Mercedes feared the worst and got the best that is possible at the moment. With the perfect tire warm-up strategy, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished fifth and sixth on the grid. Bouncing remains a problem.
Mercedes is the third force again. Things looked very different after Friday training. "We were concerned that none of our drivers would make it into Q3," admitted the engineers. The Silver Arrows couldn't escape the vicious circle of low tire temperatures and bouncing on the straights. As a result, drivers lacked confidence in their cars.
One day later the world was halfway right again. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell made it through the final knockout round of qualifying with no tremors and will now start together from the third row.
It would probably have been the fourth if the two Spaniards Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso had used what was possible with their cars. But it could have been the second if Hamilton had found 0.123 seconds on Lando Norris: "Fourth place was possible today."
Lap five was the fastest
Mercedes made the jump out of no man's land because the engineers found a way to get the tires up to temperature. Hamilton and Russell had to complete half long runs in qualifying before their C5 Pirellis were finally in the working window. The strategy turned out to be a trump card in the end.
After a moderate lap out of the pits, a faster preparatory lap followed before the hammer fell for the first time. Then another cool-down lap before attempting the second. The fifth flying lap was the fastest.
The red flag after the Alonso accident gave Mercedes perfect timing for his plan. With a remaining time of 6.50 minutes, Hamilton and Russell were able to start their long approach to the fast lap straight away and were initially relatively undisturbed because the competition, who divided their Q3 into two portions, waited until the last moment to exit.
Confidence in a good race pace
Team boss Toto Wolff was relieved: "I'm satisfied that we made it solidly into the top ten after our problems. We learned a little more about these tires and our car again. It has also showed that we are capable of reacting to difficult circumstances. The car was much better today than on Friday. Lewis spoke of a difference like night and day."
The serial winner of the past has to keep chewing on a bitter pill. Pole position was a second away. And with Alpine and McLaren, two opponents have reported who were not yet opponents in Bahrain and Jeddah. Wolff hopes that Mercedes will be able to clear things up again in the race for third place. "Our race pace is usually better than the performance on one lap."
Chief Engineer Andrew Shovlin adds: "We focused on low tire degradation this weekend. We won't be able to follow Ferrari and Red Bull, but we want to be there and capitalize on that if the two teams in front of us make mistakes or run into trouble."
To do that, the Mercedes drivers have to move fast stand out from their surroundings. The Alpine are six km/h faster on the straights, the McLaren by three km/h Russell admits: "It will be difficult to keep Sainz and Alonso behind us."
More weight for more information
Mercedes is following the bouncing further. In order to better track down the bouncing at high speed, Mercedes resorts to unusual methods. Although the W13 is a fair bit too heavy, the engineers put instruments in the car to measure, what processes trigger the rocking and why it stops under certain conditions. This drove the weight up further.
The crux of the problem is that it cannot be replicated in the wind tunnel. You can include it in your mathematical models, but only if you also know under what circumstances it comes and goes. And that's only possible when used at the front on the racetrack. "We are currently learning a completely new type of correlation between track, wind tunnel and simulation," reveals Wolff.
Hamilton compares his car to a rattlesnake because of the bouncing. Unpredictable whether she bites or not. "The ride height is constantly changing, up and down, up and down. As a result, you never know what position the car is in when you turn in and responds with oversteer or understeer depending on the position. That makes it a real challenge, that to drive a car."
Bouncing with high frequency
The detective work also includes understanding certain phenomena that are currently still obscuring the view of a solution. Ferrari also has bouncing, but can live with that. "At Ferrari, the cars rock at a low frequency, almost in slow motion. With us and some other cars, it's a high-frequency shaking. With Ferrari, the up and down movement stops as soon as the drivers turn into the corner. We wear that Pumping into the curve. That robs the drivers of their confidence," say the engineers. Wolff explains the effects: "We lose a second to the Ferrari in the fast corners 9, 10 and 12."
The team boss continues to trust that the W13 with its minimalistic sidepods is a good car in general terms. "I believe in the concept. There is no alternative either. It would take far too long to build a new car." In addition, the budget cap would stand in the way.
Wolff admits that turning off the bouncing alone is not enough. "We still have a lot of other issues. For example the weight. Nevertheless, I'm optimistic that we'll reach our goal.Will it be in two races or five? That is not important. My job is to think long-term in steps of five and ten years. But the important thing is that we learn from this episode and get stronger."