by H. Mayor – photo: f1.com
“We have a fast car, but she doesn’t like the tyres, and that is something we need to understand, why that is”. The words of engineer Toto Wolff in Monaco underline an ongoing issue that Mercedes has endured from the start of the season and which reached crisis point last weekend in Monaco. Managing their tyres’ compatibility in some circuits is proving to be a problem weighing heavy on the shoulders of the German scuderia. Their chances to compete with Ferrari are shrinking, and unfortunately it seems things could get worse if nothing is done soon.
The tricky balancing act of their ultra-soft tyres in the Principality’s circuit was probably Mercedes’ biggest liability, leaving them unable to compete and complicating their future position. A weekend full of ups and downs left Hamilton in a discreet seventh place, even after his powerful comeback. They might find some consolation on Bottas’ step forward although this feels somehow insufficient. The Finnish reached the podium albeit considerably behind the Ferraris and Ricciardo. The Championship’s win is now 25 points away and with two key circuits still remaining, Baku and Montreal, whose particular characteristics might help replicate the problem.
“We are struggling to get the car nicely balanced, especially in the very slow-speed corners”, Bottas said in Monaco. The issue might have been largely unnoticed if it wasn’t for this year’s new context with Mercedes not holding a comfortable lead on the grid any more. This year Ferrari competes with a machine that is at a similar level and which is as yet proving more balanced and versatile adapting to different environments.
Striking the right balance
The key for Mercedes over the next few weeks is achieving the right balance between the front and back tyres and bringing their respective temperatures into the right window. Ahead of them, two further tests, Baku and Montreal, which might not be at the same level as Monaco but are similar in structure regarding their slow bends. “We are working to understand our car, Ferrari is able to put the car on the floor and it goes straight from the beginning till the end” Wolff said regarding this issue which was already apparent back in Sochi.
This state of emergency, seeing that Vettel is already at a considerable distance on the Championships lead, is but another hurdle of the many that Mercedes have ahead of them. Lewis Hamilton doesn’t seem to be giving the best of himself either at this start of season and the support from his team-mate is also thus far limited.