Having dominated the sport of F1 for the best part of a decade, Mercedes AMG F1 find themselves in the inevitable bind of being way behind the leading teams of 2022. Such domination leads to a belief that the domination of the empire is inevitable and when the real world results challenge this view, its difficult to accept.
Manchester United, one of Europe’s most successful football teams are an example of this. Having won the English Premier League in the final season of manager Alex Fergusons reign, they have continued with Ferguson’s model of trying to outspend the competition on ‘big name’ players to retain their superiority.
Yet in reality arch-rivals Liverpool FC have found a new model, costing way less, that buys players with potential and then develops them into world beaters.
Mercedes are at present heading towards being the Manchester United of Formula one. They believe their way is the best way.
In reality, they are being cained week in and week out by their rivals.
You could argue as Ferguson did frequently, moving on the big stars regularly prevented complacency. Yet Mercedes F1 is currently joined at the hip to their world record equalling driver, Lewis Hamilton; when in fact George Russell is proving emphatically that quality young blood is what the team requires.
That aside, the current W13 design is clearly at best “the 3rd quickest car”, according to team boss Toto Wolff in a Sky Sports interview following the Miami GP.
The new FIA car design regulations saw Mercedes develop two distinct prototype cars for this year. The current version is an evolution of what we saw hit the track in Barcelona testing.
At the second test, version 2 emerged as the team introduced a significant ‘upgrade’ at the second test in Bahrain. This reduced the volume of the sidepods considerably and even today after 5 race weekends this design is where the Mercedes’ car design varies most from its rivals.
When challenged over the car philosophy in Miami, Wolff observed their car had floor edges that “just stick out much wider than everyone else’s and that of course gives it much more scope of possible instability”.
Yet this car design isn’t delivering and Wolff asserts the original W13 with its more conventional sidepods, is “much slower on paper”.
Since Imola, the paddock pundits have repeatedly challenged Wolff as to when the team will accept defeat and return to the more conventional W13 concept.
Wolff told Sky F1, “Well, I wouldn’t discount anything, but we need to give all of our people who have produced great race cars in the past the benefit of the doubt, and we believe this is the route to go down.
“Barcelona [the next race] is definitely going to be a point in time when we are able to correlate with what we’ve seen in February [in the first test there with the old concept] and gather more data.
“I’m also annoyed by always saying the same thing a lot: gathering data and making experiments. But it’s physics and not mystics.”
Yet Mercedes don’t have access to the kind of Building 13 rolling road correlation equipment TJ13 reported was being built several years ago, and so their wind tunnel testing cannot replicate the bouncing the car is experiencing.
Having tested the original design in the first test in Barcelona, Mercedes are hoping the next race weekend will give them ‘real’ rolling road data for comparison.
The Spanish GP will precipitate D-day for Mercedes. If the current evolution of the W13 is less successful than its predecessor in February testing, then all the “physics and theories” of the new iteration will be blown away.
Then Mercedes will have to abandon their current design beliefs and revert to the older philosophy, despite its lack of ultimate theoretical potential.
As Sir Alex famously once said, “It’s getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.”