Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Nurburgring, 2020

Mercedes say ‘quali mode’ ban has brought Red Bull closer to them

2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

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Mercedes are wary of the growing threat from rivals Red Bull, who cut the gap between the two teams to a new low in the last round at the Nurburgring.

Mercedes extended their unbeaten run in qualifying this year at the Nurburgring, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton sweeping the front row of the grid again. But Max Verstappen’s best time for Red Bull was less than two-tenths of a second slower than the pace-setting W11.

“They were a lot closer to us in qualifying,” Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted after the race. “Lewis and Max both did their best times in Q2, if you look at everyone’s best times.

“It’s very, very close at the front. Valtteri just put together a brilliant lap when it actually counted.”

Shovlin said Red Bull’s steady improvement over the course of the season is typical of the pattern they’ve seen from their rivals in recent years. He also believes the ban on engine ‘qualifying modes’, which was introduced at the Italian Grand Prix, has had an effect.

“They’ve been closing on us over the course of the year. Definitely the changes in the engine modes to stop qualifying modes has brought them a step closer.

“I think they are developing quicker than we are at the moment. We’ve seen that progressively.

“But to be honest, we’ve seen that in most of the recent years, they tend to not start as strongly as we do. I can’t really think of a year recently where they’ve not been, with us by the end.

“So if we see that trend continue, then the remaining races are going to get tougher. It’ll be harder to try and keep getting the cars on pole on Saturday and winning on a Sunday.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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12 comments on “Mercedes say ‘quali mode’ ban has brought Red Bull closer to them”

  1. They’ve been closing on us over the course of the year. Definitely the changes in the engine modes to stop qualifying modes has brought them a step closer.

    To be honest I would think it’s more the usual RB making ground in the second half of the season as normal and the distinct possibility that Merc are shifting their focus to 2021. Hamilton at least has shown that he can pull away from Verstappen when he needs to on Sundays. The last couple of races may be close though I hope.

    1. +1 Mercs have nearly wrapped up the season and now concentrating on next one is logical choice. RBR seem to be stuck in same cycle where they will keep developing the car even if the titles are gone from hand.

  2. Red Bull (with Max) has come closer but the race at the Nurburgring was as unrepresentative as it gets. Not only was Friday running cancelled, it also happened at a track F1 had not raced at all during the hybrid era. You can’t draw conclusions out of that.

    In any case, my theory is that it’s a case of Mercedes optimising their car more towards the race now they know they cannot pull any weird trick with their modes if their cars get stuck in traffic as we saw in Monza. Rather than the qualy modes ban boosting Red Bull, it surely dropped Mercs pace more than their rivals’ gains.

  3. They’re still between 0.3s to 0.5s down on the Mercs in qualifying pace. We can’t really use the Nurburgring as a yardstick due to all the canceled sessions. On race pace Mercs look significantly quicker as well.

    The only reason Red Bull will close the gap in the remaining races is because Mercedes has already stopped development on their 2020 car. Max might take a win or two in the remaining races, but they’ll start next year with a car slower than Mercedes again.

  4. Closer, yes. But not close enough to beat.

  5. Mercedes ended 2020 F1 car development “a long time ago”


    I mean, if this is true, then no wonder Red Bull are closing in…

    1. @kingshark

      That’s one of the reasons, though they certainly lost pace due to qualy ban and we no longer have those ridiculous gaps in qualifying or even in races. Before the Italian GP, Mercedes were untouchable in the medium/high speed corners. Come the Nurburgring, the RB16 become the reference car in those type of corners while Mercedes kept the edge in the straights (2nd fastest behind the RP).

      Mercedes used to run an aggressive high downforce setup relying on their PU to compensate for the resultant drag because they could run it higher in qualy and in very important parts of the races. In the Nurburgring, it was clear that Mercedes were no longer using such set up which is one of the reasons that let RBR to close the gap on them. BTW Renault also were able to get some pace back since the ban of qualy modes throughout set up optimization.

      Mercedes admitted that they have stopped developing the W11 because they basically have both championships in the bag. The conclusion is that an undeveloped W11 that lost some pace due to a TD issued specifically for the purpose of slowing it down is still the fastest car on the grid.

    2. I don’t understand this. They will be running this year’s car next year also, so why stop putting updates on the car now that there is no token system in place.
      Are they already putting all their resources into 2022?

      1. The best way to understand it is “Toto said it so it’s probably not true”

  6. Definitely the changes in the engine modes to stop qualifying modes has brought them a step closer.

    interesting the shift in opinions at mercedes..
    “Qualiban only makes us stronger”, Qualiban does not influence our car”, “Partymode is overestimated” “there never was a real partymode” etc etc..

  7. If Mercedes make this statement about the engine modes then you know it’s not true for sure

    1. Funny thing is, you can change Mercedes into Horner and engine modes into… whatever and it still holds true

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