It’s safe to say it wasn’t a particularly positive day of Friday practice running for Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, as the world champion outfit showed visible signs of instability in the balance of their new W12.
The German marque finished third and fifth in the meaningful Free Practice 2 session, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas reporting low grip and poor pace throughout the day’s second hour-long practice.
Competitors Red Bull Racing, on the other hand, experienced a vastly different day altogether; flying Dutchman Max Verstappen topped the timesheets in both instances, no doubt causing quite a stir in the Mercedes camp due to their evidently ultra-stable car.
“The car wasn’t where we wanted it by this weekend.” said the newly knighted Sir Lewis Hamilton.
“It’s looking better but still not perfect so we’re working as hard as we can. We still have a hill to climb but we’re staying positive. We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, so we know they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s good to see them taking a step. It will be interesting to see how the long runs are.”
Hamilton also stated that the wind would likely be another challenge for Mercedes to overcome going into the all-important Saturday sessions. Already up against the tricky 2021 tyres, the British champion says the odds are against the team to perform well when the points come, but that they will push with maximum effort to regain the top spot on Sunday.
“The rear is unstable as it is but I’m sure everyone will be in the same boat – some a little more, some a little less. For people at home trying to understand, when you approach a corner and the rear moves, you’re trying to find that tipping point. The tipping point used to be further away with more downforce on the car – now it falls away much quicker than normal. The performance we’ve lost on tyres this year doesn’t help but we’ll work away tonight and try to find a way.”
Vying for his eight world title, Hamilton will be hoping Saturday’s Qualifying will yield more favourable results for the Silver Arrows. Pundits and journalists alike are hedging their bets on both Red Bull and Mercedes to be on a more level playing field this year, so Lewis’ number one opponent in 2021 will likely be the rejuvenated Verstappen.
Bottas: “Things improved since testing and the car does feel better, but it’s not quite yet where we would want it”
In perhaps his last year of competition with the current benchmark team of Formula 1, Valtteri Bottas admits 2021 hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts when compared to prior seasons.
The Finn made his thoughts on the revamped W12 audible during practice, with multiple radio messages of his referencing the car to be ‘undriveable’ making it onto the airwaves.
Whilst he did make his feelings rather clear, Bottas did say the car felt ‘better than in testing’. He stated that the ‘trouble-free day was a positive’ but that ‘work had to be done’ in order to regain the same level of competitiveness that the constructors’ champions are used to.
“First, the car felt better than in testing. It felt like we’re still not yet there with the car balance, but it was a trouble-free day and no big issues. I think the main thing in my mind is that we have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole this weekend.”
“Inconsistency in the balance, especially in the rear-end was one area to work on from testing and in terms of set-up approach, things improved and the car does feel better but it’s not quite yet where we would want it. We still have tonight and tomorrow morning to try and figure it out.”
“We aren’t the fastest but we’re not too far off it.” Bottas concluded. “We’ll see tomorrow.”