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In The Driver's Seat

Mercedes take cue from Mayweather to land Ferrari body blow

So just how did Mercedes turn their fortunes around with such startling effectiveness, between a hugely embarrassing Monaco Grand Prix - where Valtteri Bottas could only finish fourth and Lewis Hamilton a lost seventh - and Canada a fortnight later when the Briton headed the Finn home in their first dominant one-two of the season?

Such questions are likely to occur many times this season, as the intense fight between Ferrari and Mercedes - Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton - ebbs and flows.

Both teams do a huge amount of analysis after each race, whether to assess why they succeeded, or why they failed. It's a key part of the game these days.

So many aspects of performance are minutely monitored as sensors feed back data to engineers hungry for that little bit of extra knowledge that can mean the difference between winning or losing.

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Understanding what your equipment is doing is crucial, and one tool that helps with that is simulation. Everything is fed into a programme, then the numbers are crunched to create a simulation of what the car should be doing, and how it can be set up to achieve that.

After they changed aspects of the set-up of both cars between the two practice sessions in Monaco, Mercedes got lost, and the problems they engineered into the way they configured them stayed with them for the rest of the weekend.

They (Mercedes) had managed to widen the car's set-up window... that enabled them to beat Ferrari in qualifying and to be ahead even before it was Vettel's turn for bad luck in the (Canadian Grand Prix) race.

It transpired that the simulations were misleading, and in the immediate aftermath, Mercedes launched a forensic post-mortem investigation to discover why.

"It was a reality check in Monaco," Hamilton admitted on Sunday evening in the afterglow of his sixth victory on Montreal's Ile Notre Dame. "We could see the effects of what we had done wrong, but now we had to understand the reasons for that."

That meant doing a huge amount of further detailed analysis into every aspect of performance, looking at the chassis and the complex power unit to make sure that the imperfect simulations were corrected. They also needed to understand why the wind tunnel gave them one reading, and the simulator (the device in which the drivers perform virtual simulations of what they expect to encounter on the track) gave them a different one.

Correlation of such data is critical, and when the two devices get out of kilter in their predictions, that's when trouble starts.

When Hamilton went to the Mercedes factory on the Thursday after Monaco, the engineers were still conducting the post-mortem analysis, and he admitted that all he could do was ask further questions and give more feedback, then just focus on this week and the task that lay ahead in Canada.

There they had further discussions about what the post-mortem had found, and in the engineering meeting a week later, discoveries were still being made. That was when they finally got a clear idea of what had gone wrong.

"So it was really down to the team, great minds working together, communicating," he said. "Which, working in a big organisation like this, doesn't always happen. It easy to miscommunicate things, but we're very open together in moving forward as a team."

Of course, having done all that cerebral work they weren't about to tell the world what they had discovered. Such gold standard currency is kept a close secret, in case it can be of value to rivals. But it is believed to have centred on correcting minor but hugely influential mistakes that had been made in Mercedes' chassis set-up which prevented them getting Pirelli's super-soft and ultra-soft tyres working in their limited temperature windows.

They had managed to widen the car's set-up window, though Hamilton admitted that he was nearly late for qualifying as he mistakenly believed he had an hour longer before it began, as he was so engrossed on his laptop trying to fine-tune his set-up further.

"This weekend we were really happy with the work we did, the guys did such a great job in terms of where we began and the small incremental steps that we made," he said. "We really made no fault in the direction of the settings."

That enabled them to beat Ferrari in qualifying and to be ahead even before it was Vettel's turn for bad luck in the race.

He likened it to delivering a (retired American boxer) Floyd Mayweather-style punch: "Ferrari have been doing a fantastic job all year and I just think today Mercedes were the best. It was our first one-two of the year so in terms of optimal points it was the most powerful weekend we've had, and we maximised it.

"If Ferrari do that to us, it's a blow. It's like a right hook. This time it was us punching like Mayweather. I hope this can continue throughout the year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Mercedes take cue from Mayweather to land Ferrari body blow'. Print Edition | Subscribe