Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin attended the Mexican Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Andrew, let’s start with you. Both of your drivers were very happy yesterday, with George saying it was your best Friday of the season so far. What was so good?
Andrew SHOVLIN: Well, the car’s working quite well here, which is the main thing. So, from a chassis point of view, the balance is alright, and then you’re just trying to read into where everyone else is on pace. That’s a bit easier than normal. Because with the Pirelli programme, you get a prescribed fuel load. So, aside from their feel for the car, it was really just the lap times are looking pretty encouraging. And hopefully we can improve a bit today, but certainly looks like one of the stronger tracks for us.
Q: You came close to winning in Austin, do you feel you’ve got the pace to challenge for the win here?
AS: I think in Austin, we weren’t as close as maybe it looked at times. There was still quite a gap in terms of pace to Max in particular. On the long runs here, it did look a bit better, but we will always take it one step at a time. We’ve got qualifying to get through, conditions look like they could be a bit mixed there. And then the race is always super challenging, with the temperatures. So, we’re still trying to get that that elusive win and working hard, but we’re learning a lot on the way, which is also the one of the key objectives for us.
Q: Now, you’ve just alluded to the Pirelli programme in FP2 yesterday Can you just tell us a little bit more about the programme? What did we learn about their tyres for next year?
AS: Well, that’s sort of working around the medium part of the compound range. It’s a good opportunity for Pirelli. The reason we’re doing this is that with the long-haul races, doing tests with the teams after a race, we used to do that, but it’s incredibly expensive to do it. It’s very difficult from a freight point of view, with the calendar now. And this format was the compromise agreement. So, you’re effectively giving up one of your sessions to help them with that development. But here we were trying out higher blanket temperatures, so up at 70°C, but with a shorter time for heating them. But they all worked quite well. And Lewis in particular, was quite complimentary of the feel for the tyre, the fact you could push it, it wasn’t overheating, and it was consistent. So, it does look to be a step in the right direction.
Q: On the subject of Lewis Hamilton, he said this week that he’d like to stay with Mercedes beyond the end of next year. What have his performances this year, in a difficult car, told you about his motivation?
AS: Lewis is always working hard, super motivated and desperate to try to win. And I think, going from the competitive position that we’ve had in the preceding years, to a really difficult car at the start of the year, was a bit of a shock for him. And also a bit of an adjustment for us to get used to working… effectively racing in the mid-pack for a lot of the early part of the year, having to make a lot of compromises with the car to try to get the best out of it and then learning at the same time. But I think, the same as us as a team, Lewis can also see that we’re definitely going in the right direction. We can see a clear route to getting back to a point where we can challenge for pole positions and wins. And you can see with Lewis’ commitment to the team, that’s increasing, the closer we get, and his commitment to putting in the work on his side to try and help us achieve those goals.
If you like SilverArrows.Net, consider supporting us by buying us a coffee!
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) In regards to the Red Bull penalty, the sporting element, Christian Horner would have us believe that the 10 per cent reduction is a devastating blow. I was wondering if an engineer or three could tell us just what that actually would do to a team?
AS: I mean, the scale of that penalty isn’t much more than what you would lose if you were just one place higher up in the Championship. So, it’s not as big as the penalty if your position is two places higher. So, I think, describing it as draconian is an exaggeration. Reducing the number of runs does limit your freedom when you’re developing a concept, but we’re in reasonably well-explored regulations now. But you definitely have to be more efficient. But if it were half a second, which I’d had mentioned, then a team at the back of the grid would have over three seconds advantage to one at the front, and that that simply isn’t the case. But it depends on how well you make decisions during the year. I’d have thought a tenth, or a bit more than a tenth is probably… maybe two-tenths at the upper end, is realistically what that would cost you.
Q: Andrew, how many runs does that equate to?
AS: I think in a week or so, it would only be about four or five runs different. I don’t know the exact number because I haven’t sat down and worked it out. But as I said, where it would be costly is if you’ve chosen an incorrect concept and you need to backtrack. It’s removing that freedom to explore different avenues.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) We’re coming to the end of another 22-race season, it’s been a pretty brutal couple of years since COVID, lots of races in a very small window but we do have the earliest finish to a season since 2019 this year. How important is that extra break going to be over this winter, the earlier finish and to recharge, and I guess for the race drivers as well, although, maybe it a little easier on them.
AS: Yeah, it works out well with the World Cup as well, doesn’t it? I think last year was particularly difficult with a new car. So, one season just rolled straight into the next and I think on the engineering side, there really wasn’t much of a break. You can’t do that year after year. So it is a good opportunity to take holiday and when you actually look at the calendar and the shutdowns, you describe a lot of the holiday that people can take, so at least now there is a bit of a bit of freedom for people to decide exactly when they have a break.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Just going back to that original Haas protest and when Fernando originally lost the result, in that original steward’s document, Jo Bauer and Nikolas Tombazis were said by the stewards to have deemed that only having one mirror was unsafe. Has that position changed in the discussions you’ve had in the last few days? And do all three of you think that it would be a shame if that was the precedent that had been set? If we have cars retiring, because they lost a single wing mirror?
