The F1 Styrian GP had loads of talks around upgrades as Mercedes raised their hands up on that while Red Bull would continue on – views of Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton, James Allison, Christian Horner and Max Verstappen here.
With Red Bull streaming ahead in the 2021 F1 fight against Mercedes and the 2022 overhaul incoming, the risk of upgrades on the current car is a dicey one for the teams. With only few months left for them to start assembling even, it a huge task at hand.
While Red Bull is seemingly pressing on with upgrades on its current machine, Mercedes seems to be in a 50-50 situation. There will certainly be some updates incoming, but if it will be enough to challenge their rivals, it is to be seen.
The topic was on fire in Styrian GP, where Hamilton asked Mercedes for a push to battle Red Bull, but Wolff was cautious about the situation. Post-race, though, Allison had some ray of hope, but it seemed like a route taken by Red Bull and Honda.
While they cannot bring any performance update on the power unit side, Honda used the reliability option well to introduce a new engine, which helped them eventually power wise. It looks like Mercedes is eyeing similar step with their reliability upgrade.
Even though Hamilton asked for the push, he isn’t going to press hard and notes that he has full faith on Mercedes. Wolff, meanwhile, has to be mindful of how they operate under the budget cap and the incoming 2022 regulation overhaul.
Starting with Hamilton, here’s how he reflected on multiple topics –
On Mercedes situation with cost cap, accepting no development:
Hamilton: “I’ve got an incredibly intelligent, strong and amazing group of people working behind me who take all of those decisions. Obviously you have to try to balance out with this new cost-cap. Naturally, we would love to have upgrades and improvements but I don’t think that’s currently on the cards. Of course, when we do a debrief we’ll chat about it but yeah, that’s how it is at the moment. I don’t accept anything. I think we’ve still got many races ahead of us and we’ve got to keep pushing.
“We’re World Champions and that’s what we can, definitely, improve if we have put our minds to it. If we’re not going to develop and improve our car for the rest of the year, this is the result you’re going to see, because, as I said, they’ve really eked out performance in these last few races, wherever it’s been, whether it’s been in France with the engine or the new wing, whichever it is. But there’s another TD (technical directive) coming out for the wings. I don’t know if they’re stopping the bendiness or not but maybe that will level the playing field. We will see.”
Right decision to stop from Mercedes:
Hamilton: “I’m not going to question the team’s logic and how they got through with their process. As I said, we would love an upgrade, but I don’t think it’s in the pipeline at the moment. We’re down on a few areas. It’s been close at the beginning of the season and if we were both – Red Bull and us – had the same performance as we did in those first four races then perhaps it would be a little more exciting.
“But as I said, they’ve taken a decent step forwards but we will work as hard as we can to manoeuvre around it but in terms of baseline performance this is what we’ve got. I think we did a decent job today but it’s probably going to get harder if Sergio has a better weekend, but we’re going to keep pushing.
Here’s from Wolff, on what he noted –
On less updates to come in 2021:
Wolff: “That’s basically what I’m saying, yes [that we will continue putting out resource into 2022]. It is a very, very tricky decision, because we are having new regulations not only for next year but for years to come, a completely different car concept. And you’ve got to choose the right balance, and pretty much everybody is going to be on next year’s car.
“Some may still bring stuff. Red Bull has brought trucks or vans Thursday and Friday with new parts. And fair enough, it’s a strategy. And one that proves to be successful as it stands, because today, they were simply in a league of their own from car-pace wise. Styria was not a bad result but what’s tough is it is the first race in eight years where you are lacking the pace.
“We stopped developing for this year because we believe that next year is so important to get it right, and they [Red Bull] keep adding bits, coming with aero parts and all credit to the strategy and they have been eking away. The new power unit has been consolidating their performance. We just have to get our heads together and do the best with our package and it is far from over.”
Demands from Hamilton about updates and philosophy he’s bringing:
Wolff: “The championship is not only played with adding aerodynamic parts, because at this certain stage, even the ones like Red Bull who still keep adding parts, need to switch all of the development into next year. And that means all the exploitation of the car around the set-up, the set-up work, the tyres, and the optimisation of how we are running, will become a very, very important part.
“And it would make no sense to put a week or two, a month back on the current car, because the gains wouldn’t be anywhere near of the gains we are making on the 2022 car. But having said that, this is far from over. We had a very difficult weekend in Austria, with no weapons in our armoury to win this race fair and straight. But we will be winning races this season, and we will be having pole positions.
