SAKHIR, Bahrain -- In the space of two weeks there has been a one second swing in qualifying performance between Formula One's top two teams, and it's all gone in Ferrari's favour.
Even accounting for two qualifying sessions taking place in very different conditions and at very different circuits, one second is a massive amount of time for an F1 team to lose to a rival between races. It backs up Ferrari's belief that it did not show the full potential of its car in Australia, but also raises questions about where Mercedes' pace has gone from one race weekend to the next.
"We expected to have a fight and in Melbourne it swung very much into our advantage and it came the other way around here in Bahrain," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said after qualifying. "I think with these new regulations and understanding for the tyres, you might see these swings.
"There were teams that were overperforming having not done well in Melbourne, and there were teams that were underperforming, and that's us and Red Bull. So it's just about consolidating and understanding where these swings come from."
Fortunately for the reigning world champions, there are some clear clues as to what happened.
"In cornering performance there is not one corner that we don't gain and we are losing almost 0.5s on the straights here," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff explained. "As you know, straight-line speed is always a combination of power and drag, and that's why we need to try to understand what happened."
The fact the Mercedes was quicker in corners and slower on the straights suggests it may have prioritised downforce over straight-line speed. Wing levels and cooling packages can contribute massively to that trade off and it could be that Mercedes felt it needed to up downforce levels in order to protect its tyres over a race distance or increase cooling to combat the high temperatures in Bahrain.
Wolff said the team would set about unpicking how much of its straight-line deficit is down to engine performance and how much is down to differing downforce setups.
"We have just seen that we have been outperformed on every single straight line today -- massively outperformed. But first of all you need to take yourself by the nose and ask if you are missing something in the way we are calculating downforce and drag levels. But it's always about looking at the complete picture. What I can say is we haven't done anything different [from Australia]."
However, if Mercedes is able to protect its tyres more effectively, it could offer an advantage as the race wears on albeit, especially if Ferrari is unable to run its fastest engine modes in wheel-to-wheel combat.
"We have seen that through the corners we are performing really well, so that is an indication that we have a good downforce level, but you need to analyse in more detail where exactly you are gaining and losing," Wolff added. "If that theory is right, that can be an advantage tomorrow in terms of preserving tyre life, but on the other hand you are losing one of the weapons on the straight."