Mercedes is concerned that new rules on Formula 1 development introduced for this year could make it impossible to overturn Red Bull’s early performance advantage.

Red Bull boasted the quickest car at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as Max Verstappen claimed a dominant pole position, only for Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to narrowly beat him during an epic scrap for the win in the race.

Despite Mercedes’ winning start, the team remains convinced that it holds no strengths over Red Bull this year, with new floor rules appearing to hurt its low-rake concept more than the high-rake approach pioneered by its chief rival.

With in-season development heavily restricted both aerodynamically and on the power unit side, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said it has been forced to focus on “more subtle areas” in its bid to boost competitiveness.

“Ordinarily, excluding this year because it is different, you would look to the wind tunnel to try to just put on a bit of downforce over the course of the year and you would look at the power unit to try to add a bit of power,” explained Shovlin.

“But both of those are very restricted by regulation this year, so we have very little time in the wind tunnel. The dyno is also very restricted and you can’t improve the engine for performance this year.

“So we are having to look at more subtle areas to do with drivability characteristics and also arriving at the circuit with the car well sorted and well balanced, doing your homework and knowing how well the tyres will run.

“This season is actually going to come down to the fine margins much more than normal because I don’t see us really being able to develop to a point where we can get clear ahead. And hopefully Red Bull won’t develop to a point that they are clearly ahead.”


Red Bull has revealed it is pushing ahead with new developments to improve its RB16B in time for the next race at Imola and Shovlin said Mercedes is bracing itself for a titanic, season-long battle for the titles across the 23-round campaign.

“It’s definitely close,” Shovlin replied when asked if this is the closest anyone has been to Mercedes since the start of the hybrid era in 2014. “In 2017 or 2018 I think we went four or five races before we won a race.

“Some of those we didn’t get everything perfect, but some of those Ferrari was just better than us in race and qualifying. So we’ve had some tough years in the past few seasons.

“This is not alien to us and it’s what we’ve got to work with – two teams that look to be pretty much neck and neck at the moment. It’s going to be pretty tough and there’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well and are a sharp and well focused team that don’t make many mistakes.

“Max is clearly a very mature and sharp racer now, so he’s difficult [to compete against]. And they develop well, they have shown every season that they have the capacity to put a lot of performance on the ca.

“So, regardless of the starting point this is not going to be an easy championship. It is going to be tight and it is one that we are not going to give up on, and they will tell you the same.”