#F1 Forensics: Williams chases less than perfect Mercedes

Brought to you by TheJudge13 Technical Analyst Lorenzo De Luca

Formula 1 returned to Austria after 11 year absence. After the debacle of Canada, the former A1-Ring track gave us another Mercedes double even if it was not without some concern. For the first time Williams shone throughout a race weekend, with Massa earning pole position on Saturday.

Behind the Grove team, Ferrari finally managed to run with their latest package, but the F14-T never seemed fast enough to compete with either Williams nor Mercedes, and the gap of almost 20 seconds at the end of the race suggests that there is still much to do; both Force India and Mclaren delivered a relatively good performance thanks to the latest updates introduced in Austria.

Of more immediate concern for the engine manufacturers is we once again had Mercedes-powered cars dominating the race. With all the PU106 equipped cars amongst the first eleven positions (with only Button out of top 10) Ricciardo was the only Renault powered representative to finish in the top 10.

With one Red Bull and both Toro Rosso retiring, the remaining Renault powered runners finished the race at least one lap behind. If Renault had shown some progress in the previous races, there is no doubt that at Viry Chatillon there will be worries about the reliability and performance of their power units.

Strategy: Ferrari, was a podium possible?

Top 10 Race pace chart

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Top 10 average lap time\stints lap time (Legend : SS=Supersfot – S=Soft – (U)=used – (N)=new)

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The Red Bull Ring track layout is very short with only 9 corners and due to less demands on fuel consumption this leveled the differences on the field, so that the race was decided by strategy.

Once again the first stint was crucial and that is where both Williams and Mercedes built their gap, with an average lap time faster, at least, by half of a second . Looking at the stint times, we can say that a podium for Ferrari, with Alonso, was possible. Indeed , during the first stint with Supersoft tyres, Alonso, and also Raikkonen, lost a lot of time.

Which makes it unexplainable then to choose to leave Fernando and Kimi on their supersofts for fifteen laps – an unfortunate choice that, possibly, cost Alonso a real chance to fight with Massa and Bottas. This also prevented Kimi the chance to score more points – seeing that he was sixth before pitting but due to the pit strategy lost eight positions to competitors who had pitted on lap 10. To emphasize the performance delivered by Perez, who started with the soft compound and set the fastest 2nd and 3rd stint .

Mercedes perfection creaks ?

Despite another win, for the first time in the season, Mercedes seemed unable to exploit its true power, although the Mercedes advantage is such that it could not be bridged this season because of the rules. In Austria, the W05 showed a few cracks in an otherwise almost perfect car.

After the ERS related issues in Montreal, the engineers preferred to take no risks, therefore they chose a more conservative aerodynamic choice. This was highlighted when they dropped the Red Bull-esque engine cover, which assured a cleaner airflow management and instead ran with a larger solution.

Mercedes W05 engine cover comparison

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At Brackley they know they have a large enough gap to be able to sacrifice some performance for some reliability, but things will become very interesting over the rest of the season, when points will weigh like stones in the fight between Nico and Lewis.

Williams : FW36 first win seems close enough

Since the first pre-season tests Williams impressed everyone and now, after some races with poor strategies or drivers involved in racing shunts, the FW36 finally took the role of Mercedes’ first challenger. But, although many people believes it’s all due to the PU106 breadth of advantages, the truth is that the development is now paying off.

Williams FW36 suspension arm

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The picture above, show us the suspension arm, which in its proximity to the brake ducts, takes the shape of a flap to clean the airflow in very crucial area for a car and generates extra downforce. The updates received from Mercedes also gave the boost which allowed the FW36 to be so competitive in Canada and here in Austria.

Ferrari still need some pace

In Austria, Ferrari finally ran the new aero package which had been introduced in Canada. The F14-T showed some good pace throughout the weekend, and without taking into account the final 5th place achieved by Alonso, we need to underline some facts.

First, Ferrari struggled at the start on a full fuel load irrespective of which compound Pirelli bring to the race weekends. This is easy to pick out when we take a look at the 1st stint average time.

Second : An 18,5 seconds gap to the winner – on a track like the Red Bull Ring – is an eternity. There were mistakes made with the strategy but essentially Ferrari never seemed to be able to close the gap once the top cars had clean air ahead. Having said that, it is undeniable that the new aero package has given the car a boost that allows the F14-T to be able to fight for the positions just under the podium.

Ferrari F14-T engine cover with no louvres (new)

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Ferrari F14-T engine cover with louvres (Canada)

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In addition to the updates we saw in Canada, Ferrari introduced other upgrades during the Austrian weekend, such as a different version of the engine cover with no louvres on the spine to maximize the flow management at the rear.

Also tested were new turning vanes under the chassis and on the side pods

Ferrari F14-T turning vanes

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Ferrari F14-T side pods turning vanes

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As it has been said, the upgrades seemed to have restored the F14-T’s vitality, but it needs to be tested on a more demanding track – like the upcoming Silverstone – to confirm if Ferrari can aim to score some podiums or not. Even if, Mattiacci’s words seemed to have put an end to the development of the F14-T.

Force India and Mclaren : The PU106 is not enough

We talked a lot about the great advantages of the Mercedes power engine, and most people believe that having that power unit will be enough to be very competitive. Obviously it’s not true, as Mclaren and Force India have proven.

Despite a great start in Australia it is hard to tell why Mclaren struggle so much. The MP4-29 with its revolutionary rear supension does not pay in terms of performance despite the updates introduced on the car .

