What happened to Friday’s horrible jumping and bouncing Mercedes in Montreal? How did it become the stable and more civilized drive on Saturday and Sunday, one that allowed Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to finish third and fourth?
Hamilton didn’t even complete his feature race on Friday, so bad was the car that he tried another experimental setup, and the team used their experience to assess the situation while Russell stuck with a more conventional setup.
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Putting the data together from both setups led the team to increase the rear ride height and soften the suspension to alleviate rebound. Russell hadn’t been too unhappy with his W13 on Friday, but he still found improvement in the revised set-up, although he didn’t see it as any kind of breakthrough.
“The porpoise wasn’t that bad,” he said, “but it’s still breaking the ground up and down like we were in Baku. It’s definitely less extreme just because of the nature of the circuit, the lower speed, but the general inherent issues are far from resolved.
“We have run high, we have run low. Performance hasn’t gotten any better or worse, and the stiffness or bottoming hasn’t really changed. Even when you are high, you have different effects. When you run out, you have different effects. It is a really difficult situation to overcome.”
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“The potential is really there if we can get the set-up right,” said Hamilton, “and I think that’s been the hardest thing this year – really trying to optimize the set-up. The window on this car is much, much smaller than any other car we’ve tested.
“We tried two different ways [on Friday] and the avenue down which he descended was dreadful. So we collected all the data we had and made drastic changes to the configuration. And it was much, much, much better today. More in line with what we expected and it was fine. When you get a full race distance you find out a lot about the car and the relationship you have with the car and the data etc. Therefore, there is much to learn from today.”
Knowing that qualifying was going to be wet and the race dry, Mercedes split their rear wing options. Russell got a bigger rear wing to help with qualifying, knowing the lower straight line speed would likely make things difficult in the dry on race day. Hamilton’s choice of wing was made with the full expectation that it would be slower in qualifying but faster in the race.
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As it happened, Russell’s valiant but doomed attempt to use slicks as a dry line began to show up late in Q3, meaning he started four places behind Hamilton.
That was the bad news for Russell. The good news was that the expected penalty from the bigger wing on Sunday was not met. The tailwind down the backstretch and into the pit lane was strong enough not to make things too harsh. It also helped that, coincidentally, Russell was never in a position to try to pass or avoid being passed. He could just take the lap time and the benefits of the tires without the downsides.
“The grip on the track was much higher than I expected,” he said. “We took a bit of a risk and thought the track reset after yesterday’s rain, high degradation, bigger wing would have been nice. But with the change in wind direction, the grip was really strong today.”
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The car performed much better than in the previous race in Baku, although there are certain similarities in the demands of the two tracks.
Mercedes believes that there are two factors that contribute to differentiating performance. The first is that there are none of the fast, long-running corners like Turns 13/14/15 in Baku, which is where the W13 was losing most of its lap time.
However, the car performed very well at Barcelona, a track with many long and fast corners. But they have a smooth surface, unlike Baku. Montreal had several new sections of smooth tarmac and it was notable that the car seemed to respond well to those parts.
How fast was it?
Towards the end of the stints, Hamilton and Russell were able to set times within a couple of tenths of those set by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, who were fighting for the lead.
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But it was a misleading image. Its final pace deficit remained around 0.8sec per lap, but the high tire degradation on the day and the hard pace Verstappen and Sainz set against each other meant the Merc’s tire performance was better. . Hamilton and Russell were not in wheel-to-wheel combat and could run their races at the most efficient pace, while Verstappen and Sainz were simply trying to be in front of each other.
“In the end, our race pace was definitely the closest we’ve had all season,” Russell said, “so we’ll take the positives. But the inherent performance is still far from where we want to be.”