Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believes there could still be races where his team has the dominant car in the final rounds of the Formula 1 season, after seeing big swings in performance between itself in Red Bull over the past four rounds.
Max Verstappen’s comfortable victory in the Mexico City Grand Prix saw the Dutchman open up a 19-point advantage over Lewis Hamilton heading to Brazil this weekend, with four races to go in the championship. Despite back-to-back wins for Verstappen, Shovlin says the performance level shown by his team’s car in the races before Austin and Mexico suggest the balance of power will keep changing.
“It’s difficult because normally this far into the season you see the performance settle down a bit and the swings are still big,” Shovlin said. “There will be circuits that will suit us — we had very strong races in Turkey and Sochi and plenty of strong races since the summer break. So it will be up and down.
“We’ve definitely got our work cut out — on balance they are a little bit ahead of us but it’ll get affected by the weather, the track temperatures; those will play a part. But the bigger thing will be the circuit characteristics. It seems when we’re on an understeery track we tend to go a little bit better, and then at the last two races, very much about rear tire overheating. And, the last fortnight, it’s quite clear they have the advantage when we’re in that situation.”
Shovlin expects the Sao Paulo Grand Prix could see both teams benefiting from changes in the conditions at Interlagos, where the weather forecast keeps changing in the build-up to the race.
“It depends a bit on the weather there. The weather inherently is very unstable there — you can have 50-degree (122 F) track one day and it can be a washout the next. I think if it is a hot circuit it’ll probably move it in their direction; a bit of cloud cover may well suit us.
“But one advantage they had (in Mexico) is they were able to go up a step on downforce from the rear wing they normally run to their max-downforce wing. For us that’s the one that we run normally, it’s just their car seems to have more downforce than us on identical-sized wings. I think that played into their favor.
“In Brazil that should be less of an issue but it’s very hard to predict, and … we’ll look at the weaknesses of our car and work out how we can minimize them. We need to get the tires in a good window. But making predictions about whether you’re going to be fast or slow is quite meaningless, it’s more about knowing the jobs you need to focus on and doing a good job of getting the car sorted.
“There’s reasons we would expect it to be closer. What we like to spend our time doing is worrying about things that might go wrong and might catch us out. So as I said it may well be, but it’s so unpredictable at the moment.
“You look at qualifying, and single-lap can be more variable than the race pace, but we don’t need to go back far and we clearly had the most dominant car through the weekend in Turkey and I think in Sochi as well. Within the remaining four circuits there will be circuits that suit us, so we’re going to keep trying and do everything we can to try and win the championships.”