Mercedes in race against time to solve tyre issues ahead of Spanish Grand Prix

Tom Cary
·4 min read
Second placed British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas reacts after the 70th Anniversary Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at the Silverstone Circuit - Mercedes in race against time to solve tyre issues ahead of Spanish Grand Prix - SHUTTERSTOCK
Second placed British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas reacts after the 70th Anniversary Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at the Silverstone Circuit - Mercedes in race against time to solve tyre issues ahead of Spanish Grand Prix - SHUTTERSTOCK

Mercedes have admitted they are in a race against time to solve their tyre woes ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. 

Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had to cling on to win the British Grand Prix two weekends ago, finishing the race on three wheels after a late puncture which he admitted he had not seen coming. 

And he lost to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on Sunday because Mercedes were, once again, far harder on their rubber than their rivals.

Most worryingly of all, from a Hamilton perspective, his team appeared at a complete loss to explain why that was; in particular, why they struggle when Pirelli supply softer compounds of rubber, and track conditions are hot.

"We knew that blistering was an issue [with the car],” admitted chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin. "We knew that [after the first British race] last week. We know what sort of temperatures that it will occur at. And so that wasn't news to us.

"What was news to us was we're kind of at the very, very worst end of that problem. And Red Bull appears to be at the very best end of that spectrum. And that's the thing that we need to understand. Because there have been other races where everyone's been in the same boat, but why are we an outlier? Right now, we haven't got the answer.”

Hamilton was in relatively good spirits on Sunday night, his mood no doubt helped by the fact he banked the fastest lap bonus point and protected his 30-point lead in the drivers’ standings. He even said the result was a good one from a neutrals’ perspective. "I think it's great,” Hamilton said of Red Bull’s competitiveness. “I want to have races when they're challenging, like today.”

Winner Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (R) and second British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas (L) celebrate on the podium after the 70th Anniversary Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at the Silverstone Circuit - SHUTTERSTOCK
Winner Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (R) and second British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG Petronas (L) celebrate on the podium after the 70th Anniversary Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at the Silverstone Circuit - SHUTTERSTOCK

He is unlikely to be quite so gracious if he endures a third successive weekend of tyre gremlins, however. Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya will stage another hot, high-load race, which are the conditions Mercedes struggled with at Silverstone. 

“There’s an element of urgency here because we're going to Barcelona,” Shovlin said. “We’re flying out there on Tuesday, running on Friday, it's forecast to be 30°C, the track will be a bit like this. It's a high-energy circuit.” Shovlin conceded the fact that Pirelli would be supplying teams with their hardest C1 tyre in Spain might help to “hide” their issues a little bit. “But we've still got to run the tyre that today was causing us grief, and that wasn't solving the problem for us,” he added. “We've seen Red Bull, they're not that far off us in races, even when we're looking at our best. I think to be honest, if we don't make progress, we'll be in trouble there as well. So that's kind of where this urgency to get a bit of a grip on it comes from.”

Shovlin said he was confident Mercedes would eventually get on top of the issue and emerge stronger. 

"When we've had those bad races [in the past], it's actually kind of taught us more about where the performance exists on the car,” he said. "And some of them we've realised there's mechanisms at play that we didn't even know about that are quite critical, and they become sources of future development. But right now, we don't understand what the problem is.”

Neutrals may hope it takes them a few races. Sunday’s action, which featured a variety of strategies, was so much more entertaining than the two previous weekends' that it has even prompted a debate within the sport about whether F1 should make two-pit stops per race mandatory.