Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit of the Americas, 2021

Mercedes encouraged despite ‘toughest race for a long time’ in Austin

2021 United States Grand Prix

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Despite describing the United States Grand Prix as one of their toughest races this year, Mercedes were encouraged by the fact Lewis Hamilton was able to challenge for victory.

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead by winning the race from pole position for Red Bull. But Hamilton joined him on the front row of the grid, led the race and finished just over a second behind his rival.

Mercedes’ head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin described it as one of the team’s weaker showings in the second half of the season.

“You need to really, rather than just look at this weekend, look at the last few weekends and this is the toughest one that we’ve had for a long time,” said Shovlin. “I think since the break, probably only Zandvoort has really felt as difficult as this one was.”

However he took some consolation from the team’s performance in Austin. “While Max had us beat, I don’t think that was a comfortable win for them and we were sort of forcing them to take some risks. And if that’s a bad race for us, then hopefully if we can have more of the good ones we’re still in a decent position.”

Shovlin also feels Red Bull’s margin of superiority in the last race wasn’t as large as Mercedes’ has been in previous rounds. “I think the pace that we showed in Turkey, in Sochi, particularly in terms of race pace probably put us a bit further ahead of them than they’ve been ahead of us [in Austin],” he said. “Quali was tricky and we sort of managed to get through that still with a car on the front row.

“But it really will just come down to where the cars stack up over the remaining races, who adapts well. For us, the encouraging thing was we could still put them under pressure when we clearly didn’t have the best car.”

Verstappen’s victory last weekend was his first since the Dutch Grand Prix, where Mercedes were also at a disadvantage to Red Bull, which led Shovlin to expect the Circuit of the Americas would be a difficult venue for them.

“We were aware of the areas where we may struggle,” he said. “Zandvoort was one where we were struggling with the rear end and they seemed to be in a better position.

“That experience of Zandvoort gave us cause for concern coming here. We knew that the circuit’s going to be one where you’re overheating tyres.”

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While Red Bull have tended to be strong at the next two venues on the calendar – Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico and Interlagos and Brazil – Shovlin says Mercedes is “not really going into any of these races sort of filling in a chart of where we’re going to be quick and where we’re going to be slow.”

“We know what we need to get right on our car,” he said. “We know what we need to do in terms of getting the tyres into the right window to operate. And we know the homework that we need to do on a Friday to be able to make those calls accurately. So really, that’s where the focus is.

“Looking ahead to Mexico, that’s a track that in the past it has suited them. It has suited the Honda power unit.

“But regardless of that, we’ve still got to arrive with a car that’s performing at the best of the car’s ability and give a car to Lewis and Valtteri [Bottas] that allows them to do their best job. And that’s the only thing that we’re working on. We’re not really worrying about where Red Bull are.”

The best Mercedes can hope for in Mexico is to “take the race to them like we did” in Austin, he said. “That’s probably the best-case scenario that we’re going to envisage.”

“There’s a lot to do,” he added, “it’s such a different circuit and it’s such a different environment to the for the power unit to operate in.

“But there haven’t been many circuits where we’ve been far off the pace. We’ve struggled in Monaco, we were struggling in Baku, we struggled a bit in that second Austria. But there are more of them where we can challenge them and we can challenge for poles.

“We know where we’ve struggled in the past, we know what we need to be working on and that’s what we’ll get stuck into.”

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13 comments on “Mercedes encouraged despite ‘toughest race for a long time’ in Austin”

  1. I wonder what to expect at the next track; Austin was a ‘should win’ race for Mercedes, while Mexico is a ‘should win’ for RB. If one can reverse, so can the other.

    One thing that still sort of puzzles me is how the tire compound can make such a difference between cars, as we saw in Austin the RB was faster on the medium (Max at least) while the Merc had more pace on the hard. The differences must be really marginal for that to be a tipping factor I’d say.

    1. But it’s been happening for all season, austria 1 was the first race where finally verstappen was pulling away from hamilton on hards that wasn’t a street circuit.

    2. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      31st October 2021, 3:48

      Funny part is the struggles and strengths stay the same across all compounds. If C3 is the ‘soft/medium’ tyre, Mercs struggle. If C3 is the ‘hard’ tyre, they appear to be strong. Never understood how this all works out.

  2. Persistent underdog syndrome

  3. “Toughest race of the season”, “One of their weaker showings” – qualified 2nd, 1st by the end of lap 1 and would have won if luck had swung in their favour or the race was just 1 or 2 laps longer.

    I mean I wouldn’t say that was tough or a weak showing at all?

    1. The tough part was they had the fastest car but lost.

      1. Do they though? RB is faster than them in FP2/3 and Qualifying.

      2. Yes, they had the fastest car on hards (like often), which was the tyre uses for majority of the rate, that settles it imo.

    2. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      31st October 2021, 3:52

      It’s time for Mercedes to tweak that strategy software they rely so much upon. There have been multiple races this year where they have just fallen short by a lap or two from victory either when defending or attacking.

      1. They are rusty from their breeze into 8 WCCs. I mean an exceptional achievement they should be incredibly proud off, but did not necessarily train the team to battle. It trained the team how to stay ahead. And they certainly didn’t breeze into staying ahead, an exceptional achievement. I, as spectator do have two issues with it. Its quite boring and it distorts/dilutes achievement of drivers in the past. So I wouldnt mind some changes.

  4. So if Mercedes “clearly didn’t have the best car” and Red Bull “were forced to take some risks” to win, it must have been that rubbish Verstappen making such a meal of it.

    Shovlin has been too long with Hamilton and Wolff.

    1. No… it was the jumping past Max at the start that put them on the backfoot in dirty air. If Max had lead out of turn 2… it would have been over.

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