The performance swing that highlights Mercedes' low-rake pain

Formula 1's new aero rules were always tipped as having the potential to shake up the competitive order, but few perhaps expected it to have the influence it has had.

The performance swing that highlights Mercedes' low-rake pain

In a year that had the risk of being a stale repeat of 2020, with teams carrying over their chassis, the performance swings shown at the Bahrain season opener have been quite dramatic.

All teams have been slowed by the changes to the floor, brake ducts and diffuser regulations, but some have suffered much more than others.

A look at the qualifying time comparisons from last year's Bahrain Grand Prix to this, shows some interesting trends.

Here are the deficits between 2020 and 2021:

Ferrari – 0.541 seconds
Alfa Romeo – 1.217 seconds
Red Bull – 1.319 seconds
AlphaTauri – 1.361 seconds
McLaren – 1.385 seconds
Alpine – 1.832 seconds
Williams – 2.022 seconds
Mercedes – 2.121 seconds
Aston Martin – 2.279 seconds
Haas – 2.338 seconds

There appear to be two stand-out messages from this.

One is that Ferrari is by far the most improved team this year, with its new engine and less draggy aero concept clearly having put to bed the problems it had in 2020.

But of more importance for the overall title battle is the fact that the drop off at Mercedes is so dramatic.

While the German car manufacturer's main rivals have lost around 1.3 seconds of performance, Mercedes joins customer teams Williams and Aston Martin in losing more than two seconds over the winter.

Some of the explanation for that deficit comes from the engine derating problems that Mercedes mentioned on Saturday, but there appears little doubt now that fears the low rake cars could be hit hardest by new rules have materialised.

With the low-rake philosophy used by Mercedes and Aston Martin so reliant on the diffuser being sealed by floor holes and slots that have been banned for this year, the concept simply does not work as well as it did prior to this season.

Aston Martin believes the shift in performance between the high rake and low rake cars is one second, which could appear to be borne out by the performance stats.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer said: "It looks like the low rake runners lost about a second a lap to the high rake runners.

"If you just look up and down, if you compare us to Mercedes, for example, I think we're a tenth quicker than we were last year here. But when you compare us to all the high rake runners, you know, they've gained seven-eight tenths, even a second a lap."

Asked if he felt that was a fundamental problem for all of 2021, or could be clawed back, Szafnauer said: "Well, it's fundamental today, but we're going to work hard to recover.

"Mercedes are also a low rake runner and they're faster than us. So there's performance out there, we just have to find it and put it on our car as quick as we can."

Despite the obvious pointers from the timesheets, though, it is still slightly premature to suggest that the entire explanation of the deficit is down to the floor change.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff thinks that Bahrain offers other factors – like temperature and a high grip track surface – that can influence things too.

"The car is just not in a happy place and Bahrain wasn't particularly great last year," he said.

"This is a track layout and asphalt that Red Bull seems to master better than us. But this is not at all an explanation that is acceptable.

"We just need to do what we did in the last years and that is understand the car and the tyres and optimise every detail and then we will be back in the fight."

Read Also:

The next races will offer us a better indication of whether what we see in Bahrain is the norm or an exception.

But even if the data set for the next few races point to the new rules having definitely hit Mercedes and Aston Martin the hardest, there is no option to go back on what has been introduced for this year.

Also, homologation rules, and how the rake concept is so intrinsic to the overall car package, means that switching to a high rake version is almost impossible in the short term.

Both Mercedes and Aston Martin are therefore aware they need to focus on digging themselves out of the situation they are in.

Wolff said: "If we will say: 'well, we were just penalised by the regulation that's it', we wouldn't be racers and we wouldn't be fighters.

"We just need to get that car in its sweet spot so it can combat with our competitors."

shares
comments

Related video

Hamilton expected gap to Red Bull in qualifying to be "double"
Previous article

Hamilton expected gap to Red Bull in qualifying to be "double"

Next article

Williams' F1 2021 wind sensitivity down to aero breakthrough

Williams' F1 2021 wind sensitivity down to aero breakthrough
Load comments
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021
How Hamilton dominated in Qatar despite missing a key Mercedes advantage Prime

How Hamilton dominated in Qatar despite missing a key Mercedes advantage

There was simply no stopping Lewis Hamilton on Formula 1's first visit to Qatar. The Mercedes driver eased to pole position and led every lap to secure an utterly dominant victory - even without a key Mercedes weapon in his arsenal to increase the heat on Red Bull heading into the final two races of the gripping 2021 title race

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021
Qatar's long-term plans for a "World Cup every single year" Prime

Qatar's long-term plans for a "World Cup every single year"

Qatar is preparing to host the football World Cup next year, but will be thrown into the sporting spotlight this weekend as Formula 1 prepares to race in the country. Ahead of a 10-year deal to hold a grand prix from 2023 onwards, it's a much-needed opportunity to highlight reforms in the country

Formula 1
Nov 20, 2021