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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.