Mercedes investigating if ‘wacky’ set-up contributed to Styrian GP struggles

Max Verstappen scored Red Bull’s fourth consecutive victory as Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were left to settle for second and third place, respectively.

Verstappen led every single lap and rarely looked troubled at the front of the pack, with Hamilton saying after the race that it was “impossible” to keep up. He had fallen over 17 seconds behind before a late pitstop to grab the fastest lap saw the final margin stand at 35.7 seconds.

Mercedes has just four days off before hitting the track once again at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix, but it has already identified a key area to explore that may explain its struggles.

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin revealed after the race that Mercedes had pursued quite a radical set-up for the Styria weekend that could have contributed to its inability to compete with Verstappen on race day.

“We were exploring a fairly wacky direction with the set-up, a radical approach which I think was maybe a bit better on a single lap,” Shovlin explained.

“The question that remains is whether we’ve hurt our degradation, and we need to look at that in the next day or two.

“I don’t really want to go into details. Essentially, the window that we work in was much, much wider. We were sort of going further than we’ve ever gone, and just really understanding the effects of that.

“Lewis, before he came here, was doing a lot of work in the driver-in-loop simulator, and it looked like an interesting direction.

“But an important part of this year for us is adapting well to every track. We do need to be a bit brave and original with set-up direction to do that.”

Hamilton said after the race that Mercedes needed to find more performance and bring an upgrade for its car if it wanted to fight Red Bull, only for team boss Toto Wolff to reveal that development had stopped on the W12.

Hamilton now sits 18 points behind Verstappen at the top of the drivers’ championship heading into this weekend’s race.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 3rd position, in Parc Ferme

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 3rd position, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Shovlin felt that digging into the set-up direction would give Mercedes a chance to strike back at Red Bull, hoping it could help solve some of the tyre degradation struggles both drivers faced.

“One big area is understanding this set-up departure that we’ve taken, and whether or not that has made life more difficult for the rear tyres on the long run,” Shovlin said.

“Some of that we can just do by data. But we’ll see whether or not that is work that can carry into the Friday of the race weekend.

“But fundamentally, the car is very similar. There are additional challenges of extracting the grip out of that C5 compound, the very softest rubber, on a single lap. That might be quite challenging if it is very hot here.

“The other thing is, we’re not looking for massive margins. I think we were down by a couple of tenths in the race, and there was a bit of degradation. But the solution to both of those problems might be the same thing.

“We’ll just try to get the rears running a bit cooler, and look after the rubber a bit better, and you may find that both of those things come our way.

“So we’ll focus on those areas, and it’ll just be a case of seeing if we can come back a bit stronger in a few days’ time.”

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