The team has been struggling all season to fully understand the car built to F1’s latest regulations. Occasional signs of promise have encouraged it to stick with the narrow sidepod concept, while others have been gravitating in a common direction.
George Russell’s pole in Hungary followed by a second consecutive two-three finish for Lewis Hamilton and his younger teammate in the race have led the team to believe that it is starting to understand the car.
“It is useful,” said Shovlin. “And this car has been particularly annoying in the way it gives you glimpses of performance and what might be, to a level that it’s very difficult for us just to give up on it. So it sucks you in a bit, from an engineering point of view.
“It has been a tricky car. And certainly some of the issue is just that we haven’t got enough downforce, we need to find more downforce, and find a bit more power. But overall it is a useful sign that we’re going in the right direction.
“The double podium, the pole position, they’re all things that we could have only dreamed of earlier in the year. And that’s encouraging, that we do seem to be making progress.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Shovlin made it clear that the team doesn’t intend to move away from its current aero package.
“I think it has been useful to see that this narrow bodywork car can perform well, in races,” he said.
“This is certainly the thing for us to take as a foundation for development. We will be more effective if we work with what we’ve got than try and hop to someone else’s design.
“But the sidepods are probably a bit of a distraction from the overall issues that we’ve had to fix. If you think it’s only three races ago we were bouncing around all over the place in Montreal, Baku, Monaco.
“Now the drivers are getting out and if they talk about bouncing, it’s because they had a little bit of it in one corner at one point. It’s almost notable by its absence. And we’ve been able to apply those improvements to the current package, which is a good sign.”
Shovlin admitted that the team didn’t know if Russell’s Budapest pole reflected a genuine upturn in form, or was more related to Ferrari and Red Bull not performing at their best. However, there was one clear improvement in the Mercedes camp.
“One of the things that changed was the drivers suddenly found the confidence in the car that they were lacking. So previously in qualifying they always said as soon as you really lean on the rear, it just doesn’t give you the feeling that it’s going to stick, it just feels like it’s going to go away from you.
“We haven’t really seen our two putting in those sort of blinding laps until George got it on pole. And that might be something that we’ve improved. And there are some changes on the car that may have done that.
“The team did a good job of getting everything in the in the right window. But the honest answer is we don’t really know how we got pole.”
Shovlin said that knowledge gained in Hungary could carry over to the upcoming races such as Spa and Monza, even if the tracks are very different.
“To be honest, that’s the general process of engineering an F1 car is that every race, we’re learning, and at the end of the year, we sort of tend to write it all down in one place. And it’s impressive that even after 20 races, you’re still finding out things.
“So I’m sure that there’ll be bits that we can take. But if you look at it, statistically, are we going to suddenly be landing it in that window at every track, that might be a tall order.”