The F1 title fight between Red Bull and Mercedes has become hard to predict this season due to a reduction in track time, according to Mercedes trackside engineering engineer Andrew Shovlin.
While an hour less of practice on Friday following the introduction of new rules may seem minor, the sessions are now too short for teams to fully understand how their tyres will perform at a circuit in race conditions.
At the last race in Spain, Red Bull and Mercedes opted for a one-stop strategy, only for the latter to switch to a two-stop plan mid-race that allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a surprise win over its rivals, a decision helped by live data processing.
Shovlin explained: “With the one-hour sessions now you can’t do the long runs you need to do to really understand the tyres.
“That’s probably a good thing for the sport because having races where people don’t know what the tyres can do will lead to more of a gamble on the strategy. That’s the over-riding thing.
“[In Spain] we were thinking a one-stop would be pretty straightforward. We thought it would need some management, but actually we should have gone in with a slightly different bias on the plan.”
Mercedes does not yet feel it has the upper hand, however. Shovlin added: “We’re still not at a stage where we go in there thinking we’ve got the best race car, we’re better at looking after the tyres.
“We were able to sit behind them and when you’re the lead car and someone can sit on your gearbox for the whole stint it’s not normally good news. But we’re still at the stage of the year of collecting data across the different tracks.
“It does look to be a bit of a trend that we have a slightly more neutral car. They seem to be a bit harder on the rear tyres over a stint whereas we’re using both axles quite well but we’ll see with some more data.
“We’d like it if this is what it’s going to be for the rest of the year, but you’ve got to be a bit careful with that read.
“We probably made progress with understanding our package since Bahrain. I think we’ve got it in a better place and that’s certainly reassuring for us to see. But I don’t know that this is the sign of things to come.”
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