The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team were definitely not expected to feature on the podium at the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix, however an Oracle Red Bull Racing nightmare opened the third place door for Lewis Hamilton. George Russell secured a 3-4 for the Silver Arrows.
Despite both British drivers making excellent starts, especially Russell who rose from ninth to sixth in rapid fashion, it was a very lonely race for Mercedes. The Silver Arrows found themselves a second slower than race winner Charles Leclerc at periods during the race. Mercedes tried to do a long stint on the hard compound tyre, however it simply didn’t work.
The British duo sat in fifth and sixth for the vast majority of the race, until late drama opened a door for Mercedes to make up some places. Pierre Gasly’s AT03 went up in smoke, bringing out a late Safety Car. As Leclerc went to restart the race, Max Verstappen was forced into retirement due to a reliability issue. Hamilton then found himself right behind Sergio Pérez, who on the final lap also suffered a race ending reliability issue, the Mexican span round and was unable to start the car. This incredibly saw Hamilton cross the line in third with Russell in a solid fourth.
Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff, believes it was a great result for the team, but that ultimately the team’s strategy and the W13 weren’t up to scratch.
“Today we were punching above our weight class, with the Red Bulls DNF-ing, but third and fourth is a fantastic result. I think with the Soft tyre, on pure pace before the tyre degrades, we are almost there – not where Leclerc is but with the others. Then degradation is too big and today we tried to do something different by putting the Hard on but it was a second slower every single lap so lesson learned.
“I think we were over winged today, we had too much drag and that is just because we are lacking parts at the moment but hopefully we can remedy that, and make progress on the top two’s advantage. We really need to leave no stone unturned on the PU side and look for all performance gains but the wing was the issue for us today on straight line speed. At the moment we are fifth and sixth on the track, and we are trying to recover ground but it is not going to come from one day to the other – we’ll keep pushing.”
“We have a lot of ideas to improve our pace” – Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin
Mercedes all race were clearly not anywhere close to the level being produced by Scuderia Ferrari or Red Bull, both W13’s were incredibly over thirty seconds behind Leclerc before the race had even reached half-distance.
Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director, Andrew Shovlin, is hopeful the team can get on top of their issues, otherwise it could be a painful Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next weekend.
“We knew we weren’t quick enough coming into the weekend so our goal for this weekend was one of damage limitation in the championship. In terms of pace we’re more or less on our own; we couldn’t realistically put any pressure on Red Bull and Ferrari, and we weren’t really under any pressure from behind. This allowed us to play a bit with the strategy, moving quite early to a three stop with Lewis. Our priority has to be to get on top of our current performance issues; we don’t have a car to fight for pole or race wins and that isn’t something that we can tolerate for long if we ambitions to win the championships.
“The balance was quite tricky but the main issue is just a lack of grip, caused by the fact that we have to run the car so high to avoid the bottoming. However, the weekend hasn’t been without its positives. The gaps are pretty big but we can see so much performance that we can bring relatively quickly, the team has also worked well and the car has been reliable. We have a lot of ideas to explore to improve our pace and we’ll be working hard over the next few days and weeks to bring those to the track.”