Mercedes has plenty of grounds for both confidence and worry over its prospects at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, according to the team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
The Yas Marina Circuit has been remodeled since Formula 1 last raced here a year ago, with a number of slow-speed corners replaced in order to try and improve the racing spectacle. The last race on the old layout was dominated by Max Verstappen in 2020 but Shovlin says there are a number of differences that mean a repeat is not inevitable in the title decider, even if those provide reasons for concern.
“We’ve got the layout in the simulator, Lewis has been back between every race getting in there, doing the setup work, learning the circuit,” said Shovlin (pictured above). “It’s a faster lap now, so it’s going to be considerably quicker and lead to a faster overall race.
“You’re also going to have a bit of a patchwork quilt of tarmac which changes the balance a bit as you go corner to corner. But ultimately a lot of it’s the same, so we’ve been able to do good work on the simulator and understanding of it.
“In terms of who holds the advantage, last year Lewis was a few days after a bout of COVID, so there’s no way he was performing at his best — it’s not an easy thing to get over. And our analysis after that event, which we do after every race, indicated that we just put the setup in the wrong place.
“We had development tires there; we did work focusing on those. Ironically, we’d won the championship and we decided to try and understand the tires rather than focus on the race weekend. We ended up going into the race underprepared with a car that wasn’t well balanced and I think ultimately that’s where it cost us.
“We’ve had a lot of good races in Abu Dhabi but going in there we’re worried about the unknowns. There’s lots of new areas of the track, we’ve seen performance swing quite strongly — tracks that we thought we’d be competitive at, like Austin, we weren’t good at all. (In Jeddah) we’ve seen Red Bull show us a clean pair of heels on a single lap
“So there’s plenty for us to worry about, and then you’ve also got the fact that it’s the softest tires and those can be really tricky on occasion, they’re quite difficult to get in the window. So we’re treating it like a new circuit. We know what we need to do, we need to go there and win.”
Despite the challenge that is ahead, Shovlin says the way Hamilton has fought back in the drivers’ championship battle to be level heading into the final round has been a major motivating factor for Mercedes.
“There’s a lot (of energy). It feels a bit like when you’re on a long run and suddenly you can see the finish line and you get that push that you can take it up a gear and go to the finish, and I think the whole team’s feeling that at the moment. Lewis is bringing an enormous amount of energy and focus to the team — it’s absolutely inspirational looking at what he’s done over the last few races and what he’s had to deal with.
“Where we lost points with difficult races in Austin and Mexico, that just changed our target. The target became ‘we have to win every race.’ We’ve done three out of the four, but as I said, we know exactly what we need to do and we just need to get our heads down and do the work which is required to deliver that.”