Formula One’s rule changes for 2021 were intended to rein in Mercedes, seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Saturday.
The Briton was speaking to reporters after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who has been fastest in testing and every free practice session, took the first pole position of the season in Bahrain.
It was the first time since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014 that dominant Mercedes had not started a season on pole.
“It’s no secret that what the changes have… of course they’ve been done to peg us back,” said Hamilton, who qualified second ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas.
The changes affect the rear floor of the car to cut downforce and seem to have affected Mercedes more than Red Bull, whose car has a higher rake angle.
“We had the changes of course last year to our engine to do the same thing,” said Hamilton, referring to a late-season ruling that stopped teams from switching modes for qualifying and the race.
“But that’s OK, we love a challenge and we don’t look down on these things, we just work hard to be the best we can. And that’s what we’ll do.”
Mercedes also had their innovative DAS steering system banned from the end of last year.
The team have won the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ titles with Hamilton now targeting a record eighth world championship.
“I think we’ve probably suffered more with the change of regulations than the cars with the higher rake,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said on Friday.
He said analysis had shown those teams like Mercedes and Mercedes-powered Aston Martin that used a lower rake had lost more downforce and it was something they had to live with.
“We couldn’t run our suspensions and settings in the way that Red Bull does and so we need to do the best out of it and tune the car to what we have available,” said the Austrian.
Aston Martin team boss Otmar Szafnauer agreed the new rules were hurting the low-rake cars.
“When we last raced here in Bahrain, just four months ago, we were heading for a podium on merit,” he said.
“We will not be anywhere near that kind of performance here now and the direct cause of that performance drop-off is the new for 2021 aero regulations…it looks like the high-rake aero philosophy cars have gained around a second per lap.”
Red Bull are also benefiting from a new, more compact and powerful engine in what will be partner Honda’s last season in the sport.
“There’ve been a few factors. We knew our weaknesses from last year and that not only has to do with rake,” commented Verstappen.
“For me, Honda has worked really hard to improve their engine in general and I think they’ve done a great job.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis; Reuters