Mercedes hopes its decision to lean towards a drier set-up for its W12 Formula 1 car will still bear fruit despite the rain forecast for the Belgian Grand Prix.
Like most teams, Mercedes chose to use different wing levels on its cars during practice on Friday to try and find the right compromise between straight-line speed and downforce for the Spa long track.
With rain leading up to qualifying on Saturday afternoon, teams faced a tough decision to lean more towards the conditions or still schedule a dry race on Sunday.
Mercedes kept its thinner rear wing for qualifying to ensure Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas still had good straight-line speed but fitted an extra stretcher in response to the rain.
Hamilton qualified third on the grid behind F1 title rival Max Verstappen and Williams driver George Russell, but Bottas struggled to eighth place and will fall further due to a grid penalty.
Hamilton admitted after qualifying that it would be “difficult” for Mercedes in the race if conditions were the same as in qualifying, given the set-up it had chosen to drive.
“There’s a balance between straight-line speed and that downforce in the midsection,” said Hamilton.
“I think we’ve tried to find the best possible balance. Maybe it’s not the best for today, but we’ll see exactly how good it is tomorrow.
“Tomorrow is another day and hopefully we will have better weather.”
It continued to rain in Spa all Sunday morning, with the circumstances requiring the F3 race to do several laps behind the safety car before it could start. It is expected to rain all day long.
Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff explained that the set-up of both W12 cars leaned more towards dry conditions to maximize straight-line speed, compromising chances in the wet qualifying session.
“I think we have a very fast race car,” said Wolff after qualifying.
“If, and that is if, the weather conditions remain dry or almost dry, we have good straight-line speed.
“We opted for a drier set-up to maximize speed on the straight, which we were a bit disappointed with today.”
Bottas is expected to start the race from 12th on the grid. Although his penalty puts him in thirteenth place, it is clear that after his qualifying crash, Lando Norris will be forced to change a gearbox, which will cause him to fall further back.
“He’s got a good car under it tomorrow,” Wolff said of Bottas.
“Depending on the weather, I think he can score some solid points and get back into the top four.”