The Mercedes AMG F1 team is optimistic that they can have a much better weekend at Zandvoort than at Spa last weekend as both drivers and senior team members reveal details on their chances for the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix.
For the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, the Silver Arrows had a big gap to the top on Friday and Saturday, which doesn’t seem to be there in the Netherlands with Lewis Hamilton just 0.072 seconds behind in third on Friday.
“It was a decent start to the weekend and I feel much more comfortable in the car,” said the British driver.
“It’s just a completely different track and with some progress we’re not that far behind, which is great to see. There’s probably not much left in the car, but we’ll keep working.”
According to senior race engineer Andrew Shovlin, the W13 was “much easier to balance at Zandvoort than it was at Spa, and it looks like we’re in a better position in terms of pace.”
He says: “We still lack some pace on a lap and on long runs, but the gaps are much better than a week ago.”
Zandvoort is a completely different track to Spa. While the two sectors in Belgium consist mainly of long full-throttle sections, Zandvoort is all about downforce. That seems to suit Mercedes: “Spa was an outlier of what our car likes,” said Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes.
“This is a better track and you can see that we are with the flow.”
George Russell, who finished Friday in fifth place, also noticed that: “The car is working better, no doubt about it,” he notes, and expects that it could be pretty close on Saturday – but not just at the front.
“McLaren will be quick, even Aston Martin,” he says. “We know qualifying is still our weak point, but the race should suit us and I think our long run pace is strong.”
However, he said he did not get accurate insights into the longrun pace because the timing system was not working. “We didn’t have the same information as we had on TV, so we couldn’t really see what our longrun pace was,” Russell said. “But we will look at it and gather as much data as we can. We’re in a relatively good position.”
But for a good race result, qualifying actually has to go well too. “You have to start from the right position. If we are on the third row, then it will be difficult to fight for first or second place,” he said.
In Hungary, Russell had somewhat surprisingly taken pole position, but he is not dreaming of that here, even though Zandvoort and the Hungaroring certainly have similarities. “Hungary was unique,” he says. “Our opponents didn’t get it right and we did a really great job and everything went in our favour.”
“I would be very shocked if we had a repeat from Hungary,” he says. “But we’re definitely closer for a while now.”
Teammate Lewis Hamilton is not yet willing to commit to whether a similar result to Hungary is in the cards. “It’s too early for that,” he says, “but we were much closer today than before. We will work hard tonight and keep going as we have been.”
But he also says: “We still have problems with bouncing and we will work on that. But I hope we will continue to make progress from Friday to Saturday. That would be fantastic.”
Shovlin adds, “Neither driver has got the balance the way they want it so far, and both felt the car was a bit easier to drive in the morning. In the afternoon we had understeer in some places and lacked stability in others. These are not big problems, but we need to fix them overnight if we want to cause problems for Red Bull and Ferrari tomorrow.”
Red Bull didn’t have the best day on Friday, finishing only eighth and twelfth. “Yes, they had a difficult day,” Hamilton reckons. “They missed most of the first session and didn’t get the laps together at the end.”
But he doesn’t think it will stay that way: “They will still have six or seven tenths up their sleeve. So it will be relatively easy for them.”