Mercedes was better in Budapest than even the optimists in the team would have expected. The pole position was the result of an aggressive set-up. And she hardly hurt in the race. From Spa Mercedes sees itself back on the road to victory. Also because of the underbody rule.
It's Mercedes' turn. Step by step, the Silver Arrows are crawling closer to Ferrari and Red Bull. Even if there is a step to the side or backwards, as in Azerbaijan and France. From the point of view of Mercedes, the Hungaroring was also a hard stretch. And it was there of all places that the team celebrated its first pole position since the Saudi Arabian GP last year.
On Friday it still looked bitter in the camp of the subscription world champions. Missing more than a second to the top. Even Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin were faster. Nothing worked, neither the fast lap from a standing start nor the endurance run. The engineers were at a loss. "Lewis and George didn't have confidence in their car. They had the feeling that the rear end would smear away when they went to the limit," recalls chief engineer Shovlin.
This problem was already plaguing the Mercedes drivers in France. "In certain types of corners we suffer from instability in the rear. It's the long corners like Paul Ricard's in the third sector. The short ones work better. That's how we were able to be faster there in the first sector than the others."
Setup hard on the tires
Shovlin took it with humor. "At least we learned what not to do." The cars were rebuilt, but no one dared to put their hand into the fire, what will become of it. Because it was assumed at Mercedes that the starting position would be decisive for the race, the engineers dared to leave their comfort zone and ordered a set-up that puts more strain on the tires. "We were less conservative than usual with the rim heating," reveals team boss Toto Wolff. And the technicians advised their drivers on the warm-up lap to drive as if it were about the best time.
The result was the first pole position of the year. And the sinking feeling in your stomach that you might be asking too much of the tires in the race. "We didn't know if our good speed would translate to one lap in the race," Shovlin admits. It worked, although overtaking was a lot easier than I thought.
Red Bull started from further back and Ferrari scored an own goal with their tire choice after failing to read the warning signs on Friday. George Russell's third stint showed that, for once, Mercedes was at the limit with tire management. After 31 laps the medium tires were dead. "We warned George that Sainz was getting closer, but he didn't have an answer," the engineers said.
Will new underbody rules help?
Mercedes showed up in Hungary with a new rear wing and underwing, along with modifications to the halo. That gave more downforce, but didn't make the cars any faster relative to the competition. They worked in the same direction.
A technician admits: "None of the changes turned our car into a rocket." It was more the setup and understanding of the W13 that gained a few new lessons in Budapest. Shovlin's conclusion: "We had the tires in the right window, others didn't."
The learning process with the capricious car is not yet complete, but it is now clearly showing its first successes. "Bouncing isn't an issue at all anymore," Shovlin interjects. However, contrary to the wind tunnel specifications, the W13 had to be scaled back a bit in order to eliminate the annoying hopping. And that cost lap time, which you now have to find again.
After the summer break, Mercedes will continue to keep the number of steps up and bring modifications to practically every race. "We still have a few things up our sleeve, nothing spectacular, but things that will take us further. We're no longer going in circles, but are now moving forward continuously. Also with the setup." In addition, Mercedes hopes that the tightened checks on the underbody and planks will cost Red Bull and Ferrari lap times.
The theory goes like this: If it is no longer possible to leave air or insulating material between the chassis, floor and plank to absorb the impacts from the road, then the competitors will be forced to drive their cars higher. According to the simulation, six millimeters more costs two to three tenths. That's exactly the time Mercedes still needs to win.