Mercedes are expecting further issues in the closing stages of qualifying sessions at upcoming race weekends, particularly the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix, given the drama that unfolded last time out in Hungary.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, holding provisional pole position, came out on track in front of Red Bull rivals Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez for the final Q3 runs at the Hungaroring, proceeding to circulate slowly during his outlap.
As a result of the significantly reduced pace, Perez missed out on the chance to deliver his final flying lap, and while Verstappen did manage to cross the line in time, he was unable to improve on third, behind the Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Red Bull accused Mercedes of "gamesmanship" and intentionally holding up their drivers, but Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' Trackside Engineering Director, has argued that it was nothing more than Hamilton and Bottas trying to prepare their tyres as well as they could.
"We weren't really coaching them and they were picking their own outlaps," Shovlin told media, including RacingNews365.com, when asked about Hamilton and Bottas' approach to the session.
"I think the big thing at the end of the lap is everybody's trying to get, you know, seven seconds of clear air. And that's why they're all backing off.
"To be honest, we struggled on the Medium [tyre]. Valtteri had to have two goes at that and I think he was going too slow on that, couldn't get them up to temperature, and had really poor grip. And then obviously jumping onto the Soft, you back off the pace a bit.
"But yeah, [it was] not really anything more than them trying to land the tyres in the right window and get a clear track ahead of them."
Shovlin expects the situation to get worse at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, given the ongoing requirement for track position, but the added importance of a tow at both tracks – meaning a reluctance to be at the head of the train.
"Obviously, it was a bit tight for everyone at the end. But that's kind of the game. The game at the end of the session is, you know, no one wants to be the first car out," he said.
"You'll see that much, much more when we go to Spa and Monza, so everyone's waiting for everyone else to kick it off. If you're at the back end of that, then you can get squeezed."
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