[The 10km/h deficit that exposes Mercedes’ ongoing weakness in F1
Although George Russell exceeded expectations in qualifying at Monza with fourth place on the grid, less than four tenths off pole, it has come despite some obvious car limitations.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes nothing shows that more than the speed trap figures from Saturday, where the Silver Arrows squad ended up at the bottom of the rankings.
Analysis of the top speeds through qualifying on Saturday showed Russell (338.6km/h) and Lewis Hamilton (340.6km/h) were slowest overall through the official speed trap that is situated 212 metres before the first chicane.
Their pace is well adrift of pole man Carlos Sainz (350.8km/h), with the fastest man through the speed trap being Kevin Magnussen (351.9km/h). Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ended up being registered at 344km/h.
Reflecting on that data, which was backed by the Mercedes duo being slowest through the speed trap on the approach to the Ascari Chicane, Wolff explained that the deficit had nothing to do with downforce choices the team had made.
Instead, it pointed to a season-long problem that the German manufacturer has faced with its car not having good enough aero-efficiency.
“I think we are just too draggy,” he explained. “The car is too draggy for this kind of high-speed race track.
“When you look at the top speeds, and I’ve just looked at the [speed trap] sheet, we are bottom end pretty much everywhere.
George Russell, Mercedes W14
Photo by: Erik Junius
“You can still be high drag and not fast on the straight, and still pull out a good lap time. But overall, generally we have been too draggy for Monza, definitely.”
Knowing that the W14 has been weak in straightline speeds this year, Wolff said that Russell’s grid result left his team pretty satisfied with the progress it has made.
“We were 1.2 seconds off last year,” he said. “We knew that low downforce wouldn’t suit us, after Spa and also Baku.
“The car should be quick everywhere, but these were the problematic tracks for us, so considering the time gap from our quicker car to the front guys, I think we have reason to be to be semi-satisfied.”
Wolff reckoned there was some value to be had in digging deeper to turn around its form after seeing what Ferrari has experienced from its difficulties in Zandvoort to being on pole at Monza.
“It’s quite interesting because, when you look at the weekend in the Netherlands and the high downforce weekends, they’re not very competitive,” he said. “Then you come here, and they are giving it a big blast and Verstappen a run for his money.
“Whether they can really translate that into pace over the whole race, that needs to be seen. I think for me Verstappen is still the favourite for the race, because overall the car has just been so good, and he has been faultless.
“But it will be good for F1, I guess, if they give him a hard time and, seeing a Ferrari win in Monza. If it can’t be us, it should be Ferrari.”
Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG, is interviewed
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Mindful about the top speed issue, Russell himself was remaining cautious about his race prospects, as overtaking will be so hard.
“I think it’s going to be challenging,” said the Briton. “I think we’ll have good race pace. The tyre deg doesn’t look very high. It never really is here in Monza.
“And with the skinny rear wings, overtaking is not actually that easy because, even when you open the DRS, you only gain one or two tenths.
“We need to be faster on pitstops. I expect to have better deg than Ferrari, so our only chance is to be faster on the pitstops and do something different to them.”
F1 Italian GP qualifying maximum speeds (speed trap only)