RACING

PALMER: Why Mercedes is a dark horse for win at super soft Paul Ricard after impressive pace at Red Bull Ring

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We are halfway through a season where few would have expected Mercedes to have barely smelled victory so far and had a better third place. The Silver Arrows, prodigiously strong over the last decade, have built a car with the brand new regulations which seems to have fundamental flaws. His level of rebound meant the team chased their tails trying to work out their issues.

Incredibly, given the performance of their car, the team still managed to finish a race weekend on the podium more often than not – with seven podium finishes in 11 races, including a third in the last four Grands Prix ( against 14 podiums for Red Bull and 11 for Ferrari, victories included).

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Almost all of this is due to a troubled season for the title contenders. Ferrari and Red Bull have had multiple DNFs on both cars, which often means a typical battle for fifth place becomes a battle for the podium, which Mercedes wins.

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In fact, while Mercedes has clinched podiums that its pace hasn’t necessarily deserved thanks to its rock-solid reliability, it has also highlighted another quirk of 2022: only Lando Norris has secured a podium outside of the six first so far this year with his drive at Imola – the most absent race of the season for Mercedes.

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At this time last year, the podium places were much more open, with Norris securing three podiums in the first 11 Grands Prix, as well as Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel taking one and even Esteban Ocon taking a maiden victory in Budapest.

All this despite the fact that leaders are encountering problems more often this year than last. The difference was Mercedes’ metronomic victory in the battle for the best of the rest and the effective formation of a seal between the battle for the lead and the brave midfielders.

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There are signs now, however, that they are taking over and becoming real leaders again.

In Barcelona, ​​the team said they had a better understanding of their car as George Russell temporarily led the Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton produced a quick response after a first lap puncture.


Mercedes performed well in Barcelona, ​​as George Russell finished on the podium after briefly leading the race

Subsequent races in Monaco, Baku and Montreal made it difficult to determine whether the pace of the Spanish Grand Prix was a flash in the pan or signs of real progress, with Mercedes making limited perceptible progress from what they had been before. Catalonia. That image was muddied, however, by the nature of these circuits: they’re street circuits and inherently bumpy and abrasive, which underscores the weakness of the Mercedes’ harsh ride.

Back on a conventional racing circuit at Silverstone, and with another round of upgrades, the team looked like they had the chance to win again with Hamilton, although they were no doubt helped by the troublesome damage Max Verstappen. , Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.

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Austria weren’t expected to be so strong, and so they weren’t, but that was largely due to a rare pair of driving errors by Hamilton and Russell in qualifying. Hamilton was up for a lap to challenge both front rows in Q3 before losing the rear at Turn 7 and hitting the barrier, while Russell had a slam later in Turn 10 and damaged his rear wing, which which means he was forced to run an older spec, slower part for the rest of the weekend.

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For that reason, it’s best to watch Hamilton’s race pace for Authentic Merc pace in Austria, and again on Sunday it looked like a pretty close game to Charles Leclerc’s dominant Ferrari after the seven-time champion has been cleared. air. That’s why he managed to get past a string of midfielders.

The upcoming French Grand Prix is ​​one of the smoothest circuits, made up mostly of medium and high speed corners. Mercedes have always done well there in the past, and this surely represents their best chance to challenge for victory on merit so far this year.

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One issue they need to address is their qualification form. So far this season there have been three occasions where it looked like they might have the pace to challenge for a win, but in all three Hamilton has been on recovery rather than starting up front.

In Spain, Russell led as Hamilton paid the price for first lap contact with Kevin Magnussen, with Hamilton appearing to be the fastest car of the day. At Silverstone Lewis was quick but Mercedes under-delivered in qualifying and then had to restart after a great first run, leaving Hamilton briefly in sixth on the second start as Russell retired after the major first lap incident.

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And again in Austria, Russell’s first-lap contact ruled him out of the podium, while the qualifying crash combined with a lackluster Sprint left Hamilton with too much to do to meddle with the Grand Prix front.

So far, Mercedes’ race pace has been significantly better than their qualifying form. If they hope to win in France, they need to show more than one lap of pace on Saturday to get in on the action at the start. It’s one thing to have a race pace to match the leaders, but when you’re conceding as much track position as they are doing right now, a battle for victory will always be tough – and that’s what which has cost them in the last two races.

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