With Lewis Hamilton’s gap to World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel resting at just 25 points after six rounds in 2017; the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix could be set to make things even worse for the Silver Arrows, according to themselves.
Toto Wolff, the Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, admitted before this weekend’s Grand Prix Mercedes’ 2017 W08 Hybrid has caused them “more complications than … previous years.”
That’s undeniably true as Valtteri Bottas lost a certain podium finish in the Spanish Grand Prix when his power unit gave way half way through the race. In Russia, Lewis Hamilton was unable to progress through the field because, as he himself said post-race, “the car just kept overheating.”
“Some of these fixes will be short term, others may take longer.” Wolff admitted, refusing to delve into the exact details of Mercedes struggles.
Canada set to worsen their fortunes?
The Canadian Grand Prix has, historically, not proven a happy hunting ground for Mercedes. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is now just one of six tracks currently on the calendar which Mercedes have failed to complete three consecutive race wins at.
This is because in 2014, Red Bull dethroned the Silver Arrows from dominance for the first time in the new V6-Hybrid era. Brake temperature issues for both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton allowed Daniel Ricciardo to snatch a win from under the noses of Mercedes with just two laps left in the Grand Prix.
And although in 2015 the team took a simple 1-2 win in Canada, the 2016 iteration was also filled with twists and turns. The start was typically dirty between the two Mercedes drivers as Hamilton appeared to push Rosberg onto the grass at Turn 1, leaving the latter in P10 by the end of the opening lap.
The dirty air of the mid-field runners incurred very real over-heating issues for Rosberg throughout the entirety of the race. Ironically, he was in complete disbelief when his team informed him about the legitimacy of dash board over-heating warnings, which he had suspected to be a glitch.
So why is the history important?
If history is anything to go by, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has proved Mercedes can struggle with temperature here. The effect, as proven in 2016, is only amplified when running in dirty air – making a front low lockout even more crucial than normal for Mercedes.
If the Achilles heal of their chassis is in fact temperature, as Wolff somewhat alluded to, Canada will be a serious challenge for the team.
According to a Mercedes statement, there is seven braking zones defined as ‘heavy’ on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The worst of these is the Turn 13 chicane, where drivers must lose 180km/h in a mere 90 meters.
This repetitive braking, which is roughly 19% of the lap, does mean constant energy is always building up causing brakes to reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius in a single braking zone. “This immense heat also has a knock-on effect on tyres, brake calipers and sensors,” admitted the Mercedes statement.
“Managing temperature in Montréal is absolutely crucial in traffic,” said Mercedes. This is further proof of just how important qualifying is going to be in Canada as, if Mercedes current form in 2017 is anything to go by, they cannot run their package efficiently behind other cars, such as the Ferrari.
The statement has a simple, yet real way of thinking about the importance of heat control. If drivers run in the traffic and don’t manage the temperatures properly the brakes become extremely hot. This makes the brake wear excessive and that’ll cost, what Mercedes describe as “valuable,” performance.
What do the drivers think?
With Lewis Hamilton in need of an extremely strong race weekend to lower the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the World Championship, his confidence appeared less than optimal in Thursday’s Press Conference.
“We’ve got some unique bits on the car I think which will work well this weekend,” Hamilton told reporters, “but it doesn’t mean we can’t take the fight to [Ferrari].”
When questioned further about Mercedes issues with the softer compounds in 2017 and what the team could do to rectify the problem in preparation for this weekend, Hamilton quipped unenthusiastically to the media, “not much at all.”
“We’ve obviously seen that Ferrari are quickest at the moment, so they’re the favourites.”