‘It will catch us out at some events’ – Vowles reveals Mercedes’ key weakness compared to Red Bull
Mercedes may have beaten Red Bull at three out of four races so far this season, but according to the team’s chief strategist James Vowles, their W12 has one key weakness relative to their rivals – and he expects the Silver Arrows to pay for it at several races this season.
Mercedes came into 2021 on the back foot after arguably their worst pre-season testing experience in the turbo-hybrid era. But according to Vowles, coming from behind has given Mercedes an advantage this season relative to Red Bull.
“It’s an obvious statement but when you’re the car behind, you have more options than the car in front of you,” said Vowles, speaking on F1 TV’s Teck Talk show. “In Bahrain, it was simply that you can take more risks without fear of losing out… you’re already in second place, so what’s going to happen? And it is much harder when you’re the leading entity.
“That was the same situation in Barcelona,” he added. “We have a decision to make, which is we can do the opposite to Red Bull – you would have heard that we called ‘the opposite to Red Bull’ on the radio – and that’s not something that they have available… And that empowers the car behind and gives you a little bit more strategic flexibility than the car in front.”
The upshot after the first four races is that Lewis Hamilton heads Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 14 points in the drivers’ standings, having won three Grands Prix to Verstappen’s one – in what is Hamilton’s best ever start to a season – while Mercedes lead Red Bull by 141 points 112.
But Vowles expects Mercedes to falter at some point this season owing to a key difference between their car and Red Bull’s...
“Warm-up [and] extracting a quali lap, they seem to be slightly better at, which could be one and the same thing,” said Vowles. “The beginning of the race when they’re leading, you see them just pull a second and a half of gap relative to us very, very quickly, and again in qualifying, perhaps we need just a few more laps than they do to get the tyres working. We’ve got away with it so far but that will catch us out, I’m sure, at some events.
“I think we hold a little edge on Red Bull in terms of tyre durability,” he added. “And again, it just opens up a few more possibilities. They seem to be slightly better at the warm-up phase, we’re slightly better going long on stints and I think that plays into our hands a little bit more and creates a few opportunities they don’t have available to them.”
And according to Vowles, there’s one more advantage that Red Bull have over Mercedes – an advantage he thinks could help their rivals out at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.
“That car has a lot of pure downforce,” said Vowles of Red Bull’s RB16B. “You can see it in Sector 3 in Barcelona, I think you’ll see it here this weekend in Monaco at the same time, and there are attributes of both cars that are clearly strong and have their inherent weaknesses. But that’s where I would see Red Bull clearly for me at the moment have shown strength relative to us.”