FP1, having migrated a bit in between time and then come back, so I think probably a bit more of Red Bull having a stronger weekend of development than we did.
“I guess we had reasonably high hopes after FP1. FP2 was a bit more of a struggle and it’s been a little bit that way since. We’ve been up at the sharp end, but not really with the edge we’ve seen in some of the other recent races, so it’s not been easy.”
He gave it EVERYTHING out there! 👏 Lewis will start from the front row in Austin. 👊 Still all to play for. pic.twitter.com/pLCkbMtg4G
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 23, 2021
Pressed about the double-pronged threat to Hamilton from Verstappen and Perez, Allison commented: “The best protection will be is if we’re swift.
“If we can gap the Red Bull behind, then we’ll get some strategic protection from that gap. But obviously two against one is definitely a better place to be. We will just have to rely on being swift.
“I’m guessing Lewis will know how to handle himself. He knows this track very well and he’s one of the better people at looking after their tyres.”
The consensus in the paddock is that tyre wear will be critical due to high degradation amid track temperatures of around 40C.
“It will be very hard to keep the tyres in a happy window,” added Allison. “They’ll want to be on the hot side of happy and that will be the thing that determines tomorrow’s race.
“The car that can keep that rear tyre intact, in what will almost certainly be a nailed-on two-stopper, will be the car that prospers.”