Mclaren MP4/29 new fron brakes duct

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Mclaren MP4/29 under chassis turning vanes

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Mclaren MP4/29 new front wing

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We can almost say the same things about the Force India VJM07 which alternates between good and poor performances but unlike Mclaren, the VJM07 seems to be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. After a good race in Canada – ruined by the shunt of Perez – they repeated their upturn in form again in Austria, introducing a new nosecone to force more air under the car to feed the diffuser

Force India VJM07 new nosecone

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And a new tighter engine cover, to better manage the airflow at the rear end

Force India VJM07 new engine cover

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Once again, the VJM07 proved to be lighter on its tyre usage than anyone else which allowed them to run a longer stint and to compensate for their not so satisfying qualifying performances.

Red Bull : Renault crisis

It was expected to see the Red Bull fighting the Mercedes in Austria, their home GP, but after the enormous progress made with Renault in the previous races – which allowed Ricciardo to take his first victory – here we are again, talking about the fragility of the French power unit with a warning bell that forced Vettel to retire from the race in order to save the mileage on the power unit.

It will not be easy to finish the season without avoiding sanctions proving to be a nasty blow for Red Bull and for Renault too. At Viry Chatillon, the engineers will need to work really hard in order to fix the issues for next season.

Silverstone

After two ‘stop & go’ track, F1 gets back to a real track. Silverstone will be a very challenging track for the cars; not only for the engine but also from an aerodynamic point of view. It will also be a great challenge for the tires ( we still remember the bad impression Pirelli made here last season).

Then, it will be a good chance for teams to test their latest upgrades, we’ll see if Mercedes really have some weak points – if Williams will continue to surprise us – if Ferrari have really made some progress, and if Renault can provide and issue-free weekend to Red Bull.

20 responses to “#F1 Forensics: Williams chases less than perfect Mercedes

  1. Great write-up Lorenzo. Ref the Mercs, seeing it was hotter there than Canada due to the thinner air they were running the same rear brake set-up as Canada i.e. Smaller disc diameter and four piston calipers instead of six, weight saving around 1Kg. Ref. Mclaren, it is rumoured in the paddock that Merc’s haven’t supplied the same engine upgrade as to Williams.

    • I’ve heard McLaren has to hand back the Merc engines after each GP… they get the engines on Thu/Fri at the track and hand them back end of Sunday. Makes sense Merc won’t give them update.

      • Yes your right Don, they are not even allowed to work on them. Big Ron must be fuming seeing how they were screwed when Paddy Lowe left.

        • If Ron is, I’d say quite rightly.
          Still, history repeats…..Merc have learned from Enzo.

          • We have seen teams experiencing a lot more brake problems this season than in the past. And as mentioned by a post above, that teams like Mercedes, Mclaren and Redbull have opted to run with smaller brakes and with 4 piston calipers instead of the 6, so as to save weight.

            So what I’d like to know is, “if they were to revert back to bigger brakes and calipers, how much would that affect how much energy they can store under braking?”

          • Hi Fortis, using bigger brake disks and calipers does not affect the amount of energy that can be recoverd trough MGU-K,as this latter act directly on the crankshaft and not on the brake disks. From this year , teams adopt smaller brake disks and calipers with only 4 pistons because the MGU-K braking force (or engine braking) is doubled from last year, so much that using last year’s brake disk/calipers will destabilize the car when braking, to avoid this there is an ECU wich calculate how much force applying on the crankshaft via MGU-K (imagine a real time automatic brake bias)

          • In GPL you can sort of get that ‘automatic real time brake bias’ by using varying amounts of throttle under braking/trail braking.. it’s a bit of an ‘exploit’ but the sim is over 15 years old now. Sounds like F1 is not actually that far off it now (although that bit is handled by the ECU).

          • Could Mercedes effectively ensure that McLaren finish 6th in the WCC? That would hinder them for like $10m, which is $10m less to be competitive with Honda next season. A few extra million for Williams and Force India won’t elevate them into battling at the front, but at McLaren there is at least that possibilty with Honda (unless we have a 2013/14 car in 2015).

            That kind of budget shortfall would also have to make Honda decide if they wish to supply that much extra salary for having Button/a WDC in the line up, over his protege Vandoorne, who will drive for a starter salary and probably produce a similar pace to Magnussen quite soon…

          • Also, a few extra million for Williams and Force India also makes it easier for them to pay for the Mercedes engines going forwards, which for Force India could also be needed in the short term.

  2. Have Ferrari made any significant software mods to either the engine management system or the brake by wire systems that you have heard of ?

  3. Thanks for that Lorenzo. Isn’t the Force India rear suspension and gearbox the same as the McLaren unit (except for the upper suspension arms)? If so, why is the FI so much better on tire wear?

    • Gomer, Force India employ some ex-Bridgestone guys to manage the tires.

      • Okay, so what do they do differently? I find it hard to believe force India has found some magic tire bullet that other teams haven’t. There are a number of factors affecting tire wear, such as camber (front and rear), castor (front), kingpin (front), toe in (or out) front and rear, tire pressure, downforce related stuff, anti dive and/or anti squat, torque application, differential settings, and other stuff. Why would Force India be better at understanding this than major teams? Especially, as I noted above, as they use McLaren rear end stuff.

          • Isn’t Mercedes on the limits of breaching contract by behaving like this with McLaren?

          • I guess at Woking already knew what kind of situation they were about to face when they signed the Honda deal. On Mclaren side, pretty sure Honda already started to run on one of its tracks with a modified MP4/28

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