Analysis: Wing issues hamper Mercedes

Michael Schumacher, Malaysian GP 2011

Michael Schumacher, Malaysian GP 2011 

 © The Cahier Archive

By Tony Dodgins

Mercedes has denied that the near two-second gap between Sebastian Vettel's pole position and Nico Rosberg's ninth placed grid time is an accurate reflection of the current F1 state of play. With Michael Schumacher failing to make Q3 in Malaysia, the team explained that difficulties with rear wing air-flow separation have exaggerated the deficit.

Bearing that out, Rosberg's Q2 time was sixth quickest, behind the Red Bulls, McLarens and Alonso's Ferrari and 0.42s quicker than his Q3 time.

Schumacher, meanwhile, was asked how it was that a team with Mercedes' resource could fail to get a handle on the new DRS moveable rear wing installation while a team such as HRT could!

"Thanks for the comparison," replied the seven times champion, "but I think that quick assumptions can lead to wrong answers..."

Ross Brawn explained: "When you activate the rear wing system the flap goes up and the airflow stalls, then when the wing comes back it reattaches. We have some situations where it doesn't reattach immediately."

The team experienced the phenomenon in Melbourne, made some modifications for Malaysia and thought they had cured the problem in practice, only to experience it once more in qualifying.

With the DRS wing able to be used around the complete lap, Brawn estimated that it is worth more than a second in qualifying trim. In the race, however, the issue will be a relatively smaller handicap given that the DRS can be used in just the one location, on the main straight.

"It's quite complex," Brawn went on. "There's some separation going on and I think it's a function of cross-wind, yaw angle and the angle of flow. We have what we call a ski ramp in the middle of the lower wing to make the rear wing a bit more stable. It's not just about downforce/drag, it's stability and response rate. The gain in straightline speed from our wing is quite substantial, we've just got this bit of instability."

Mercedes had balance issues in Friday practice and its wing problems are masking whether or not they have affected a decent solution.

"We were wearing out the rear tyres too quickly," Brawn explained, "and made set-up changes overnight. We don't really know yet whether we've got a better race balance yet.

"McLaren and Red Bull have moved away from us (since the final Barcelona test)," he admitted, "and without the issues we've faced we'd be with Renault and Ferrari. I think that's our core level but two teams are doing a better job and we've got to find more performance. The McLaren turnaround is the motivation.

"We have quite a lot happening for Istanbul and Barcelona. KERS was a bit of a struggle in Melbourne but the differential is 20m into the first corner. Our cooling is still a bit marginal and we have to improve."

"I think maybe we have too many performance compromises at the moment but I also think that if you can get into the right tyre window the performance increase is not linear and you can make strong gains. Here in Malaysia though, the tyres are highly stressed and when you are a bit off, that gets amplified."

Rosberg, meanwhile, figured that the team could well fare better if the predicted rain around the race's 5pm start time does materialise.

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