AS: Nothing to add really, other than we don’t really want black and orange flags every race because we’ve survived a lot of years where they were used correctly and infrequently. And we do just need to let the drivers get on with driving and not be too afraid of getting near another car.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A question to you, Andrew. I just want to get Mercedes’ point of view with regards to the budget cap penalty handed out. And if you could explain to numpties like me, what does £435,000 equate to in terms of parts or development? And what significant impact could that have on lap times?
AS: Well, I haven’t read in detail the full report, so there are lots of numbers like the 1.8 million and numbers that you’re quoting. From an engineer’s point of view, day in day out where we’re making decisions of what we don’t do, that are of the orders of £1 to £3,000. That’s a normal part of our jobs, and we’re having to weigh up what we spend versus what performance it’s going to give us and, you know, we simply don’t have enough money. You’ve got to choose where it goes very carefully. So it’s very difficult to put a lap time on it, but the reality is that money buys performance. In terms of the cost of an update kit that could easily be a major update kit. The teams are certainly… We’re getting more efficient at doing update kits for less money. Recycling parts, I’m sure that we’re not alone in that. And it is quite a constraint. So whether the overspend is completely mitigated by the penalty, to be honest it depends how efficiently they develop going forward.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Just a question for Andrew but if the other two have any thoughts about it, feel free to chime in. Lots of the drivers have been quite concerned about the safety implications of lowering the tyre blanket temperatures and even the ban coming in. What difference did you find the team had from the test and do you believe the tyre blanket ban is achievable and worthwhile moving forward?
AS: Well, I mean, in terms of the tyres it’s quite hard to compare because we did a harder tyre in Austin at a lower blanket temperature. What we have now is, you know, what we had this weekend is very similar to what we’ve run before. I think the challenge of taking a car that’s this fast, this powerful, that has this much downforce and making a blanketless tyre is incredibly difficult. And I think it’s very easy to look at the Formula 2 series and say, ‘well, they do it’ but the energies involved are enormously higher – we’re doing around 20 seconds quicker at some circuits. And that challenge for Pirelli is very, very difficult. It requires a lot of steps of technical development. And the sport has to be very careful that the legislation on blankets does not get ahead of the rate at which we can develop the tyres. And Pirelli’s problem is not a static one. These cars have got more downforce in a straight line than the cars we used to have. The high-speed loads are very, very high and the teams are constantly working to add performance. And for Pirelli to just keep up with that constant development is difficult. So you would say ‘yes, of course, you can make a blanketless tyre’, Pirelli probably could give us one straightaway. But that tire would not lead to good racing, it would not allow the drivers to push as hard, you would end up with very high tyre pressures and a significant loss of grip. And it’s a case of balancing the needs of the sport, along with environmental concerns that are all being addressed. But the big concern is making sure that we don’t end up with a worse sport, because we’ve led it with the legislation on what we want to achieve.
Q: (Stuart Codling – GP Racing) A thousand apologies, I was just going to ask Andrew a question about tyres, but fortunately it doesn’t massively overlap. And Alan’s response about power sliding just reminded me about seeing Carlos Sainz doing a Ken Block impersonation in the stadium yesterday while doing the Pirelli tyre testing. So my initial question to Andrew is, obviously there’s a hard deadline that we face in terms of getting these tyres right before the blanket ban comes in. Is there enough time to get that done? Because, you know, a year seems a long time away but we’ve got 23 or 24 races that will be gone very quickly. IIs there enough testing time built in? How many practice sessions during Grand Prix weekends will we have to think about devoting to get these tyres to where they need to be? Because if Lewis is saying they’re a step in the right direction now, that’s fine, but as you alluded to there’s a moving target.
AS: Well, as I said, I think that the sport has to be pragmatic. If you think back to the days of the tyre war, every team was doing three days of tyre development testing between, more or less, every race. Pirelli’s opportunities to test are few and far between. And the tyres are always under great scrutiny because the tyres are actually the thing that define the racing that we have and getting that right is vitally important. So I think that they’re doing a good job of keeping up with the fact that the teams keep bringing more and more performance, which makes the job of the tyre manufacturer increasingly hard. But back to the point that I made early on, we just need to be pragmatic with the decision making and not corner ourselves by giving Pirelli an impossible challenge. We’ve already given them an incredibly difficult challenge. But we need to make sure that that doesn’t become impossible and just keep the interest of the sport at the forefront.