The 2022 race weekend at the Paul Ricard circuit has proven another false dawn for Mercedes. The team brought another raft of upgrades for the car similar in quantity to the Barcelona and Silverstone number of components. The team were bouyant and had persuaded Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz that even a win was possible. The reality on Friday could not have been further from expectations.
A dejected Lewis Hamilton was asked if a podium was possible after the second practice session.
“Today we’re in fourth and fifth so that’s kind of the region that we’ll be fighting for,” replied Lewis
“I don’t mean that we can’t be on the podium, I think we can still be up there. We’re just still not as quick as those front guys – we’re a little bit further back than we were in the last race.”
Mercedes new 2022 car design when revealed brought plaudits from industry experts. The ‘sidepod-less’ iteration revealed just before the Bahrain test was believed to be a design that would steal a march on the field.
The new car featured tall, narrow cooling inlets in place of the square air intakes which appeared on the previous launch design and test in Barcelona. By reducing the width of the car with ‘zero sidepods’ the theory was this would force the air wash from the front tyres onto a wider floor area creating downforce.
However, the car has failed to deliver this season and half way through the year in the pole position shootout in Austria, the lead Mercedes was no closer to the top of the time sheets than it was in Bahrain.
After Friday practice in Paul Ricard, a visibly stunned George Russell remarked the team had “A lot to go over. I think our high fuel pace was better than our low fuel pace so we need to make sure we optimise tomorrow to make sure there’s no midfield cars between us and the front four.”
“I think the Ferraris are probably stronger than us and Max was fast as usual, so work to do.”
Russell’s race simulation was the best of the two Mercedes driver’s but was almost a second a lap slower than Verstappen who was third. Hamilton was a mere 0.3 seconds in the long run’s ahead of Vettel who was the best of the pack in his race simulation times.
George Russell admitted he’d noticed improvements from the upgrades but admitted “our rivals are also finding time”.
Yet the reality was huge disappointment in the Mercedes team. “We’re probably a little bit further off the pace today than we would have hoped. Work to do tonight back at the factories, but never say never,” quipped Russell.
Mattia Binotto observed Mercedes have spent a lot of money on their Barcelona, Silverstone and now Paul Ricard upgrades, so the question is how long can they throw money at a design concept that has failed.
The reluctance to return to the drawing board is clear as this then puts the Brackley outfit even further behind with ‘on track’ experience than the rest of the grid. Further, to deliver a new car for next year they would have to stop this year’s development now.
It’s a big call, but seems inevitable.
McLaren made big changes to their car design for the French GP and Matt Sommerfield writing for motorsport.com observes “Aston Martin was originally at one extreme opting for the high waisted sidepod solution, whilst Williams and Mercedes had gone (initially at least) for a very short, quickly tapering arrangement.”
“Having seen Aston Martin and Williams already turn their backs on their respective concepts, McLaren has become the latest to do so too.”
“It now leaves just Mercedes to soldier on with its more compact sidepod design.”
Clearly given the huge change in car design regulations, the teams starting from scratch all delivered varying innovations relative to the area around the side pods. Yet the teams who erred towards the Mercedes interpretation have all moved in the other direction.
Surely stubbornness to change their car won’t persist with Mercedes for much longer.