At the Chinese Grand Prix Mercedes has blamed difficulties in managing tyre temperatures for it being beaten to the front row by Formula 1 rival Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen comfortably locked out the top two positions on the grid with strong form throughout the session in Shanghai – with Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton nowhere near close enough to properly challenge.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reckoned that his team’s struggles owed more to not getting its tyres into the right operating window than any major problem with its car.
“I think it’s tricky,” Wolff told Sky TV. “We’re lacking grip, and you can fall out of the window by the tyres getting too hot, or by the tyres being too cold.
“The two extremes like we had in Bahrain. I think this is what happened. I think it’s a tyre issue.”
Wolff admitted, however, that Mercedes would have to seek out some answers as to why Ferrari was so strong.
“They’ve been really strong all day, already in the morning,” he said. “Qualifying performance, they put one on top. It’s really… we have something to think about.”
He added: “Tomorrow it’s expected to be much warmer, so I hope that we’ve done the right thing set-up-wise and we’ll have better pace in the race than Ferrari.”
Tyre problems are not a novelty for Mercedes, as its drivers struggled to get the softer compounds in the optimal working range throughout much of 2017.
Asked after qualifying whether Mercedes was suffering from a recurrence of last year’s issues, Bottas nodded: “Yes. We saw in the race before that we’ve been better in general with the harder compounds and that is something we’re still working on to get more out of.
“Ferrari is doing something better on that.”
However, the Finn – who beat Hamilton but finished over half a second adrift of pole-sitter Vettel – insisted that tyre woes were unlikely to account for all of the gap to Ferrari.
“There was nothing in the lap we could have gained that much,” he said. “Maybe a little bit in terms of getting the tyres absolutely perfect for the lap but it’s not half a second.
“They [ Ferrari] have a really strong car, you can see especially in the long corners – Turn 1, 2 – they make some good gains to us.
“Obviously now without big difference on the straights they can keep the gains they make in the corners. We definitely have work to do.
“Tomorrow is a different day. A long race ahead, like we saw last weekend it will be close, hopefully we can make up tomorrow what we lost today.”