Mercedes expecting close battle with Ferrari at Bahrain GP
Wolff wary of Ferrari's straight-line speed and says lessons learnt from Australia pit stop glitch; Mercedes explain engine mode usage
By Jonathan Green
Last Updated: 13/12/18 2:25pm
Mercedes are expecting a close battle with Ferrari at this weekend's Bahrain GP, with Toto Wolff wary of the Scuderia's straight-line speed.
The Silver Arrows appeared to have the fastest car at the season-opening Australian GP with Lewis Hamilton claiming a dominant pole position, while he was comfortably leading the first part of the race before Sebastian Vettel benefited under the Virtual Safety Car to snatch victory for Ferrari.
There was little to split Ferrari and Mercedes on straight-line speed in Melbourne, however, and with the Scuderia victorious in Bahrain last year and second in 2015 and 2016, Wolff is expecting a stern test.
"Bahrain is a power-sensitive race with the long straights," Mercedes' team principal and CEO said.
"We saw in Melbourne that the Ferraris, in particular, were very quick, so I expect it to be a close battle.
"We've seen some great racing in Bahrain in recent years, particularly between our drivers back in 2014, so I think we can look forward to an exciting and competitive weekend."
Lessons learnt from Hamilton error
Hamilton had looked set to get his world championship defence off to the perfect start in Australia after controlling the opening 20 laps of the race and then exiting the pits around 13 seconds behind Vettel, who had yet to stop.
But the Briton and Mercedes were caught out by the VSC after Romain Grosjean stopped his Haas on track, with Vettel able to pit and come out ahead of Hamilton.
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Mercedes later identified a glitch with an "offline tool" used to calculate delta times as what had undermined them, with Hamilton not told to push up to Vettel as their computers were predicting the German would drop out behind them.
The reigning world champions have now taken steps in a bid to avoid the same issue occurring in the future and Wolff is hopeful they will bounce back strongly.
"We suspected that the new season would be close fought and the first race confirmed those suspicions. We made mistakes and did not perform to our maximum - and it reminded us that this is the toughest racing series in the world, where every error is punished," Wolff continued.
"It hurt to leave all those points on the table, especially because we know we had the pace to win in Australia.
"Back at base, we did what we always do after a tough weekend. We made sure that we understand what went wrong and put a process in place to make sure that we don't see a similar issue in the future.
"These painful moments are the real learning experiences. Mistakes become training."
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Mercedes explain engine modes
Ahead of the Bahrain GP, Mercedes have explained in detail how they use their various engine modes after it "proved to be a particularly hot topic and sparked plenty of debate" in Australia.
Mercedes have routinely turned their engines up in the final laps of Q3 and Hamilton's pole lap in Melbourne meant they have now taken pole in 71 of the 80 grands prix since the introduction of hybrid engines in 2014.
Hamilton had said ahead of the season opener that Mercedes' qualifying engine mode was a "party mode" and the Briton's best Q3 lap on the opening weekend was six tenths clear of the field, after Ferrari and Red Bull had closely matched the Silver Arrows' pace in Q1 and Q2.
Mercedes have now clarified how they will use different engine modes for each part of the grand prix weekend.
'Power Unit modes are a combination of settings that adjust the performance of the internal combustion engine (ICE) as well as the flow of electrical energy. The ICE performance is changed, for example, by varying the amount of fuel that is injected into the combustion chamber or by changing the timing of the ignition. For the Hybrid side of the Power Unit, the modes will alter the interaction and scheduling of the electrical energy for both deployment of the 120kW (maximum) MGU-K and recovery of both the MGU-K and MGU-H,' the team explained.
'At Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, we use three basic modes over the course of the weekend - one for the majority of the free practice sessions, one for the majority of Qualifying and one for the majority of the race.
'At the start of the race, for example, performance is particularly important, so drivers will choose full deployment to either defend a good position on the grid or try and gain positions in the opening laps. But F1 is about a blend of ballsy on-track passing and tactical strategy, so the drivers will later switch to a recovery energy management mode and charge the battery - just to make sure they can have more energy available for their next attack.
'Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas switched their race mode to lower performance during the Australian GP when they were stuck in traffic and the turbulent air of the cars ahead, in order to cool the engines and prevent them from overheating. A Safety Car presents a similar challenge - drivers want to conserve energy and the Power Unit, so the engine mode is set to reduce the duty and cool the hardware.
'Conserving damage and the reliability of the Power Unit is also important in free practice. Pushing the engines to the limit in practice just doesn't make sense, as they need to last seven race weekends. There is one session, however, when the Power Unit is pushed to the absolute limit and gives the drivers everything it can: Qualifying.
'In terms of engine modes, the setting for Qualifying will be the most powerful one. This mode is only required for a few laps each race weekend, and usage varies according to the competitive context - sometimes this Qualifying mode will be used throughout Qualifying, sometimes only in the final Q3 session.'