On paper, the results of the season opener in Bahrain could have carried out little to recommend Mercedes’ Method 1 domination may very well be nearing an finish in 2021.
However amid the frustration felt on the Pink Bull pit wall within the aftermath of Max Verstappen’s defeat to Lewis Hamilton, there was an underlying optimism that this may very well be its finest probability of a title assault in 9 seasons.
Hamilton could have outfoxed Verstappen within the closing phases along with his defence at Flip four, benefiting from the change in policing to trace limits instigated by Pink Bull, however he was below no illusions of the deficit Mercedes faces.
“I’m fairly positive we have to do higher,” Hamilton stated. “We have got to be smarter, and the way we navigate by our weekends with the truth that we do not have the quickest automotive in the mean time.
“However that is all good for me. I do not thoughts having to tug out further to be able to make the distinction.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Sergio Perez, Pink Bull Racing RB16B
Picture by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Bahrain could have appeared like a bullet dodged for Mercedes, however can also be represents a missed alternative for Pink Bull. Mercedes has managed to beat deficits previously – have a look at 2017 and 2018 towards Ferrari – and whereas the looming 2022 laws imply it can’t pour the identical sort of funding and assets into slicing the hole, it nonetheless has a knack for launching comebacks.
It means there’s an added significance for Pink Bull because it returns to Europe and heads to Imola for this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. It would begin a string of tracks the place qualifying can be of higher significance given the shortage of overtaking alternatives, which means the one-lap benefit loved by the RB16B in Bahrain may very well be much more decisive.
Pink Bull advisor Helmut Marko was upbeat in regards to the staff’s possibilities heading to Imola, however recognised that it couldn’t afford to overlook a beat ought to it want to beat Mercedes.
“I believe with the package deal we now have, a really aggressive engine, a chassis that reacts properly to all the pieces, that we are going to be equally again on par with Mercedes,” Marko advised Autosport’s sister publication Formel1.de.
“We all know now you possibly can solely succeed towards Mercedes in the event you act flawlessly. All the pieces needs to be proper. We assume that it is going to be an analogous scenario – hopefully with a reversed podium and Max on prime.”
Max Verstappen, Pink Bull Racing, 2nd place, in Parc Ferme
Picture by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Verstappen additionally spoke in regards to the significance of leaning on Pink Bull’s operational power in taking the battle to Mercedes, believing there aren’t any weaknesses for it to resolve in that regard.
“Each staff has their weak spots, however generally, we simply have to ensure we now have a sooner automotive – then all the pieces turns into lots simpler,” Verstappen advised Autosport in an unique interview.
“As a result of in the event you begin forward, and also you simply have the higher automotive, then it is lots simpler to attain your factors with none threat. So that is what we now have to work on.
“I am fairly positive that if we now have that quick automotive, I believe as a staff and the way in which the staff is working, we’re very sturdy. And I do not see any weak point in that space.”
Mercedes can also be invigorated by the brand new problem towards Pink Bull, a staff it has hardly ever gone head-to-head with in F1 for a sustained time period. “There’s a feeling throughout the staff that we very a lot take pleasure in the brand new circumstances,” Mercedes staff principal Toto Wolff advised Autosport. “And it is that, on paper, Pink Bull is forward with perhaps all of their package deal.
“It is theirs to lose, ours to win, as a result of when you’ve the quickest automotive, you’ve got to ship on that. We now have to catch up. We now have to deploy our A-game and discover extra efficiency. However strictly talking, we’re second finest on the highway.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
Picture by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
However a lot as Mercedes is weighing up how a lot focus to position on catching up for 2021 given the significance of the brand new regulation cycle, Pink Bull additionally faces an analogous dilemma. The defeat in Bahrain didn’t assist make the image any clearer as to when it might comfortably make the change.
“I stated initially of the season that that is probably the most tough season for us since we now have been in Method 1,” stated Marko. “On the one hand, it’s because of the value cap, which hits us in fact, and on the similar time we see an opportunity to win the world championship. Which means we now have to do all the pieces to win this world championship with out ignoring 2022.
“We now have to work in parallel, and that is now a hazard, to work between the 2 initiatives in such a method that each can be profitable.”
Ought to Mercedes handle to snare one other victory at Imola, Pink Bull could be left with one other two-week interval till the Portimao/Barcelona double-header to attempt to make sense of the scenario. Even when it has the quickest automotive outright, and even when there are nonetheless 22 races to go this yr, the timeframes concerned imply that each race with out a true deal with on its efficiency benefit over Mercedes makes issues harder for Pink Bull.
Max Verstappen, Pink Bull Racing RB16B, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Picture by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
For Verstappen, Imola additionally offers a chance for him to attempt to break his Italian hoodoo. He has by no means completed an F1 race in Italy any increased than fifth – at Monza in 2018 – and retired in all three occasions final yr at Monza, Mugello and Imola. Verstappen seemed to be within the hunt for victory at Imola earlier than Mercedes break up its methods, with a puncture then inflicting the Pink Bull driver to spin out.
Mercedes itself is afraid of the way it will fare at Imola. Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin stated he didn’t suppose the staff was “adequate within the high-speed [corners], and there is loads of that in Imola and in Portimao,” once more pointing to the benefit its chief rival holds.
Pink Bull will fancy its possibilities at Imola, however is aware of it can’t miss a beat this time round if it needs to beat Mercedes and ship a warning shot for the remainder of the season. Not less than this time round, monitor limits shouldn’t be such some extent of competition…
Further reporting by Christian Nimmervoll, Jonathan Noble and Alex Kalinauckas.