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Is Mercedes feeling the warmth from its rivals at Silverstone?

SILVERSTONE, Great Britain — In concept, the Silverstone circuit ought to be the proper circuit for this yr’s Mercedes. Fast, flowing corners and lengthy straights play to the rising strengths of the W11, which means, on paper no less than, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ought to be in a race of their very own on Sunday.

However, the place it mattered on Friday, on a scorching 50 levels Celsius observe, there have been indicators that Mercedes’ rivals might need closed the hole forward of this weekend’s Briitsh Grand Prix.

Racing Point’s Lance Stroll completed the day quickest, whereas Bottas might solely handle third and Hamilton ended up fifth behind the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. The prime 5 positions had been occupied by 4 completely different groups, coated by simply 0.3s, and did not even embody Mercedes’ closest rival on the first three rounds, Max Verstappen.

So can we anticipate extra of the identical over the remainder of the weekend?

The rise of Racing Point

Stroll’s lap was undoubtedly spectacular and was primarily because of a robust last sector, which noticed him achieve 0.2s or extra over the whole discipline. We’ve identified since pre-season testing that the Racing Point is a fast automotive and it appears as if the Silverstone circuit fits its strengths — as you would possibly anticipate a automotive that pulls a lot inspiration from final yr’s Mercedes (the 2019 British Grand Prix winner) to take action.

Underlining the Racing Point’s prowess in that sector was new teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s lap. A bit of over 24 hours earlier than setting that lap he had no idea he would be racing at Silverstone this weekend, however with no testing, an in a single day seat-fit on the staff’s manufacturing unit throughout the highway and a fast familiarisation with the automotive’s advanced steering wheel, he completed his second session again behind the wheel in seventh quickest.

But as spectacular as Racing Point’s efficiency was, Mercedes’ obvious lack of tempo was the largest anomaly on Friday. Compared to the remainder of the sector, the pink automobiles had been kind of the place you would possibly anticipate, however Mercedes mixing it with them was not within the script.

Followers of Friday observe classes this yr will keep in mind that a equally scorching observe day on the Styrian Grand Prix resulted in Mercedes struggling for efficiency relative to Red Bull, solely to show the state of affairs round when it cooled down on Sunday. So might it merely be that scorching climate does not swimsuit the W11 and the automotive will come again into the anticipated window of efficiency later within the weekend when Silverstone’s mini-heatwave abates?

“There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the car, and it’s the same basic aero package, so we’ll probably end up concluding that we’ve not adapted to the very hot conditions here as well as some others,” Mercedes chief engineer Andrew Shovlin mentioned. “Valtteri appeared happier together with his automotive than Lewis however each really feel that the tyres are operating scorching and that is making the automotive a little bit of a handful at occasions on high and low gas.

“It’s fairly a balancing act by way of the way you reply as a result of we’re anticipating cooler climate tomorrow and have to be cautious to not overreact. This automotive is aggressive after we land it in the suitable window, and we have got a little bit of time this night and one other session within the morning to work out how to try this. Hopefully we will end tomorrow a bit greater up the timesheets.”

Hamilton’s points appear a little bit bit extra deep-rooted than Bottas’.

A take a look at Bottas’ lap signifies misplaced time behind Antonio Giovinazzi in Maggots and Becketts and additional site visitors within the last sector value him a stable tenth of a second. Combined with the chance of Racing Point operating its engine in a better mode, Bottas in all probability had the efficiency locked away to complete the day quickest. But Hamilton’s battle — 0.307s off Stroll’s tempo — appeared a little bit extra real, even when he insisted there have been no issues so large that they could not be solved in a single day.

“Quite a tough day to be trustworthy,” he said. “I believe it is all the time windy right here, which is an effective factor about this observe, wind in numerous instructions, nevertheless it made it tough as we speak with the automotive.

“The balance is not as good as I’d like. We’ll just work on it tonight and see if we can figure it out. It’s not a disaster but it’s definitely been a hard day of driving.”

The true menace

A clearer indicator of Mercedes’ true tempo was within the race simulations in the direction of the top of the session, wherein it held a transparent benefit over Racing Point. On comparable heavy-fuel runs on the laborious tyre, Stroll was on common 0.6s per lap off the tempo of Hamilton within the Mercedes. That falls extra into line with the hole we’ve come to anticipate to Mercedes on the entrance of the sector, albeit with indicators of a tidy little enchancment by Racing Point this weekend.

But whereas Racing Point’s one-lap tempo could have flattered to deceive throughout Friday observe, Red Bull’s did the other. Alex Albon set the second quickest time, 0.090s off Stroll, earlier than ending his session within the boundaries at Stowe. Unfortunately for Red Bull that not solely resulted in a large in a single day restore job, it additionally meant Verstappen, who’s normally a number of tenths quicker than Albon, did not set a clear lap.

But take a look at Verstappen’s long-run averages and a distinct story emerges. Bottas and Verstappen accomplished related medium tyre runs and their averages had been cut up by as little as 0.015s per lap. That’s extra consistent with the image that emerged from the new Styrian Grand Prix observe classes three weeks in the past, including weight to the speculation that Mercedes struggles in excessive temperatures.

However, an additional rationalization of Red Bull’s enchancment may be gleaned from overlays of the high-fuel and low-fuel runs of Bottas and Verstappen, which tended to indicate the Red Bull gaining round 0.3s in power-sensitive sections of the observe. At the primary three rounds we’ve seen Mercedes maintain extra engine efficiency in reserve than its rivals on a Friday afternoon, and so it’s going to doubtless have what it takes to edge forward in qualifying and the race when it turns its engine as much as comparable energy ranges to Red Bull.

Combined with cooler situations over the approaching days and the sensible cash stays firmly on Mercedes.

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