Mercedes believes it has no strengths relative to Red Bull based on the evidence from pre-season testing and the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen took pole position by 0.4s – the first time Mercedes has been beaten to pole at the first race during the hybrid era – and led the first stint before Lewis Hamilton gained track position and held on for victory in a thrilling battle. Despite securing a dramatic win, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin says the team’s takeaway is that it doesn’t have any specific advantages over Red Bull.
“We don’t really have any strengths relative to them, is what I would say,” Shovlin said. “There have been a lot of years where we have been able to rely on straight-line speed or high-speed cornering or interconnected corners, but you look at it here and we weren’t taking any time out of them anywhere.
“There were a couple of corners where they really took chunks out of us in qualifying – the high-speed and also Turn 9 and 10, they were very strong there. That’s really the main thing. In qualifying they were just bang on the pace and in their best form they are just quicker than the others, so we need a faster car, simple as that.”
Shovlin said the aggressive strategy used by Hamilton to gain track position was not Mercedes’ ideal plan, but a reaction to concerns that the team had lost the race when a slow pit stop for Valtteri Bottas cost it the advantage of having two cars fighting with Verstappen.
“The intention is to hope you are quick enough that you can put yourself far enough ahead that you are not within undercut range, and the reality was that we couldn’t do that,” he said. “Lewis pushed pretty hard at the start of that second stint, Max was biding his time, and when he was sat two seconds behind us, you can only leave it there for so long before they take the initiative, undercut us and lead the final stint.
“So it was more by default that we fell into that course of action, and we knew that it was pretty aggressively long stint, and we certainly didn’t want us to be doing so many more laps than Max. The intention was to see whether they would dare cover us with Valtteri. Valtteri was in a guaranteed P3, and if Red Bull didn’t fancy doing that stint length, then they might have let us undercut Max and if not they would have covered and we would all be on the same age tires.
“The pit stop problem blew that because then Valtteri wasn’t close enough to put Max under pressure, and honestly, from that point onwards we thought we were not going to win because Max would have the tire advantage and get by Lewis. Nut it was a very impressive job by Lewis.”