In Formula One hope can quickly become despair and no more for the 8 time world champions Mercedes AMG F1. The silver arrows turned heads at the second pre-season test with their upgraded W13 car minus side pods. The latest evolution in F1 car design looked as though the bracelet team had found Nirvana in the hunt for “zero packaging”.
Formula One car designers had over previous seasons been packaging their side pods ever more tightly to improve the airflow to the rear of the car to improve downforce.
However, what Mercedes failed to understand was this concept would be less powerful given the regulation changes forcing the car designers to abandon a huge amount of downforce from the top of the car. This was a deliberate effort from the FIA to reduce “wash” which creates vortices behind the car making it difficult for another to follow closely without damaging tyres.
Mercedes F1 hope fades into despair
The new “ground force” aero design sees the cars create a large proportion of their downforce under the floor as the car is sucked down onto the track.
The warning bells should have been sounding for Mercedes by the time the teas arrived in Barcelona two months after the Bahrain test. None of the other F1 teams were shrinking their side pod design despite a number of teams bringing several bodywork upgrades to that point in the season.
Yet Mercedes believed if they could solve their extreme porpoising issues, their car was as quick if not faster than the Ferrari and Red Bull designs. This saw the team commit to fixing the W13 rather than redesign any of the car’s fundamentals.
What has become clear is Mercedes don’t believe the zero side pods are part of the fundamental problems with the W13.
Mercedes designers made one significant mistake
Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliot recently revealed there was a moment in time during the design phase of the W13 where a single mistake sealed its fate.
“You look at how we developed the car, and I can point to one moment in time last year where we did something where I think we made a mistake,” Elliott told F1’s Beyond the Grid Podcast.
“What you’re seeing in terms of performance and the way it swings from race to race as a consequence of that, and that’s a mistake we’ve known about for a while, and something we’ve been correcting and that’s why our performance has gradually got better.
“But it’s not something we can fully correct for a little while yet, and we will do over the winter.”
Concept of W13 fatally flawed
While Elliot refused to elaborate clearly the side pods could easily have been redesigned so the problem for Mercedes is baked into the very concept of the 2022 F1 car.
Given Mercedes spent so long fixing the porpoising issue, its likely the suspension design they’ve committed to for 2022 was difficult to adapt. The ride of the car was designed to support the Mercedes floor concept which appears less well supported when compared to other F1 designs.
This is why Mercedes brought and extra floor stay only to remove it before it was deemed illegal.
The “floppy” floor moving too much means the air flow under the car keeps stalling causing the W13 to dump loads of aero grip and performance and clearly this is not something Mercedes believe they can adapt on the W13. The problem will need to be resolved over the winter as the team prepare the W14.
Mercedes lose ground through in season updates
The problem Mercedes have suffered is this fundamental flaw means they can’t test evolutions of it during this season. Other teams tweaking parts of their car not fundamental to the concept have made progress while Mercedes have been forced to upgrade more minor aero aspects of the car.
In previous seasons we’ve seen teams abandon their current car design after several rounds of the season and introduce a B-Spec model. Yet with the budget cap in place, this is an extremely expensive process for the in season development budgets so Mercedes have not had that option.
Toto Wolff reveals the combination of all the above now leave Mercedes almost a shocking whole year behind the design curve when compared to Red Bull Racing.
Hamilton’s final hope of a 2022 win
Mercedes final real hope of a season win melted away in Mexico as they were comprehensively defeated by Verstappen and Red Bull.
“We believe we understand where the gap comes from and we’ve lost eight or 10 months in terms of development because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Wolff said post race.
“So there’s definitely a challenge and we are playing the long game here, all of us.
“You can’t judge the team’s performance on a single year, [but] how we’ve been able to win championships over the long-term.”
In terms of the result in Mexico, Wolff added, “Red Bull has just had nine wins in a row, no reason to be overwhelmed with finishing second and fourth.
“We have a long way to catch up, we have the winter, doing some good development on the car, some of the things we are finding might be better steps than just adding a few points of downforce.
Hamilton’s hopes for 2023 on the rocks
The high altitude of there circuit in Mexico meant the thinner air and high downforce package, together with a smooth surface created adenine expectation Mercedes would perform well.
“I think this track has suited their strengths,” said Christian Horner. “Ferrari looked like they were a little bit handicapped this weekend, so I’m not sure you saw their real pace. I’m sure they’ll be back.”
In recent weeks Lewis Hamilton has indicated he may now be prepared to sign a long term contract with Mercedes despite his current deal running for another year. Hamilton is mostly a ‘last minute.com‘ contract negotiator so maybe he realises Mercedes are so far behind he has no hope in 2023 of claiming the coveted 8th F1 drivers’ championship.
Look Ma, no hands! 🙌
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