Mercedes on red alert over growing threat from Ferrari
World champions aware the Scuderia continue to erode the W06's advantage; Toto Wolff explains brake-by-wire failures on both cars
By James Galloway and Mike Wise in Bahrain
Last Updated: 20/04/15 1:06pm
Mercedes insist they have to “do everything we can” to keep improving their W06 if they are to stay ahead of Ferrari, as the battle between the two titans continues to hot up.
Despite Lewis Hamilton claiming his and the team’s third win from four races in 2015 in Sunday’s Bahrain GP, and Mercedes extending their advantage in the Constructors’ Championship to over 50 points, the threat posed by the revitalised Ferrari outfit to the world champions was evident throughout the weekend.
In qualifying, the Scuderia’s 0.4s deficit to Hamilton on pole was the closest they have been in dry conditions this season, while Kimi Raikkonen ended up just three seconds behind the Briton at the chequered flag on Sunday after a charge on an alternative tyre strategy from mid-race onwards.
And with the Italian team having already demonstrated their ability to beat Mercedes with a convincing win in Malaysia last month, Toto Wolff is aware that last year’s runaway champions now have a real fight on their hands.
“Looking at the result we were not dominant and Ferrari are catching up,” Mercedes’ head of motorsport was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.
“We need to do everything we can to continue to beat them.”
Although the flying Raikkonen ended up within sight of the victorious Hamilton at the end of Sunday’s race, the Mercedes had backed off on the final lap after both W06s suffered near-simultaneous brake-by-wire failures. On the penultimate lap, the glitch struck Nico Rosberg’s car as the German braked at the end of the long main straight and he ran wide as a result, gifting second place to the Ferrari.
Wolff was therefore left with mixed emotions after the race, with the team having turned round their pace on the soft tyre from Friday practice.
“It was a good race and the changes we put on the car after a hard Friday into qualifying proved to be the right ones,” he told reporters in a separate briefing.
“The car was the quickest car out there on both tyres. First of all we must be happy with one and three [finishes], no doubt about it, but losing second place with Nico was a pity. Everybody who ever doubted in Nico saw him at his best and fighting hard, overtaking and so losing that position because of a brake failure was a bit of a pity.”
With Rosberg and Hamilton’s braking system failing on the penultimate and final laps respectively, Wolff explained: “We saw very hot brakes on Nico’s car in traffic following Kimi and Sebastian [Vettel] first and then lots of fighting and hard braking.
“So we monitored that, but then in the end lapping cars temperatures went through the roof and we had brake-by-wire failures on both cars in the same corner. Leading into the last lap, it was the hard braking on the straight temperatures went sky high and when that happens the brake-by-wire switches into the conventional system and then you are without weapons to defend.”
He admitted that Mercedes knew heading into the race that the set-up changes made to improve the W06’s pace might have some negative impact on brake cooling.
“It is never one single solution. You try to tackle a problem, which we had on the Friday, and Saturday afternoon with a couple of adjustments," he explained.
“One of them was linked to the capability of brake cooling. So in hindsight, knowing that this caused a problem and nearly cost us the race and lost us P2, we will probably look at things again and do things differently in the future.”
With a three-week break between races ahead of the start of the European season at Barcelona, Mercedes may look to use the time to finally seal Lewis Hamilton’s contract extension.
Despite speculation that Ferrari are monitoring the situation closely in case the deal breaks down, Wolff remains relaxed about the delays and believes that, despite the revival of the reds, Mercedes are well placed to retain their own competitiveness in the years ahead.
“Of course Lewis is a factor [in Mercedes’ success] and an exceptional guy in the car. Like always in life it needs to be a win-win situation and at the moment it is a win-win situation,” the Austrian added.
“We have a very quick guy in the car and we have a very quick car. We have solid foundations in the team and built an organisation which can be successful on a sustainable basis long-term with the challenge of Ferrari bouncing back very strongly.”
Catch the F1 Midweek Report on Wednesday April 22 at 8:30pm on Sky Sports F1. Marc Priestley and Mark Gillan join Natalie Pinkham to analyse the Bahrain Grand Prix.