Mercedes principal Toto Wolff admits that F1 is increasingly becoming an “engine formula” as they search for answers to Ferrari’s pace.
Since the summer break Charles Leclerc has taken pole at all four races with Ferrari now finding a way to transform their SF90 into a solid racing machine, rather than one which is just fast in a straight line.
But, Leclerc was gaining around 0.7s on Lewis Hamilton who qualified P2 for the Russian GP just on the straights alone, the kind of gap which is difficult to wipe out around the rest of the track.
The current rules in Formula 1 have been largely stable since the turbo-hybrid era was introduced in 2014, and so Wolff feels Ferrari’s gains in the engine department are “an outlier” since teams usually get closer together as time passes when regulations don’t change much, instead of spread out.
However, the Mercedes principal accepts that the series is now increasingly becoming an “engine formula” and that his team must step up and compete.
“It’s certainly an outlier. Because normally with maturing regulations to find these big steps is certainly unusual. As it stands it has become an engine formula,” he told Motorsport.com.
“We all need to understand how we can increase our engine performance and at the same time find the right power/drag ratio, and understand the tyres. It’s a combination of things.
“I think we had situations where Ferrari was very strong [in the past], but at the moment they just crush everybody with their straightline speed, so it’s very difficult to compensate that round the track. This is a situation that we need to overcome.”
For Wolff there is no clear answer for taking the fight to Ferrari in the engine department, they must instead look at “all areas” of the power unit and decide if there is some “innovation that we should have spotted”.
“I think we have to look at all areas of the engine,” he said. “Is there some innovation that we should have spotted?
“Certainly in terms of the combustion engine the thermal efficiency gains that you can achieve from year to year we’re speaking about not several percent, we are speaking about something that’s below a percent.
“That’s something which you can physically extract from year on year development, and with mature regulations like we have now, probably even less, so you need to be clever, innovative on all the other bits in the engine, whilst adhering 100% to the regulations.
“I think on pure performance, there is not a lot to come. I think you’ve just got to acknowledge that there is a certain gap that is almost uncatchable, but we’ve got to do an even better job of putting a good chassis on the track, and understanding the tyres, and running the right race strategy.
“I think this is where our opportunities lie. Clearly with their kind of power unit performance we shouldn’t be expecting to dominate the coming weekends.”