Thinner air, allegedly smaller paddle wheels, less power that is fed into the power unit via the turbo: Mercedes, which was considered an unwritten rule in Formula 1 before this weekend, does not like (thin) mountain air. And because Honda has made its paddle wheels slightly larger, as they say, Red Bull was the clear favorite for most experts.
But the 2021 Formula 1 season taught us one thing: firstly, things turn out differently, and secondly, than you think! In qualifying in Mexico City, Valtteri Bottas secured pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton after Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had dominated the free practice sessions. Bluff or not: When it came down to it, Mercedes ran out of steam less than Red Bull Honda.
A few changes lead to Mercedes success
“It’s fair to say that compared to 2019, the engine has gotten better at handling the mountain air,” says Dave Robson, head of chassis performance at Williams. This is partly due to “the natural evolution of the past two years,” he says, but: “You also made a few changes to make things work better here.”
A question from Toto Wolff: What changes? “It’s not that we’ve turned the engine upside down,” said the Mercedes team boss. “But we understand better why it has not worked so well at high altitude. That is why we have optimized it for such conditions.”
“You try to maximize the power unit performance for the entire season. It is sometimes difficult to take the runaway races into account,” says Wolff. Because as of 2019 it was still argued: with larger paddle wheels like Honda, you would have to compromise in too many other races because of the increased weight.
Whether Mercedes really worked on the paddle wheels (unlikely) or turned various other adjusting screws (more likely) is beyond the knowledge of the experts. Aerodynamics also play an important role in the mountain air. Contact pressure is all the more important the thinner the air becomes.
“You can tolerate less tequila”
And you can feel the thin air in Mexico City: “It’s like an invisible force. At first you feel completely normal, but as soon as you take a few steps, you’re already out of breath. And you can tolerate less tequila when you overdo it.” 2,000 meters – at least I had to realize that on Friday, “he laughs.
The fact that Mercedes was suddenly number 1 in qualifying after a rather cautious performance in free practice had nothing to do with the fact that the Mercedes engine can now also breathe high altitude. Rather, “both axes simply came together,” explains Wolff.
“The car has always struggled either with understeer or with overheating on the rear axle. In Q2, with the medium, the car drove well for the first time. But it is also the case that the drivers are not endlessly happy. Valtteri says the car was good, but Lewis is still not entirely satisfied. “
Mercedes is surprised at the double pole
“It’s always a compromise here: you lose in the first sector, in the first one or two corners, because you’re too cold at the front. But you can’t be warmer because you would overheat the rear. The car was simply more together.” says the Mercedes team boss.
At Mercedes they were “surprised” by the result: “It was clear to us that Max would be on pole and that we would fight for the front row with ‘Checo’. But then qualifying came very much in our direction In Q2 the medium was on, we started to be faster than them, and in Q3 they were at no point faster than us. “
“I’m sure they wouldn’t have been faster on the last lap, even without the incident. But that’s exactly what makes this sport so fascinating for me that the performance can turn from one session to the other. We have that Already seen in Austin, to our disadvantage there. And now to our advantage, “says Wolff.