Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has said that the team will not underestimate the threat posed by Red Bull and Max Verstappen for the 2021 Formula 1 season.
Despite Lewis Hamilton taking the checkered flag at the season-opener in Bahrain, it wasn’t the strongest showing from Mercedes. Red Bull clearly had the fastest car, which was evident after they topped the timesheets at all practice sessions, and then took pole position during qualifying.
The new aerodynamic regulations have benefited Red Bull more than the reigning champions. The shorter wheelbase specified by the FIA has affected the low-rake cars on the grid, and the reigning champions are well aware of that.
Speaking about Red Bull’s strengths, Shovlin said:
“There’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well. They’re a sharp, well-focussed team that don’t make many mistakes.”
Mercedes say Verstappen is smarter and more mature
Andrew Shovlin also conceded that Max Verstappen is the closest competitor to Mercedes this season. The Brackley-based team believes that Verstappen is a much smarter and more mature driver now than any season before. Speaking about the Dutchman, Shovlin said:
“Max is clearly a very mature, very smart racer now and he’s difficult. And they develop well, they’ve shown over every season that they’ve got the capacity to put a lot of performance on the car.”
Shovlin has also suggested that this season’s championship battle will be extremely close. He compared the current competition between Red Bull and Mercedes to the 2018 season, where Ferrari arguably had the faster car.
Speaking about his predictions for the championship fight this season, Shovlin said:
“So regardless of the start point, this is not going to be an easy championship. It’s going to be tight and it’s one that we’re not going to give up on. And they’re going to tell you the same.”
“Some of those (races in 2018) we didn’t get everything perfect but some of them Ferrari were just better than us, race and quali.”
The trackside engineering director claims that Mercedes have a lot of work to do if they want to compete with Max Verstappen this season. Although contrary to the popular narrative, it is not alien for Mercedes to have strong competition for the title. In the 2018 Formula 1 season, Ferrari had the best power unit on the grid and were the faster car on most tracks. Therefore, Shovlin suggests, the reigning champions are prepared for a season-long challenge by Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
“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. So it is two teams that look to be pretty much neck and neck at the moment so I think it’s going to be a tough year.”
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