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Mercedes vs. Ferrari and Red Bull: Only heat can beat Mercedes

Mercedes versus Ferrari and Red Bull
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J a, Mercedes is beatable. The Austrian GP showed it. Ferrari was on pole position. Red Bull won the race. Was that the turnaround? Anyone who believes this could be mistaken. Ferrari and Red Bull have made slight progress. For one, the route layout played into the cards, for the other, the heat. Both are not enough to endanger Mercedes permanently. It takes more than just a technical upgrade.

Mercedes was not beaten by its opponents in Spielberg, but by the extreme conditions. The trump card of the W10 is its aerodynamics. No other car generates so much downforce. This makes it easier for Mercedes to hit the tires' working window. The fact that the Silver Arrows generally run with the tires on the hotter side and that the working window of the Pirelli tires has moved upwards due to the thinner tread and the stiffer construction is a fortunate coincidence. There is no going back to the old tires for 2019. Five teams voted against it in Spielberg.

The combination of 34 degrees air temperature and the altitude of the track at 670 meters above sea level forced Mercedes to open the fairing as much as possible. According to the engineers, the loss of downforce cost half a second. Deprived of its greatest strength, the Mercedes was just an earthly racing car. Contrary to many assumptions, there are no super tricks such as hidden four-wheel steering or an active mechanical chassis on the front axle. Those jokers would have stung at 34 degrees.

Ferrari and Red Bull shone in Austria.

Three times a year Stolperstein

Ferrari dominated on one lap. This was to be expected after the experiences from Bahrain and Montreal and had only marginally to do with the latest aerodynamic developments. The sub-floorstill didn't work as expected. 'But we now finally know why it doesn't work,' said Ferrari. On the three straights, Ferrari made up six tenths on the Mercedes without the influence of slipstream. That could no longer be made up for in the corners with a Mercedes with a castrated downforce. That's why the delta in training was pretty blatant. Ferrari might have taken pole position even in cooler weather, just not so clearly.

You have to take the leap that Red Bull has made more seriously. The big upgrade from Paul Ricard didn't work at all the first time it was used. The French GP was the weakest performance of the World Cup third. Even McLaren came within striking distance. Together with a new front wing, the package suddenly worked in Spielberg. The RB15 has noticeably gained downforce, and Red Bull has already brought the tires into their comfort zone. According to a Mercedes engineer, in the area in which the three top cars move, a minimal increase in contact pressure is enough to ignite the tires. 'I would say that two kilograms more load on each tire can make the difference between being in the window or outside.'

Mercedes suffered even more in the race than in practice. Now the performance also had to be reduced. The drivers took off the accelerator up to 400 meters before the corners. Mercedes paid the price for a disguise that fits like a tailor-made suit. You think you can see the outlines of the radiator, engine and gearbox under the many bumps and edges on the outer skin, it's so space-saving. The slim rear, which pulls inward earlier than the Red Bull RB15 or the Ferrari SF90, is a piece of the puzzle in an outstanding aerodynamic package. If it becomes a stumbling block at three races a year, Mercedes can live with it.

Does Ferrari need a different front wing concept?

The question is whether Red Bull and Ferrari will do the rest of the season enough can still be thought of to close the gap to Mercedes even under normal conditions and on all types of track. The two pursuers have very different vehicle concepts. Therefore there is no silver bullet. Ferrari finds it difficult to put enough downforce on the front axle without losing contact pressure in the rear. If you fail to do that, you get into a vicious circle. The car understeers, the rear axle is relieved, which has the consequence that the rear tires are too cold on the inside and too hot on the surface.

Then it comes to balance shifts in long curves. Understeering at the curve entrance is followed by oversteering at the exit. This situation often occurs during a qualifying round. That is why Ferrari often loses disproportionately in the last corners of a lap. See Barcelona, ​​see Paul Ricard. The rear tires wear out more over the distance. Charles Leclerc drove the final laps of the GPAustria has exactly this handicap against Max Verstappen.

At Mercedes, the opinion is that Ferrari will not solve this problem as long as they stick to their front wing concept. There are limits to the downforce at the front. Switching to a Mercedes wing is not as easy as an engineer from the master team says. “That takes four months because there is a whole bunch of other changes attached to it.” You know that so precisely because Mercedes thought about following the Ferrari philosophy before the season started. It would be fatal if Ferrari postponed this project to 2020. Without a test on the track you could fall on your face again.

Red Bull doesn't have this problem. Right from the start, the RB15 was equipped with a front wing in which the flaps rise from the inside out. But the aerodynamicists at Milton Keynes found it difficult to control the swirling air that spreads the front wings and front wheels to the rear. That made for an unclean current and a nervous stern. Max Verstappen copes with it better than Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman repeatedly asserted that he lacked confidence in his car.

The regulations robbed engineers of some tools to attack the harmful air wakes directly. And that's exactly where Red Bull was champion. Paul Ricard's upgrade indicated that this is exactly the problem that was being worked on. It now looks as if the package in conjunction with the new front wing brought about the breakthrough. That would be Honda's turn again. In the qualification trim there should still be 30 hp missing from Ferrari and Mercedes. The Japanese promise a further expansion stage for Spa.


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