WHY ARE MERCEDES STRUGGLING WITH TYRES?
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Max Verstappen is an incredible driver, but when he can beat Bottas and Hamilton on pure pace, teams need to ask some big questions.
Mercedes, for the first time this year, actually ruined a race.
The 70th Anniversary Grand Prix is the first this year where Mercedes haven’t won the race, and it was very nearly the second race where they didn’t have two podiums. Tyre strategy, as predicted, created a thrilling race, and Red Bull’s strategy of a long first stint on a hard tyre proved to be genius. Whilst Verstappen’s victory was earned by racing with Bottas after a pit stop, it’s still clear that Mercedes got this one wrong, because they are supposed to have the pace to beat Red Bull, and it’s not like Bottas is slow.
Mercedes’ problem seems to be the heat: they struggled last Friday during high temperatures too. Yet the problem is clearly tyres, with two races in a row now being ruined by tyres.
The fact that it’s tyres causing the problem is really interesting, because it’s the only part of the car that Mercedes themselves don’t make - Pirelli do, as with everyone else’s tyres. Obviously, though, there’s something about the Mercedes car that can’t handle tyres in hot weather.
Both Bottas and Hamilton can treat tyres well, we all know that, but they’ve had far too many blisters for coincidence. Granted, we saw even Verstappen struggle with the medium compound on Sunday, but clearly this issue is a lot worse for Mercedes.
Ironically, the best theory is that they’re just too good.
Mercedes this year seem to be in a class of their own; before the 70th Anniversary GP, they were half a second clear of the rest of the field. However, Christian Horner (team principal at Red Bull Racing) suggested in a post-race interview that the problem was downforce.
“You see they’ve got a lot of downforce on that car, more wing than we're carrying, and they blistered their tires in about five laps after that first pit stop, and Max was still taking it very easy at that time, and so there’s a lot of stuff for us to understand."
Teams like Ferrari have been struggling at Silverstone - with it being such a high-power track to get the balance right between drag reduction and downforce, but Mercedes didn’t seem to have an issue. Christian Horner knows more about engineering than me, though, and I’m inclined to agree with his theory. As Mercedes are so aerodynamically efficient, they can afford to pile on the downforce more than other teams. Combined with hot track temperatures, (which I didn’t expect to see at Silverstone of all places, but alas) and lots of high-speed corners, the leading team’s tyres would degrade quicker, causing the blistering that Bottas and Hamilton suffered from this race.
Not, then, illegal tyre pressures from Red Bull, as Lewis Hamilton offhandedly suggested during the race, but we’ll let him off. If I’d just equalled Schumacher’s podium record, I’d be bitter whilst being beaten, too.
With a much later season than usual, and lots of tracks with higher temperatures coming soon (think Barcelona and Mugello), Mercedes have some work to do, especially if they want Lewis Hamilton to be a world champion again.
What do you think? Is it a mechanical issue for Mercedes (as rare as that seems these days)? Or is Max Verstappen just too good?
Drop a comment and let me know!