TECH TUESDAY: Why did Mercedes fall down the order in Abu Dhabi after getting a 2-1 in Sao Paulo?

Mark Hughes looks at Mercedes’ performance slump from Sao Paulo – where George Russell took his first and only win of the season – to Abu Dhabi, where Russell is back in fifth and Hamilton is unfinished. Giorgio Piola provides the art illustrations.

Mercedes’ recent return to short came at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. Just seven days after their 1-2 finish in Brazil, they were certainly the third fastest team around the Yas Marina Circuit.

Further Read: 6 Winners And 5 Losers From Abu Dhabi – Who Signed Their Season In Style?

After the significant floor and spoiler upgrade in Austin, along with a revised spoiler and some significant weight savings, there was a significant change in the competitiveness of the W13. But it was at the tracks—Austin, Mexico City, Sao Paulo—that don’t unduly penalize a higher level of drag.

In Abu Dhabi, the long, flat sections of Sector 1 and the flat sections punctuated by chicanes between Turns 5 and 9 mean that low drag is a key part of the competitiveness equation there. From its performance patterns throughout the season it can be inferred that the W13 is a much more drag car than Red Bull. In Abu Dhabi, it was damaged far more than the previous three track layouts.


Low drag characteristics are critical in Abu Dhabi, particularly with Sector 1
This had an impact on the team’s strategic choices, explained Andrew Shovlin, head of track engineering. “Looking at the FP3 timetables we concluded that we would probably have two Red Bulls ahead of us whatever we do. We weren’t expecting to be so far behind the Ferraris – it was a bit disappointing. But the fact that we knew we were going to have the Red Bulls ahead of us meant That we didn’t make any qualifying decisions. Everything was for the race.”

READ MORE: Russell describes P5 at Abu Dhabi GP as a ‘reality test’ for Mercedes after ‘character building’ season

In practice sessions, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both attempted a lowered rear wing with a flap angle, reducing the straight-line speed deficit to the low-winged Red Bull and Ferrari, but they proved to be slower through the lap, due to oversteer. through the tighter turns of the final sector.

Since they expected to qualify behind the Red Bull anyway and the race was looking to be a good one-stop and two-stop, Mercedes decided to run the bigger wing to help protect the tyres, even if it would make their car feel better. Less amenable to wheel-to-wheel racing due to its weakness at the end of the straights.


Mercedes (L) used a larger rear spoiler than Red Bull or Ferrari (R) but experimented with a lower flap angle in practice, before reverting to a higher downforce setup
Another mystery presented by the layout of the Yas Marina circuit may have hurt Mercedes more than the others. A degree of tire management is necessary even during a qualifying session here. If the available grip is taken full advantage of the long, fast sweeps of Sector 1, the rear tires tend to be too hot for the twists in Sector 3.

Read more: The design secrets that set Red Bull’s RB18 apart from its F1 rivals

Complicating matters, it’s difficult to get the front tires up to temperature to start the lap without the rear overheating. This is particularly problematic for the Mercedes W13, which needs a particularly aggressive rev to bring the front tires up to temperature. This is a downside of the positive trait that the car did not tire out the front tires in the race.

Much of the front tires’ heat management comes from the in-wheel brake duct arrangements. Mercedes is very cutting edge, as we discussed here recently. We can see the difference between the maximum brake cooling arrangement used in the thin atmosphere of Mexico and the one used in Abu Dhabi.

“It doesn’t look like we’re changing that [ducting] Like some,” Shovlin says. “Generally, we try to keep the rubber on the cooler side because that allows it to last a little longer and keeps the pressures from getting too high. Others are trying to overheat more than we are.”

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The more the brakes cool, the more heat is transferred to the rims and tires. In Mexico, full priority had to be given to brake cooling, which is very marginal there. Hence keeping the front tires cool should have been less of a concern there, but in Abu Dhabi tire cooling again took priority, as an important part of making good use of the tires in the race.

As with wing selection, he stressed the extent to which Mercedes’ decisions were based on race-day performance rather than qualifying.

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