Mercedes on early 2021 car development shift as F1 titles loom

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has revealed they stopped focusing on developing their dominant 2020 car “a long time ago”.

The team’s current car, the W11, has proved one of its most consistent and dominant during its unprecedented run of success in the turbo-hybrid era, with only victories at a hot Silverstone and an unpredictable Monza escaping them in the shortened season’s first 11 rounds.

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But Mercedes’ advantage over an improving Red Bull in particular has closed in recent events and Max Verstappen got within three-tenths of pole position for the first time this season at last week’s Eifel GP.

“We finished them a long time ago,” said Wolff when asked about 2020 upgrades.

“That has always been in the past what we looked at. It’s a very thoroughly thought-through decision because not in every championship you can afford to close the book early.

“But the rules change quite a lot for next year and, in that respect, we decided to, like in the previous years, switch to next year’s car.”

With Red Bull closing down the gap, Wolff added: “This is why you can see the shift in performance between the teams.

“We are always having a very strong start and middle of the season and then whoever continues to develop is strong at the end.”

Although F1 teams must carry over their 2020 chassis and suspension to next season on cost-saving grounds, there is still scope for some performance development, while floor changes are being mandated in a bid to reduce downforce.

Mercedes closing on another constructors’ record

Such has been Mercedes’ dominance this season, with nine wins in 11 races and every pole position, that they will have a first outside chance to win a record seventh consecutive constructors’ championship at next week’s Portuguese GP, with five races to spare.

Currently 180 points ahead of Red Bull with only 220 left to play for after the Algarve race, Mercedes would retain the teams’ title again next Sunday if they outscore Red Bull by 40 points (with the reigning champions already guaranteed to win on any countback of wins).

If Mercedes finished first and second with the fastest-lap bonus point for 44 points, Red Bull would need to score five points to deny them for at least another week until Imola. A one-three with Red Bull scoring zero points would also be sufficient.

Mercedes have clinched the title with four races to spare on three occasions, but never five or more. However, the prospect of doing so in Portugal is a long shot as Mercedes have not outscored Red Bull by at least 40 points at a single race since 2016.

How did DAS help Mercedes at Eifel GP?

Meanwhile, the F1 champions have explained how their unique Dual-Axis Steering system “really came into its own” in the cold weather of the Nurburgring last week after Lewis Hamilton’s latest – and record-equalling – victory.

While insisting all season the development for 2020 – which allows the drivers to pull the steering wheel towards them on the straights to change the toe of the front wheels – has not been a gamechanger for them relative to rivals, the team admit it played a key role in Germany, in particular.

“It’s fair to say we used DAS more than ever this weekend,” said Mercedes’ motorsport strategy director, James Vowles, in their post-race debrief video.

“In free practice, on single lap work, in qualifying but also during the race. In terms of where we used it in the race it was on the formation lap, but also when we were behind the Safety Car.

“Where we had a number of laps circulating on tyres that were just getting colder and colder. I think it is fair to say DAS was a contributing factor to why our restart was so good and really came into its own this weekend.”

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