Back in 2017, Mercedes famously coined their W08 a Diva when Toto Wolff described the W08 in Monaco, a pretty fitting description of its unpredictability and very high-maintenance behaviour.
It seems that this year’s 2019 car, the W10 might be a similar proposition with some Mercedes engineers admitting that “There are phases when we are as fast as Red Bull, and then we are slow again”, but not letting on as to whether they know why or not.
Sebastian Vettel put it this way saying: “It’s difficult to read exactly what’s happening. Some runs look good, others don’t.” when describing Bottas and Hamiltons’ car.
Paddock rumour is circulating that some team projections are showing Mercedes have even drifted into midfield! In the worst case, these simulations claim that Mercedes is more than a second behind Ferrari, but then other stints have them only one to two tenths short of Ferrari.
Mercedes haven’t yet declared ‘Diva’, but they certainly aren’t giving away why their pace is so inconsistent. “It depends on the temperatures, the tyres and the circumstances.” say the Mercedes garage when asked by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. One thing is certain: the upgraded week 2 car is a clear step forward compared to the first version of the W10 that was on the road during the first week of testing.
The basic model really only ran in midfield. The biggest problem was an instability in the rear, which was likely due to aerodynamics. “We clearly have the problem under better control,” claim the Mercedes team garage when quizzed.
It seems that the big difference between Ferrari and Mercedes is that Ferrari understood their car from day one. Mercedes are definitely still in the middle of still trying to better understand the W10, if anything because the week 2 car is so different from the last one.
Mercedes seem to not enjoy the new Pirelli compounds with very heavy graining, even at times of the day when the so-called “cold graining” shouldn’t be a problem. Mercedes admit that they “also experienced it in the warm afternoon hours.” claim AMuS.
Other teams also have problems with the fact that the Pirelli surface peels off, but mostly limited to the cool morning hours, the so-called ‘cold graining’ phenomena. But graining can also be a consequence of too much slipping on the asphalt, pointing toward poor aero, but Mercedes technicians rule this out: “We certainly don’t have too little downforce.
Regardless, whenever the Mercedes falls into this “graining” situation, the W10 is painfully slow.
On the second hardest C2 compound, the Mercedes looks best compared to the competition, hence why the team have almost exclusively run on this compound. The time of day also plays a role as to when the silver arrow is in good shape and when it is not.
“For a fast lap, 10 o’clock is our best time. For longruns from 12 to 14 o’clock. Unfortunately one hour of it is lunch break.” admit the pit wall to AMuS.
Pirelli offers new rubber compounds this year, a reaction to the thinner surface.
“The tyres behave very differently than last year,” complain many of the team engineers. And that makes it so difficult to read the lap times. Also, long-runs are tricky to read.
“There is more leeway in the variables,” complains Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul. “With the larger tank capacity, you can calculate up to 20 kilograms for the analyses. The DRS effect has become much bigger. So are the differences in the engine programs. And then there’s the tyre factor, which is hard to read.”
In the first six days of testing there were hardly any usable racing simulations. Only these allow reasonably reliable analysis of actual performance because one can assume a starting weight of at least 100 kilograms. But it appears that even then, the pace and consistency of the long runs can vary greatly, experts tell us. The blame lies with the tyres again.
The Mercedes believe that “Red Bull showed the fastest longrun so far on Wednesday”. However, Max Verstappen stopped the race simulation after 40 laps due to a slip and a gearbox problem.
And Mercedes? “We had good and less good longruns, depending on the time of day.” said the team. According to Mercedes calculations, Renault and Alfa Romeo also perform well in race trim.
In general, the midfield seems to have moved much closer to the top, and that’s why the impression can arise that Mercedes is part of the midfield when the car once again presents itself from its weaker, Diva like side.
Lewis Hamilton did this at his Wednesday Longrun with the C3 tyres. Four to five laps constantly in the 1.20s, then the lap times increased rapidly to a level of 1.23 minutes, where they stabilized again.
This certainly harks back to 2017 when the W08 was at its peak, it was extremely fast – maybe even the fastest. But then it fell off that peak very sharply, due mainly to the way it worked the Pirelli. It didn’t warm its tyres evenly front-to-rear, therefore was difficult to find a sweet spot of set up for the car, especially one that works for more than one compound of tyre.
Could history be repeating itself in 2019?