Mercedes explain shock Abu Dhabi defeat to Red Bull
Mercedes has pinpointed a number of factors across the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend that led to its shock defeat to Red Bull in both qualifying and race.
Chief strategist James Vowles has highlighted that in qualifying there were issues with the tyres, while in the race the cars of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton suffered from understeer.
Throw in the facts that Red Bull continued to develop its RB16 to the end of the year, while Mercedes stopped work on the W11 a while ago, and the latter also turned down the power on the MGU-K at the Yas Marina Circuit, and the cumulative list played its part in Max Verstappen's victory by 16 seconds over Bottas.
In qualifying, Mercedes was seven-tenths of a second slower compared to last year as Verstappen took pole position by just 0.025s to Bottas. It was the first time in the season the team's cars were slower compared to the same tracks last year.
Vowles explained: "Part of the reason is that we underperformed in qualifying this year. The question is why.
"The C5 compound, the softest compound of the Pirelli range, is what we used in Abu Dhabi, and we used that before in Sochi.
"It is a tricky little tyre to get into the right window and I don’t think we were absolutely spot-on in getting it perfectly aligned with the track and the conditions. I think in part that was the issue, we were a little bit slower.
"In fact, on Friday we did a lap with Lewis that was removed because he went outside of track limits, but it would have been quite a bit faster than what we achieved in qualifying, just evidence that we didn’t have it quite all together for qualifying itself.
"As for why it’s such a big margin, seven-tenths, you will get the odd bit of variability year on year, even taking into account ambient conditions. But ultimately, I just don’t think we performed at our best.”
As for the race, Vowles reiterated the fact the MGU-K was "used sparingly" but that it was "certainly not the reason why we lost the race either in qualifying or actually on Sunday", but rather "it was just a component as to why perhaps Red Bull pulled away a little bit more than we would have liked".
Crucially, however, in the race there was another key element that proved costly, leading to Vowles claiming that "we definitely took a step back relative to the field" at a circuit where Mercedes had won the previous six races.
"Looking at the balance of the car we were just suffering from terrible amounts of understeer and this track punishes you," claimed Vowles.
"In fact, it is the front-right tyre that you need to look after. Most tracks are rear dominated, this one is very much an issue on the front right because of the cornering that you have in Abu Dhabi, and that held us back.
"It certainly meant that we weren’t performing at our best in the race and it wasn’t our intention to have a balance that was oriented that way. Does that explain everything? I am not sure but ultimately that is what the week was all about.”
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