Formula 1
Formula 1
28 Mar
Event finished
R
Emilia Romagna GP
18 Apr
FP1 in
5 days
R
Portuguese GP
02 May
Race in
21 days
09 May
Next event in
24 days
23 May
Race in
42 days
R
Azerbaijan GP
06 Jun
Race in
56 days
13 Jun
Race in
63 days
27 Jun
Race in
77 days
04 Jul
Next event in
80 days
18 Jul
Race in
98 days
R
Hungarian GP
01 Aug
Race in
112 days
29 Aug
Race in
140 days
05 Sep
Race in
147 days
26 Sep
Race in
168 days
R
Singapore GP
03 Oct
Next event in
171 days
10 Oct
Race in
181 days
R
United States GP
24 Oct
Race in
196 days
31 Oct
Race in
203 days
R
Australian GP
21 Nov
Race in
223 days
R
Abu Dhabi GP
12 Dec
Race in
245 days

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

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble
The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Prime

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says Nigel Roebuck.

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Prime

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021
Is Formula 1 as good as it has ever been now? Prime

Is Formula 1 as good as it has ever been now?

For many, many years Formula 1 has strived to do and to be better on all fronts. With close competition, a growing fanbase, a stable political landscape and rules in place to encourage sustainability, 2021 is on course to provide an unexpected peak

Formula 1
Apr 8, 2021
How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend Prime

How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend

Williams held out against the tide for many years but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, the age of the owner-manager is long gone

Formula 1
Apr 6, 2021
When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m Prime

When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m

Nikita Mazepin’s Formula 1 debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix lasted mere corners before he wiped himself out in a shunt, but his financial backing affords him a full season. Back in 1993 though, Marco Apicella was an F1 driver for just 800m before a first corner fracas ended his career. Here’s the story of his very short time at motorsport’s pinnacle.

Formula 1
Apr 4, 2021
How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his teammate's F1 career climb Prime

How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his teammate's F1 career climb

Kimi Raikkonen's emergence as a Formula 1 star in his rookie campaign remains one of the legendary storylines from 2001, but his exploits had an unwanted impact on his Sauber teammate's own prospects. Twenty years on from his first F1 podium at the Brazilian GP, here's how Nick Heidfeld's career was chilled by the Iceman.

Formula 1
Apr 3, 2021
The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes Prime

The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton took victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix despite, for a change, not having the quickest car. But any hopes of developing its W12 to surpass Red Bull's RB16B in terms of outright speed could not have come at a worse time.

Formula 1
Apr 2, 2021
How Verstappen's Bahrain mistake can only make him stronger Prime

How Verstappen's Bahrain mistake can only make him stronger

Max Verstappen lost out to Lewis Hamilton at the Bahrain Grand Prix by a tiny margin, slipping off the track just as victory was within his grasp. But the painful lesson from defeat can only help Verstappen come back even stronger

Formula 1
Mar 31, 2021