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Allison reveals Mercedes' biggest challenge at new F1 tracks

Mercedes Formula 1 team technical director James Allison says getting the tyres “singing” is the biggest challenge when going to an unknown venue.

In the video above, Allison also gives some intriguing insight into the issues the team faced at the Portuguese GP, where Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled for pace in the opening laps, and were initially left behind by McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

Allison conceded that it was “pretty dicey” for the Mercedes drivers at the start of the race, although it came good in the end, with Hamilton leading a one-two finish. Ahead of the sport’s first visit to Imola since 2006 Allison admitted that the unfamiliar circuits added to the schedule this year have provided an extra challenge.

“Going to a new track increases the workload and it does add a layer of uncertainty to us,” he said. “Because we don’t have a long check list of all the things that might have gone wrong at that track in the past, and we don’t have detailed knowledge of the way in which the car is going to behave, but we have pretty good simulation tools.

“As long as we know what the asphalt looks like, how rough it is and the layout of the kerbs and the racing line, we can get a pretty good estimate of what we need to go quickly at that track. And like any track really, a new circuit or one we are very used to, the biggest challenge, the biggest thing that makes a difference to whether it is a good weekend or bad weekend, is whether or not we can get the tyres really singing for us.

“If we can get them working happily in their working range front and rear axle, and the car nicely balanced, we are going to have a good weekend.”

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The tyre issue proved complicated in Portugal, where both Mercedes drivers started on the medium tyre, and struggled in the cold and drizzling conditions at the start.

“It was a result of probably several factors building up to produce a situation where a car that had been decently on pole was suddenly then being bothered on all sides by marauding folk from behind,” said Allison. “All of it had its root in the fact that our tyres were too cold.

“The downside of going with that medium tyre is that it’s going to be harder to make it wake up and work nicely when the track is cold. Most of the people behind us were on the soft tyre. So, straight away they had a rubber that was going to be able to get going quicker and wake up more quickly on a very cold track.

“At the start of the race there was a very brief rain shower that just took away more temperature and also increased the greasiness of the surface, so that made the grip even lower.”

Allison added that Hamilton and Bottas also suffered because they had to wait on the grid longer than rivals: “When they form up on the grid ahead of the start, as soon as they stop that tyre is cooling down and the people in pole position and on the front rows of the grid sit there for many, many seconds while the back end of the grid is still forming.

"So, the people at the back end of the grid still have warm tyres, and that warmth gradually drops off as you get nearer to the front. We are on the medium rubber, which gives us a disadvantage straight away in this cold, wettish weather, and then behind us we have cars that are still warmer because they have been standing still for less time.

“All those things contributed to make it so that at the beginning of that race, it was pretty dicey for a while.”

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Allison says cold conditions can exaggerate the gaps between different cars and drivers: “Much of what you saw on Sunday was a reflection of the fact that the entire grid, all through the race, was operating on the cold side of where peak grip could be found in the tyres. So, everybody on these tyres would have been a little bit below the sort of the temperature they would have wanted in order to be absolutely humming.

“And that has an interesting effect because it tends to pull apart cars in their competitiveness. It tends to exaggerate differences and in fact if you look at the race you will see that the differences in the finishing positions were very exaggerated compared with normal.

“There were very substantial lap time differences between teammates and also between teams, with much of the grid actually being lapped.”

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