Mercedes says teams are facing a difficult decision about when to switch focus to the 2019 regulation changes due to the competitive nature of the current season.
Although Mercedes has won the past four drivers’ and constructors’ championships with ease — securing both titles comfortably before the final race on each occasion — Ferrari currently leads the way in 2018. Sebastian Vettel has an eight-point advantage over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings while the teams are separated by 20 points, making the in-season development battle even more crucial than usual.
But with new aerodynamic regulations being introduced next year in an attempt to allow closer racing, the later focus switches to the 2019 car the bigger the impact it could have on next season’s competitiveness.
“A team wants to make sure that it doesn’t sacrifice next year’s performance for this year’s points,” Mercedes explained in its German Grand Prix preview. “However, the decision on when to shift more and more people from this year’s development to next year’s is not an easy one — especially in a hard-fought fight.
“If a team is miles ahead in the championship, it’s a relatively easy decision because the team can back off early, knowing that the others won’t be able to catch up. The same is also true for a team that is miles behind, because no matter how hard they try, they won’t be able to catch the other team.
“It gets more difficult when the championship fight is really close. If it is close, a team will tend to give a bit more to the current championship than it might be otherwise comfortable with.
“The upcoming regulations are also a factor in this equation. They remained fairly stable for the current season, meaning that teams could change over quite late, knowing that it wasn’t going to hurt anything in particular. For next year, however, the aerodynamic changes in the regulations are quite big, so it would be risky to ignore them.”
However, it’s not just the chassis that teams are able to find time with during the year, with Mercedes saying it is investigating how to extract more performance from its power unit with each passing race.
“For the power unit, the team will usually pursue two goals. The first is to bring new component designs to the PU; the second is to learn how hard we can actually push the PU.
“At the beginning of the season, the team wants to make sure that the power unit runs reliably. As the reliability has to be proved on the dyno, we will usually start a little more conservative to have a product that can run the required mileage. Once a reliable base has been established, all subsequent long runs of the engine will focus on trying to extract more power.
“In those runs, the team will be more willing to push the PU a bit harder on the dyno. This is a well-calibrated process as we aim to find the exact limits of the PU without overstepping them — but knowing that if we overstep the mark, there is still a proven configuration on the track.”