T he three-way battle between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will always be more brutal. It no longer only takes place in the aerodynamics offices. The top three teams battle for hundredths of a second in each discipline, and sometimes a seemingly small change can make a big difference. We will show you three areas in which the top teams in front of and behind the scenes are very busy. And it is almost always Ferrari who dare to push themselves to the limit. That too is one of the reasons why the red cars are fully in the title race.
Usually the aerodynamic arms race makes the difference. But in the first three races, only marginally new parts were seen on the Mercedes F1W09, the Ferrari SF71H and the Red Bull RB14. Other things were and still are the decisive factors in why Ferrari is better than expected, Mercedes is not quite as good yet, and why Red Bull cannot yet fully exploit the qualities of its car. We selected three examples:
The tires: thinner treads everywhere
Mercedes had a problem in Bahrain. The rear tires got too hot on a fast training lap with the Supersoft compound. The drivers could choose where to lose their time. Either you took it easy with regard to the tires in the first sector or you paid for too much attack at the beginning of the lap in the last sector.
Mercedes has a luxury problem there. Quite a lot of downforce in the rear. This lets the rear tires flex a lot and heats them up from the inside. In addition, there were difficulties in balancing the cars perfectly for one lap. “We bring them into the corners very well and not so well out again. It looks again as if the two ends of the car don't want to go together, ”complained Niki Lauda. The rough asphalt of Bahrain was an additional stress factor.
In the race the problem disappeared. “The temperatures stabilize over several laps. They are then easier to keep in the window, ”say the engineers. Mercedes had known since the winter test drives that the rear tires could become a problem child on certain routes. That is why Pirelli was made aware of this, of course with the ulterior motive for the tire manufacturer to react. Which he did.
For the races in Barcelona, Paul Ricard and Silverstone, the tread will be reduced by 0.4 millimeters. Because there wasn't the necessary support from the other teams, the FIA stepped up with thatSafety argument.
Mercedes would of course prefer that Pirelli extends the measure to all routes. Because every detail counts in a three-way battle with Ferrari and Red Bull. “If you really want to have two stops to improve the races, you have to go this way. With the current tires we will have one-stop races almost everywhere ', Mercedes is building a bridge of arguments for Pirelli.
Force India technical director Andy Green immediately shoots against it:' If Pirelli closes the gap between the top teams and the Want to make the rest even bigger, they should do that. A thinner tread always helps those who have more downforce. Because then the rubber works less and heats up less. ”
Fuel and oil: fear of excessive consumption
Everyone's fuel consumption has increased significantly this year. Because the drive units deliver the same amount of power despite the longer running times. And the cars have up to five percent more downforce. This usually means more air resistance. The top speeds have decreased compared to last year. That means more time on the straight, more time under full load and thus higher consumption. The engine technicians have calculated that you would need 109 instead of 105 kilograms on the critical stretches to get through carefree.
It is not yet entirely clear who is affected and how much. Renault seems to be hit the worst. In Melbourne, the Renault drivers even had to take their foot off the gas after seven laps under safety car conditions. Even Honda cut a better figure in Bahrain. Ferrari operated more lift and coast in Bahrain than Mercedes. However, an engineer from the silver camp warns: “We drove in the slipstream most of the time. That helps. ”
Mercedes has another problem, one can hear under the palm of the hand. The cars with Mercedes engines are no longer as fast on the straights as they should be. This supposedly has to do with the oil specification. We hear that Petronas dug up a type of oil from 2016 to be on the safe side with oil consumption. By the start of the season, the oil consumption of Mercedes and Ferrari was just 0.01 liters below the permitted limit of 0.6 liters per 100 kilometers.
After the oil correction, Mercedes should be on the safe side when it comes to oil consumption. But that also costs power. Ferrari apparently continues to take full risk just below the pain threshold. And benefits in relation to the competition. No wonder that Mercedes engine boss Andy Cowell says: “Ferrari and we are tied in the qualification.” Up until now, that was the domain of the Mercedes engine.
The oil issue could soon boil up again. Ferrari's opponents are currently trying to find out why the Ferrari engine in the factory car smokes so heavily when it is started. And also smokes more when driving than with the other Ferrari teams. Not all engines should have one this yearBe the same manufacturer?
Some suspect some trick behind it that will enable Ferrari to add oil to the combustion process. It is now also known how the oil tricksters did in the past. A seal in the compressor of the turbocharger was carefully designed to “leak” so that a calculated amount of oil could get into the combustion chamber.
Wastegate helps aerodynamics
The top teams send their spies everywhere. Taking pictures of the competing product in the pit lane almost seems antiquated. The top teams work with high-speed cameras that show the vehicle in action in every detail. Last year Mercedes discovered that Ferrari illegally controlled the air passage through the front axle on the straights with a valve.
In Bahrain, Mercedes spotters heard that the Ferrari engine was in Sebastian's cars Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen significantly change the pitch when accelerating. Also in comparison to the customer teams HaasF1 and Sauber.
The answer to the riddle was not long in coming. In the qualifying rounds, when accelerating out of the way, Ferrari refrains from producing electricity with the MGU-H in order to use the wastegate valve to inflate the rear wing. That adds a few points of downforce, but better than nothing. In the qualifying laps, not charging the battery is a problem because it is full to the brim at the beginning of the lap anyway.
Battery is a bad keyword for Red Bull. The first of two by Daniel Ricciardo is one Case for hazardous waste. The same damage as with Max Verstappen last year in Montreal and as with the winter test drives. Ricciardo can figure out when he will receive a penalty for the first time. And that can't be made up for with a few hundredths of the aerodynamics or the engine. Lewis Hamilton lost the Bahrain GP when he changed the gearbox.