Williams Formula 1 driver George Russell expects the elimination of ‘party modes’ in qualifying to result in a net gain by a “big margin” for the Mercedes-engined teams in races.
This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix is the first race teams must comply with a new technical directive that stipulates internal combustion engine settings must remain the same from the start of qualifying through to the end of the race.
Until now, teams have been free to alter the ICE engine modes in conjunction with the energy recovery system settings to maximise performance in qualifying, which led to the ‘party mode’ phrase coined by Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes’ qualifying dominance this season has led some to view the rule change as an attempt to peg the championship-leading team back, but it reckoned it would be able to trade its peak qualifying mode for stronger performance in the race.
Russell, whose Williams team has benefited from the Mercedes engine’s qualifying prowess in a close lower-midfield fight this season, says the engine division has succeeded in that aim.
Asked by The Race what the impact of the party mode ban will be, Russell said the expectation is a net one-tenth loss to Williams’s opposition in qualifying but a big improvement in race trim.
“Unfortunately it will probably affect us and Racing Point more than Mercedes, purely because Mercedes are so ahead in qualifying anyway,” he said.
“And if anything it’s only going to help them even more in the race, so the whole idea of trying to slow them down is actually going to go completely the opposite way, and it’s only going to enhance their performance.
“I think on a Saturday, it will probably compromise us a tenth or two, but we expect it to also compromise the other manufacturers a tenth or so, so we are probably net one tenth down on Saturday.
“But on a Sunday, we’re definitely net up by a big margin. I think what Mercedes has done to improve the engine and allow us to run a high engine mode for the whole race is really impressive.
“She’s going to be flying on the Sundays.”
The reason manufacturers may extract more performance in the race is because all engines have a recommended usage allowance and the qualifying mode exaggerates how much life is taken out of the system.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has suggested that five laps using the ‘party mode’ is the equivalent of 25 laps of using the engine in the race.
“We’re going to have more allocation, more laps at a higher engine mode than we otherwise wouldn’t be able to run for so long,” said Russell’s Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi.
“It will be interesting to see how it stacks up, as George said, for us in qualifying, it might look a bit more evident because George is always on the cusp on the right side of getting into Q2, and a couple of tenths can make the difference.
“We might not have that now, but it’s going to be a benefit in the race for sure.”