Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin attended the Italian Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Andrew, we’re going to start with grid penalties for you as well. For Lewis, can you tell us about the damaged power unit from Spa?
Andrew SHOVLIN: That power unit, we lost water pressure, and he switched it off, as you may have heard during the race. That’s still at HPP and it’s undergoing some detailed checks. We have had other issues with elements in the pool that haven’t taken them out of action, but have certainly lessened our enthusiasm for racing them. We’re obviously desperate to avoid a DNF and reliability has been one of our strengths. And just on the balance of probability, we think at some point in the remainder of the year, we would have been taking a penalty with Lewis, which was why we decided this will probably be a better track to take it at. Given that you’ve got long straights and some hope of overtaking.
Q: You’ve been on a rollercoaster ride with the W13 during this triple-header. Just talk us through that ride, in terms of the issues that you had at Spa, why it was so much better at Zandvoort, and what we can expect from you here.
AS: Spa was quite interesting, it was quite painful at the time, but we’ve often said that our worst weekends are the ones that reward us with the most learning subsequently. And it certainly focuses your attention. And when you see these performance swings, track to track, you can start to see even with the GPS, which corners are you losing in what speed range, you can start to understand how your car’s working. And you can get an insight into how competitors’ cars are working. And the learning that we took from that does give us an indication of where we need to develop the car in future. Zandvoort, we were expecting to be more competitive. So it was reassuring that that that played out. But the issue is the problem is sort-of rooted in how we’ve developed the car, and how it’s working as an aerodynamic package. And as such, you can’t fix that in a fortnight. So again, we were anticipating that Monza would be a difficult circuit for us. We’re hoping it won’t be as tricky as Spa but this sort of downturn, we think principally come about from the changing in downforce level, track to track.
Q: Next year’s W14 is well underway back at the factory, what have been the overriding lessons that you’ve learnt from the current car?
AS: Those lessons, that learning is all quite valuable and we like to keep that within the team. It has been a very interesting journey, I think we were overly optimistic in where we thought we could run the car. The car that we launched had a lot of downforce close to the ground, and there were a lot of issues being able to actually run the car on track there. And I think that it’s no secret in the pit lane that people have been trying to get their cars further off the road, to try and make them better able to cope with bumps, and then to avoid them hitting the ground, where you lose a lot of the grip once it’s all going through the plank. But really just looking also at how the car is balanced through the speed range, through the different phases of the corner. And in general, we just haven’t had enough performance on it. It’s not just that where we had the downforce was in the wrong region, we’re just behind on performance. So, there’s a lot of areas that we’ve been working on. The focus this year, changed relatively early to one of learning, making sure we can get back to a competitive position for next year. And the signs that we’ve seen over the last six or seven races have been encouraging. We’re not where we would like to be – but the direction of travel looks okay, so we’re working very hard to try and improve that.
If you like SilverArrows.Net, consider supporting us by buying us a coffee!
Q: Andrew, final one from me, a strategy, Zandvoort, Toto referred to it as potentially high risk, high reward. How enjoyable is that exercise? I mean, is it something that you weren’t able to do when you were challenging for titles? Are you risking more this year than you have done in the recent past?
AS: We had conversations on Sunday morning, about where we would be prepared to take a risk, to try and create an opportunity to win the race. That was really the first Sunday this year where we’ve had those kinds of conversations. So, it’s nice to get back into that sort of mindset where you’re trying to look at an alternative strategy that might open up a door that you can create that opportunity. And I think, as Toto was alluding to, the decision to keep both of them out to inherit track position was really just that we were trying to not let go of any hope that we could win the race. If we’d brought them both in for the Soft tyre, we would have cemented second and third. With the benefit of hindsight, that would have been the right thing to do but we were trying to keep a bit of hope alive that we could win. So, not saying that we will repeat that but it was really just born out of that desire to not go down without a fight.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Andrew, if I could get your thoughts on how big a challenge you see if for Audi, Red Bull, potentially Porsche to be where you guys are straight out of the blocks.
AS: I think that the companies that you’re talking about, with Audi or Red Bull Powertrains, they know what that challenge will involve. So, we would always expect that they’re going to come in with a good understanding of that and be resourced appropriately and know how difficult it’s going to be. From our point of view though, this year, you’ve got Ferrari with the most powerful power unit, maybe not the most reliable. But you know, the benchmark will be very, very high, whether a newcomer comes in and sets that benchmark, or it’s one of the existing teams, we are expecting it to be very high. And we’ll work as hard as we need to, to try and make sure that we’re up there.
Q: (Alexandra Pirovano – Motorlat.com) My question is for Andrew. So, on Thursday, George said that the track was resurfaced only along the main racing line and not the whole circuit, did it cause extra bouncing and troubles with tyre degradation and will it change the way you approach the race?
AS: You can see that there’s bits where they’ve done resurfacing. I think it had broken up on the racing line, and then they’ve resurfaced that bit. The resurfaced areas are actually very grippy. So, in some ways that that helps. The areas that are bumpiest just on this circuit are actually the older bits of tarmac, generally on the straights. It’s not causing us any particular issues. But you know, tarmacs do age and they fall apart, and circuits need maintenance and to resurface an entire circuit, it’s incredibly expensive. So, it’s actually quite normal that you get these patches of different tarmac as you go around. And it does change things a bit, but you just learn to deal with it.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) We’re three-quarters of the way into the first season with these rules. Have they done what they were supposed to do? What are the pros and cons? Was it worth all the effort and expense?
AS: The following is a little bit easier. There’s some circuits where, historically, you had very little overtaking, like Budapest. And the race there was a bit more interesting. You’ve also got the effect that, when you bring in new rules, and when they’re completely new, like this set, it does sort of reset the competitive order. We haven’t quite got the close racing now: it looks like Red Bull have emerged as a clear front- runner. So, the races are a bit more predictable than they were, perhaps at the back end of last year. But it’s a small step in the right direction and an awful lot of change to get there. And maybe the big one that we’d hoped for, that I don’t think we’ve seen, is the field closing up. You know, it’s still a broadly similar order of teams front to back.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) This year, there’s been three different kinds of sidepod concepts, the ‘inwash’, the ‘downwash’ and the ‘zero pod’ or whatever the Mercedes version is called. In your head is there one version that stands out as the clear winner, so to speak, or do you think the jury’s still out and we could still see a divergence into next season?
AS: I think the rules do change for next year, that’s going to change how people are looking at developing their car. You’d always say that the fastest car is the one that’s got the best concept, so, you know, today that’s going to be Red Bull. Where that goes into next year it’s difficult to say. And I don’t think… Certainly we, as a team, have not fixed what our car is going to look like. We’re still exploring different concepts. And that process will go on for some time, but we’re just looking for what will give us the best development opportunity in those new regulations going forward.
Q; (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) How powerful is the tow here compared to previous years? Are we going to see the usual chaos at the end of qualifying with everyone getting in each other’s way? Or can your guys afford to go on their own and get a clear, clean lap.
AS: Yeah, I think the other thing we saw yesterday is the tyres need a pretty fast out lap. And when you had all the fun and games a few years ago, it wasn’t just that you have bad track position, some even missed the flag, it’s that you can’t bring the tyres in well. And I mean, this year in general, the classic tracks, where you get that kind of thing of everyone trying to let someone else go in front, it hasn’t been as tricky as it has before. And then when people have been burned by it and missed the flag, they make sure they don’t do it again. So it does seem to have gotten sensible but, as you say, this is a track where you might see some of it.