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Mercedes mystified by lack of race pace

Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany (bottom L) leads going into the first curve in the first lap during the Spanish F1 Grand
Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany (bottom L) leads going into the first curve in the first lap during the Spanish F1 Grand

By Alan Baldwin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Mercedes urged their many Formula One technical boffins to "think outside the box" and consider the unconsidered after a Spanish Grand Prix that left the team baffled by their cars' lack of race pace.

Despite scorching to their third pole position in a row, with Germany's Nico Rosberg notching up his second in succession, Mercedes flopped when it mattered most at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Lewis Hamilton went from second to 12th, in what he said was his worst race for a very long time, while Rosberg finished sixth.

How to manage and extract performance from the Pirelli tyres is the conundrum and Mercedes, who have a stellar line-up of senior technical figures, planned to throw all their brainpower into finding an answer.

"Generally what you can say is that the car is a quick car," Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff told reporters after emerging from a two-hour post-race technical debrief at the circuit.

"This is not about a car or a team struggling with lacking pace, a car where you end up 15th on Saturday and then 12th or 16th on Sunday. It is a car that is tremendously fast on the Saturday and has real speed. And then on Sunday we are not able to manage the car with the tyres.

"One could say 'Did the others go even much more conservative in terms of race setup?' I don't think so. It's something else and I think it requires out of the box thinking," added the Austrian.

"It's about everybody in the team sticking their heads together and saying let's analyse what we do from a Saturday to a Sunday. Is there anything we need to be looking at which we didn't look at until now?"

DRAGSTER RACE

Barcelona, like Bahrain before it, is punishing for even the hardest tyres and it would be comforting for Mercedes to think that the circuit characteristics did not suit them and things will improve elsewhere.

However the next circuit on the calendar is Monaco, a tight and twisty circuit without high energy corners, which must be treated in isolation.

The risk is that if single lap speed is compromised in exchange for better race pace, Mercedes could lose out in Monaco where pole position carries a premium and overtaking is extremely difficult.

Wolff said he was "pretty sure" any solution would cost the team in qualifying pace. He added that it would be looking at matters through rose-tinted glasses to think the problems were more related to the track than the car.

"It's not an inherent car problem. I think it's probably something about processes," he declared.

"The question is: 'Is there anything we can be looking at which is similar to previous years?. Is it that this car is being made for a dragster race instead of for a grand prix? A German journalist said that," he smiled. "No. I don't think so. My opinion is it's something else.

"As I am on the rather pessimistic side, I don't believe in magic or a golden key. But it could be. The car is good. It's just changing the approach or looking at these processes for racing."

Wolff said Mercedes, who had problems particularly with their rear tyres last year, had done a good long run in final practice and set the car up for qualifying and the race accordingly but it had not worked.

The priority now was to analyse everything, to look at how the tyres were treated, how they were heated up and how that heat is retained.

"It's how you drive it, slow or fast in the first couple of laps. How you build it up. We are looking at our competitors and what you can see is that clearly some cars are having an easier life with the tyres," said Wolff.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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