Early in the 2013 Formula One season, Mercedes has proven it has the pace to run at the front of the F1 field, as evidenced by its 3 pole positions and its lock out of the front row in the most recent Grand Prix, the Barcelona race just two weeks ago. Unfortunately, at least for Mercedes, is the flip side of that coin is an unrelenting and rapid degradation of its tires, particularly the rear tires, and an inability to keep abreast of race winning contenders. To add insult to injury, the tire degradation problems are even making it difficult to keep the mid-field pack at bay – Lewis Hamilton finished an uncompetitive 12th in Spain, lapped by the leading cars.
On race day, at best, the Mercedes has been a moving chicane offering up a rolling obstacle for front-runners to overtake. However, as the series moves to the twisty circuit at Monaco this weekend, there is some optimism and hope in the Mercedes camp – not from developments back at the factory, rather from the race course itself.
Twisty means slower speeds, delivering a break to the tires
Monaco is the most twisty course on the F1 race calendar, and the twists and turns of the course mean the slowest speeds on the schedule too. Simply, slower speeds place fewer demands on the tires, lessening the degree of degradation. Of course, Mercedes won’t be the only team to receive this benefit – all chasses will be easier on their tires. Key for Mercedes is keeping up with the other teams on the number of pit stops. The fewer pit stops, the better, and nowhere is this more true than at Monaco.
Tight means a premium on track position, as passing can be … damn near impossible
In addition to its twists, the streets of Monaco are notoriously tight as well, surrounded not by gravel traps and runoff areas, but rather unforgiving Armco barriers, presenting tremendous difficulties in overtaking, even with applications like the Drag Reduction System (DRS). Track position is a premium. If Mercedes can keep its qualifying pace and start upfront, its hopes lie in the course not offering an opportunity for cars to overtake.
At least it’s fast
F1 is a sport of compromise, represented by the tradeoff between speed and reliability. Which one is most important? Can the answer be both? Up and down the paddock, it’s generally regarded that pace is the best place to start. If you’re fast, you have an opportunity to work on reliability, tire degradation included. It’s much more difficult (read: “expensive”) to make a reliable albeit slow car fast than the opposite.
Mercedes has proven it has the one lap pace to match the best cars in F1. Now it sets it attention to solving its chassis’ tendency to aggressively abuse its tires, an endeavor that will undoubtedly take the balance of the summer to develop and refine an engineering solution. But, this weekend, a temporary solution is likely to be put forth by the race course itself, and it will be paramount for Mercedes to take advantage of its gift in waiting. Points from this point on are going to be even tougher to score.
Turn laps on Twitter @RayHartjen