VIDEO | Why are Mercedes so fast on the straights?

19-10-2021 18:09

In a season of to’s and fro’s, Red Bull and Mercedes have yo-yoed all year in regards to who has the quickest car. At Bahrain, despite Lewis Hamilton’s win, and Imola, the Austrian outfit certainly looked best, while the Silver Arrows pulled it back for the Portuguese and Spanish Grands Prix.

However, after that, Red Bull held the advantage. Between Monaco and Austria, Red Bull won five races in a row, and if Hamilton had avoided crashing into Max Verstappen at Silverstone, and Valtteri Bottas hadn’t caused a collision at the Hungaroring, Red Bull arguably could’ve had nine wins in a row, if things had gone to plan.

What's changed?

But, it appears Mercedes have clawed back the deficit, and now look equal, if not quicker than their title rivals.

The difference? Their speed on the straights.

At the Turkish Grand Prix, the new Mercedes engine demonstrated a new level of performance. Not only did Bottas cruise to victory, but Hamilton easily scythed his way through the field, and a podium was a possibility had it not been for a lack of aligned thinking between team and driver.

Either way, the German team had between 15 and 20 brake horse power more than Red Bull around the Istanbul Park.

Hamilton’s top speed was 7.7km/h faster than Sergio Perez and 13.6km/h faster than Max Verstappen who spent the majority of the race out of a tow and had the slowest speed trap best of any driver.

That allowed them to fly down the straights at a rate nobody could match. In fact, Hamilton and Bottas were three tenths up on Verstappen in qualifying, which is something we haven’t seen particularly often this season.

Since Silverstone, Mercedes have held an advantage on the straights, something Red Bull had become very suspicious about. Christian Horner told Sky Sports: “Mercedes are extremely fast on the straights for the downforce they’re using. We’ve been observing that since Silverstone. Something is strange there.”

While, at the time, Dr Helmut Marko said it was like “when you drive with DRS” because the Silver Arrows were “almost 15km/h faster.”

However, the Red Bull chief has now accepted defeat in his team’s bid to get Mercedes’ engine checked to see if it’s legal. Marko told “Everything has been clarified by the FIA. We have to accept what the FIA, as the highest authority, decides.”

Red Bull had asked the FIA whether Mercedes were using clever tricks to keep their engines cooler. This has been shut down, although reports suggest this could be the reason for Mercedes’ recently enhanced top speed.

A report by Motorsport Magazine back in September explained a system that Mercedes might well be using. It gets very technical, but put briefly, essentially the intake chamber of the W12 engine is able to significantly cool the air down before it goes into the main part of the engine - hence cooling the engine, allowing for greater acceleration.

There are regulations against this, but they state ‘that the air in the plenum must be at least 10 degrees celsius higher than the external ambient temperature as an average over the race.’

So, if Mercedes have found a way to cool their engine, but still be within the regulations, then they’ve found the perfect solution to try and beat Red Bull.

Of course, this may not be the case, especially as the FIA have denied Red Bull’s recent claim, but it does seem the most likely reason.

Since both their engine changes, Bottas and Hamilton have been incredibly quick, and it seems unless Red Bull can come up with some new developments themselves, then the Silver Arrows could be on their way to another double World Championship.

Mercedes have also had more reliability issues then in previous years. Bottas took two consecutive engine penalties at Monza and Sochi, while Hamilton received his fourth ICE at Turkey, meaning he received a penalty. This is unlike the champions, who have always been so stable with their engines. However, they seem to have prioritised speed over reliability, hence why they’ve managed to find extra speed on the straights, while risking more in terms of the wear and tear of the engine. 

Now, Red Bull, or more specifically Honda, have made huge strides this year in regards to the engine. It was Mercedes’ greatest strength, but they’ve managed to close the gap significantly. So, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Mercedes have found another level to go to as the competition intensifies. Essentially, if Red Bull can improve so much, so can the Silver Arrows.

And, they certainly have improved. Mercedes now currently have the outright best engine, and by their clever design, they should hold the advantage until the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

The only question is, can Verstappen hold onto his championship lead?