Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles says his team is not the only frontrunning Formula 1 outfit struggling to hit the sweet spot with Pirelli tyres in all conditions.
The Silver Arrows are winless in the first three races of the season, and suffered a worryingly heavy defeat against Ferrari in qualifying in China last time out.
Vowles says that there have been times when the Mercedes W09 has been performing very well, but consistency across the different compounds, and in varying weather conditions, has been the big issue.
“I think the tyres this year are having an impact,” he said in a Mercedes video clip. “But more so than that there’s a second aspect as well, which is you’ve got three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – that all, depending on what tyre it is, and what track it is, are able to have different levels of performance to each other.
“And what that’s creating is different cars with different levels of performance depending on what the track temperature is, what the conditions are, and what tyre they have fitted to the car.
“What you’re seeing is a shift in environmental factors for a track. As you go to a track and it becomes windy or not windy, or cold or hot, you can see a swing of up to a second in laptimes because of those environmental factors."
Mercedes' reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he was surprised by the versatility of Ferrari's SF71H challenger, in contrast to the W09 - but Vowles pointed out that both cars have had their ups and downs in getting tyres to work.
“In Melbourne we were able to get the car working on the tyres," he said. "In Q3 we set a time that was extremely fast with Lewis.
"If we go forward to Bahrain, the medium tyre worked very well on our car, and the degradation on the supersoft looked good, as well. So there are little vignettes of information where we’ve been able to get it to work.
“Again, in the Chinese GP in Q2 we did a [1m]31.9s with Lewis, and that would have put us in contention for fifth place on the grid, on a soft tyre. So you get this evidence of the tyres working.
“And conversely the same for Ferrari. In Melbourne they weren’t quite there. On the supersoft in Bahrain they were just outside the range, and degrading too much, and on the medium, a little bit slower than us.
"So it’s a window that all teams have to try and operate with.”
Vowles reckoned that temperature is having a big impact on the battle out front, saying: “It looked like Ferrari in the cold conditions, and very warm conditions, were faster than us. And there are several effects going on here.
"The way the tyres work, they are very sensitive to temperature on the front and the rear, and you need all four tyres working roughly on the right temperature at every single corner round the track.
“At some corners, where they’re tight and twisty, you generate a lot of temperature. Other corners like the back end of the straight into Turn 14 [in China], you cool the tyres right down.
"And all teams are working their hardest to try and achieve that, but as you can imagine it’s difficult to get it all coming together at once.”