Predictable? Boring? Forget it. The Formula One season is alive and well heading into the British Grand Prix, and Plymouth could have its own influence on the sport in the coming years with Jake Cronk, a Mechanical Engineering student at the city's university, being accepted onto the prestigious Whitworth Scholarship. One day he might be asked to oversee the development of an F1 car, and Jake will be hoping he can avoid the errors that cost Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Of course, it’s very rare that the team makes any mistakes: with five consecutive Constructors’ Championship wins, and another one in the offing in 2019, they are as dominant as any other constructor in the history of the sport. But they weren’t quite at the races, so to speak, in Austria where Lewis Hamilton finished a lowly fifth and Valtteri Bottas just snuck onto the podium in third. It brought an end to their unbeaten start to the season and hinted at underlying technical problems in the garage.
Indeed, the issues that both Mercedes cars experienced at the Red Bull Ring were attributed to cooling problems, an upshot of the design team being too ‘optimistic’ in their work. After the Austrian debacle, the team’s principal Toto Wolff called the car’s cooling issues their ‘Achilles hell’, and even went as far to claim that the problem had been blighting the team since the start of the 2019 campaign.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, confirmed that the car has issues to contend with in hotter temperatures.
“Fundamentally the car doesn't have big enough radiators,” he said in his traditional post-race video debrief. “And that's something that we were a bit optimistic with - how much we could get out of the cooling system.”
The devil was in the detail: the notion of using ‘aggressive packaging’ has ultimately resulted in a new generation Mercedes that has an underperforming cooling system, and as we enter the summer months in Europe there are concerns as to how the car will cope in hotter climes.
The team will be beavering away behind the scenes on new bodywork alterations, and these will get their first runout at the British Grand Prix on July 14. The concern for supporters of Lewis Hamilton is that a below-par performance once more will prevent the Brit from achieving a unique slice of F1 history.
The 34-year-old is a solitary British Grand Prix victory away from holding a unique record on his own. That would put him on six wins at Silverstone – one more than both Alain Prost and Jim Clark.
Those sorts of landmarks rarely pass ambitious Formula 1 drivers by, particularly when it involves a domestic record, and so Hamilton will be eager for his Mercedes colleagues to iron out those cooling issues before they become a major ongoing problem.
The latest British Grand Prix betting odds tell us that the bookmakers aren’t too concerned by the constructor’s perceived problems: Hamilton is still a comfortable odds-on favourite to claim that much-wanted triumph, and his teammate Bottas is next in the betting. But there’s also the likes of Sebastian Vettel, who has a decent record at Silverstone, and the ever-dangerous Max Verstappen to contend with.
Toto Wolff spoke of how ‘painful’ it was to watch their rivals leaving them in the dust at the Austrian Grand Prix, and that pain will be multiplied ten-fold for Hamilton if his chances of creating history on English soil are foiled by technical issues.
All British F1 fans will be on the edges of their seats to see how Mercedes handles such technical mishaps in the near future. Meanwhile, all Plymouth will be on guard to see whether one of our very own students could be part of future British success in racing.