Six-time Formula One race winner Ralf Schumacher has urged Mercedes to make drastic improvements to their aero package in order to maintain their dominance over Red Bull this year. The Silver Arrows failed to live up to their usual standards during pre-season testing in Bahrain earlier this month, leaving the condensed three-day programme as the second fastest team on paper.
Max Verstappen’s best lap was over a second quicker than that of Mercedes, which was set by Hamilton on the final day of the weekend.
The seven-time champion also spun out on a number of occasions as a result of the German outfit’s dodgy rear end, influenced by this year’s relatively minor but influential regulation changes mandating alterations to the floor design, diffuser fences and rear brake duct winglets.
Schumacher, who is the brother of decorated champion Michael and the uncle of Haas rookie Mick, suggested that Mercedes have their work cut out in order to catch up to Red Bull before the first Grand Prix of the season this weekend.
He claimed that the Silver Arrows need to focus on improving their rear end, but conceded that they may have been sandbagging during testing, pointing out that much of their running was done with high levels of fuel on board.
“I’m thrilled with how good the Red Bull is,” Schumacher told F1-Insider.com. “Mercedes seems to have problems with the car.
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“The rear end seemed very unstable. That’s why Red Bull is ahead for me at the moment. But it’s also clear that Mercedes hasn’t shown everything yet and drove with more fuel on board.
“They have to get the problems under control as quickly as possible now, otherwise it will be close compared with Red Bull.”
Schumacher claimed that the vast majority of Mercedes’ problems lie with the airflow over their rear wing, with its uncharacteristic instability playing a role in throwing Hamilton off the track.
“It looks as if the rear wing, which is extremely important for a stable rear, is not always optimally hit by the airflow,” he explained.
“So we’re talking about an aerodynamics problem. From my experience I know that something like this is not very easy to solve.”
Schumacher made 182 Grand Prix starts during his ten-year spell in F1, turning out for Jordan, Williams and Toyota with varying degrees of success.
He reflected on the struggles he faced with Williams at the start of the 2003 season, stressing that minor alterations can have a significant influence on a team’s fortunes.
“McLaren, the team that had to be beaten alongside Ferrari at the time, brought in new deflectors that Williams wanted to copy,” recalled Schumacher.
“Somehow it didn’t work as we wanted, the car was unstable and difficult to drive.
“In the first race in Australia I came into contact with another car and lost one of the wind deflectors. Then the car was suddenly much better and drove three tenths of a second faster per lap!
“After that, the parts on the car were no longer seen. That just goes to show that small parts can often have a big impact.”
Mercedes will be hoping to get back to their best in time for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, which gets underway on Friday with free practice at the Bahrain International Circuit.