We’re Not Buying Mercedes’ ‘Sky is Falling’ Claims Following Unimpressive Bahrain Test

Following preseason Formula 1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit, Mercedes F1 Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin has a surprising revelation: The new Mercedes F1 car is—really we mean it this time guys—slower than its rival.

According to Motorsport.com, the team’s data clearly shows that they’re running behind Red Bull. Throw out the scripts for 2021, Red Bull must be the clear favorite for the title.

Color me skeptical. Mercedes has long subscribed to the “speak softly and carry a big stick” mantra, often emphasizing its own weaknesses and downplaying advantages. The team never acts as though its lead is secure, a mindset that no doubt keeps it ahead of the pack. Like in Singapore in 2017, Mercedes is good at listing reasons why the other cars should win and then winning anyway. So when they’re already talking up the strength of their competition after the first test, it’s hard to believe that there’s much to worry about.

“We’ve made a bit of progress with the balance on higher fuel and the car was more predictable but we can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull,” Shovlin said.

During the test, that was true. But the implication here is that Mercedes is now the underdog and has to catch up to Red Bull. And that reads as a painfully obvious lie. Disregard the actual timing for a second, secure in the knowledge that testing times are rarely indicative of actual performance. Focus on what we know to be true. Last year’s W11 was more consistent, easier to drive, faster, and more reliable than Red Bull’s RB16. It secured a seventh consecutive Constructors’ World Championship for Mercedes and a seventh Drivers’ Championship for Lewis Hamilton.

Of course, the success of the last car does not guarantee a winning car for 2021. Yet in this year more than most, there’s reason to be hesitant about expecting any big shake-ups. After pushing back the major rule change from 2021 to 2022, the FIA enacted a series of restrictions on 2021 development to curb spending. Each team gets two development tokens that can be spent improving one or two aspects of the car, but the rest of the car remains largely intact. Aero improvements can be made without spending tokens, but with such limited overall development, it’s unlikely that you’ll see Haas fighting for podiums or Mercedes falling into the midfield.

Still, that doesn’t mean this season is a lock for Mercedes. It can’t spend millions on upgrading every part, the dual-axis steering system from the W11 is banned for 2021, and McLaren is now using its power unit. Plus, I mean, have you seen the Red Bull car? It’s clearly, definitely, for sure faster. For real this time.

From: Road & Track

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