While the world champion team was forced to see title rival Max Verstappen triumph on a day when Lewis Hamilton’s tyre strategy did not pay off, Mercedes thinks there are still grounds to be encouraged.
In particular, it reckons that on a race weekend where Red Bull had the competitive edge, the fact that it was able to push its competitor so hard was a big positive.
Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin says compared to what happened at the Dutch Grand Prix, where Verstappen was in a class of his own, the Austin performance was more heartening.
“This is the toughest one that we’ve had for a long time,” explained Shovlin about the US GP weekend. “Since the [summer] break probably, only Zandvoort has probably felt as difficult as this one was.
“On Sunday, Max had us beat, but I don’t think it was a comfortable win for them, and we were forcing them to take some risks. So if that is a bad race for us, then hopefully we can have more of the good ones and then we can still be in a decent position.”
With different track characteristics appearing to favour the Red Bull or the Mercedes, Shovlin suspects that at circuits which are better its car, the advantage it has over its rival is bigger.
“I think the pace that we showed in Turkey and Sochi, in particular in terms of the race pace, it probably puts us a bit further ahead of them than they have been ahead of us here,” he added.
“Quali was tricky here and we managed to get through that still with a car on the front row. But it really will just come down to how the cars stack up over the remaining races and who adapts well. For us, the encouraging thing was we can still put them under pressure when we clearly didn’t have the best car.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
While Austin has been a happy stomping ground for Mercedes in the past, the stresses that the circuit places on the rear tyres meant that the outfit was not too surprised it faced a more tricky weekend this time out.
“We were aware of the areas where we may struggle,” he said. “As I said, Zandvoort was one where we were struggling with the rear end, and they seemed to be in a better position.
“That experience of Zandvoort gave us cause for concern coming here and we knew the circuit is going to be one where you are overheating tyres.
“We are not really going into any of these races filling in a chart of where we are going to be quick and where we are going to be slow.
“We know what we need to get right on our car and we know what we need to do in terms of getting the tyres to the right window to operate, and we know the homework we need to do on a Friday to be able to make those calls accurately.
“That is where the focus is and, if you look ahead to Mexico, that is a track in the past that has suited them and has suited the Honda power unit.
“But regardless of that, we’ve still got to arrive with a car that is performing at the best of the car’s ability and give a car to Lewis and Valtteri that allows them to do their best job. That is the only thing we are working on. We are not really worrying about where Red Bull are.”