“The driver, whether Lewis Hamilton or anyone, will always fight with everything he has. We’ve had the chat before, and as a matter of fact, it’s a very rational decision. The upgrades you bring wouldn’t close the deficit, aerodynamic deficit, of the magnitude that these new aero regulations cost us. Fact. And now it’s about, as I said before, they will stop aero development at a certain stage because it would be dangerous for next year’s championship, to lose out in next year’s championship. So the fight is still full on.”
Honda power unit performance rise:
Wolff: “I think in this sport, we’re not working with suspicions. It’s important to analyse the facts and the data. And this is what everybody does. It’s very transparent, how every team performs, and we will be looking at every team’s performance, including Red Bull and ourselves. Then come to our conclusions.
“But in a moment of defeat, it’s not, the initial reaction shouldn’t be pointing fingers at anybody or looking to find excuses. They’ve done a good job, fact, and the second power unit that they brought has been really strong. And it can be only with reliability, if the first one had degradation. So in summary, let’s look at the data, analyse, and then see what that said.”
Later on Allison added about bits and reliability update Mercedes will have:
Allison: “I don’t think those two things [updates and cost cap] are at odds with each other. I don’t think Toto Wolff has said precisely that. What Toto points out is that next year’s rules are a big and hairy affair and they demand a huge amount of our attention, so most of the focus of our factory has switched over to the performance discovery for next year, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things still in the food chain from prior to that focus switch.
“Furthermore it isn’t all of the factory, and furthermore, we at Brackley are only one of two factories, there’s also the PU factory at Brixworth and there is a little bit more to come from the PU. So there’s some more aerodynamic change in the offing, a little bit of PU, we hope, on the delivery side and just a few things that are not quite as tidy as we would wish that we still have an opportunity to put right while this season is still very much alive and hot.
“Ever since the rule changes that were introduced aerodynamically for looking after the tyres, we have found it hellishly hard to find the sort of performance gain rate that we found previously prior to those rules. Lewis Hamilton wants to be driving a car that allows him to showcase his skill – but he’s absolutely brilliant for us in these circumstances.
“Because he’s so focused on winning and on championships that his response to a situation like this is just to redouble his own contribution He was in our factory running a lot of simulator laps last week and he is as committed as anybody in making sure that we find the edge that we need to, to be able to put pressure on the Red Bull in front and I think you see him at his absolute best.”
From Red Bull side, it was a surprise notion from Horner about the less updates to come from Mercedes, but he added that they have figured it out, what they have to do. He also talked about the Honda power unit and how much it is pushing them on.
Compromise 2022 for 2021, what’s the plan:
Horner: “What Mercedes do is very much their business, so we’re just focused on ourselves and we know that Toto Wolff likes to throw the light somewhere else, so I can’t believe that they’ll go through the rest of this year without putting a single component on the car. As I say, what we can do is focus on our own job. Of course, it is a balancing act between this year and next year, but if that means we’ve all got to work a bit harder than the other teams, we are fully up for it.
“We’ve always believed as a race team that you have set developments for example, you know Monza you have to make a set of wings as with Monaco, but of course it is a balancing act between 2022 and this year, but it’s a matter of applying your resource selectively, carefully and efficiently and I think that the whole technical team, the production team, operational teams are all doing a phenomenal job.”
Chat about Honda power unit, so its advantage plus wing choice:
Horner: “We had a new oil from ExxonMobil. So, I think they should take full credit for all Lewis Hamilton pointing at the engine. So the engines are homologated, it is the same spec, it is unusual for Mercedes to have had to have changed so early in the year as they did. They seem to have perhaps higher degradation this year than in previous years, but as I say, yall we can do is focus on our own job, and another great performance by Honda. Our 10th victory now with Honda now in under three years. So far so good.
“It is undoubted that Honda have done a great job over the winter. Just look at the configurations of the cars. You haven’t got to be a rocket scientist to work out, you know, they’ve got a barn door on the back of their car for this race and we had a pretty skinny rear wing. So you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out why we tend to be a bit quicker on the streets.”
For Verstappen, he is fine with Red Bull choice of pushing on:
Verstappen: “Of course, I don’t know what’s going on with other teams but I know that of course, from our side, we do improve our car almost every race, which I think is very important – because we have a good opportunity to have a good season and I’m confident with the people we have in the team that also the focus for next year is 100%. So, I think so far I don’t see that compromise – but of course time will tell next year if it’s like that! Yeah, I fully agree with the approach we have for this season.”
Here’s Lewis Hamilton on some insights where Mercedes are lacking
Here’s Toto Wolff on George Russell’s performance
Here’s Max Verstappen on his brake trouble