Mercedes narrowly beat Red Bull to win the inaugural race of the 2021 Formula 1 season as Lewis Hamilton crossed the line a mere 0.745 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen. Had the Dutchman not exceeded track limits while overtaking the Brit for the lead with a handful of laps to go, it could very well have been Red Bull who opened their season with a victory instead.
However, it was clear from the weekend's performance that Red Bull had a quicker car than Mercedes. This is partially down to the new 2021 floor regulations which were introduced in an effort to reduce the downforce of the cars. It was quite clear from the Bahrain Grand Prix that teams like Red Bull and AlphaTauri, who run a high rake angle, were benefiting the most from the new regulations.
Mercedes think switching now could be the end of the 2021 season
The teams that seem to have lost out are those with a low rake setup, such as Mercedes and Aston Martin, with the latter's team principal Otmar Szafnauer stating that the low-rake design was causing the team to lose one second per lap in Bahrain.
Mercedes' trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has said that a lot of time and effort would go into developing an all-new design to regain the lost downforce, and by then, the season would be over anyway.
"But whether or not it's high-rake or low-rake, we can't do anything about that now," said Shovlin. "What we certainly can't do is suddenly say we're going to lift the rear of our car 30mm and work with that, because it would write off the season."
In order to switch to a high-rake setup, the team would need to design an all-new rear suspension, which is not permitted under the new regulations.
However, Mercedes remain optimistic. Shovlin thinks they could still offset the problem with changes that would comply with the new rules.
"We've got a car that could win a championship if we make some clever decisions with it," said Shovlin. "Do some good work with it and operate well over the year"