The 2022 Formula One season has seen one of the biggest reversals in the sport’s history. Having dominated F1 for 8 years Mercedes developed a car in the W13 that missed the mark from the off. Despite the zero pod concept unveiled in Bahrain the Brackley engineers were immediately concerned over the way the car bounced relative to others.
Porpoising should have been expected as during the previous era when ground effect designs were prominent in F1 the bouncing effect was evident back then.
Mercedes upgrade false dawns
However, Mercedes appeared to suffer more than others and at round 8 in Azerbaijan Lewis Hamilton could barely extract himself from his car following the gruelling GP.
Mercedes have suffered a number of false dawns as ‘big solutions’ arrived in Barcelona and Silverstone in the form of upgrades to the car. Yet come the Belgium GP the silver arrows team were over 30 seconds behind the race winner at the chequered flag.
There were other false dawns for example in Mexico and Brazil where at altitude the famously ‘draggy’ W13 slipped through the thinner air more easily and so was able to compete with Ferrari and Red Bull. Of course famously George Russell won his first ever GP in Brazil ring pushed all the way to the line by his team mate Lewis Hamilton.
However back at sea level in Abu Dhabi, normal service resumed as the Mercedes pair qualified P5 and P6 with Lando Norris claiming he would have beaten Russell (P6) had he not made a mistake on his final run in Q3.
Hamilton may go AWOL
The W13 will not be happily remembered for Lewis Hamilton given since his rookie year in 2007 he has won an F1 race and claimed at least one pole position in every year – bar 2022.
Lewis was sitting in fourth place at the Abu Dhabi finale when his car began to slow. The on board camera showed the British driver struggling to select a gear as he struggled to return to the pit lane and retire.
During the post race interviews Hamilton created speculation his intense dislike of the W13 may see him go AWOL in the desert somewhere this week instead of attending the Pirelli tyre test.
“I might have to call in sick, my back or something,” joked Hamilton.
2011 was a “worse year”
But when asked whether this has been his toughest year in F1, Lewis response was surprising.
“No, I think 2011 was probably the hardest year I have had, just in terms of life.”
“This year is probably not the greatest, up there with the top three of the worst seasons but I think it is a much stronger year in terms of myself, how I have worked with the team and how we have all stayed united.”
“I think there have been lots of plusses.”
The 2011 season saw Hamilton beaten easily by McLaren team mate Jenson Button together with the beginnings of a rift between Lewis and his, long term mentor and childhood sponsor Ron Dennis. Hamilton only managed P5 in the drivers’ championship that season while Button was second behind Sebastian Vettel.
The seeds of Lewis’ advocacy against racism were also sown in 2011 as he questioned the racial politics in Formula One. Having been summoned to the stewards in five out of the first six races of the season, Hamilton quipped, “Maybe it’s because I’m black, that’s what Ali G says.”
Hamilton called out the team
Lewis concludes on the 2022 W13, “Ultimately, I think we started with a car we didn’t want and we finished with a car we didn’t want.”
“But we were basically stuck with it and we just kept trundling away, kept working away at improving it, but the fundamentals have still been there all the way to the end, as you saw this weekend.”
Hamilton ran an experimental floor during Friday practice in Canada and realised then the W13 was doomed.
“It’s like the car is getting worse, like it’s getting more and more unhappy the more we do to it,” he said.
“We’ll keep working on it and it is what it is, [as] I think this is the car for the year. We just have to tough it out and work hard on building a better car for next year.”
Mercedes refuse to ditch W13
Hamilton wanted Mercedes to ditch the W13 and develop a B-Spec car during the season as a platform for the 2023 W14. Yet team boss Toto Wolff and the Mercedes technical team refused this course of action.
“I think you can only start to look at the W14 when you have actually understood what you need to change on the W13,” said Wolff in Canada.
“The car’s not in a great place to say the least. I think we just need to see the remaining races, session by session and test by test. And unfortunately, we don’t have enough days to sort it out.”
Mercedes 10 months behind Red Bull
More recently Toto Wolff revealed Mercedes were 8-10 months behind Red Bull in terms of developing a car that works with the new FIA car design regulations.
This doesn’t bode well for the 8 times world champion constructor given the ever evolving nature of Formula One. If Mercedes develop a concept that is much better than the W13, they’ve lost a season understanding how to set the car up for different environments and ever changing weather conditions.
Lewis is out of contract at the end of 2023. Despite suggesting he wants to continue beyond then, it may be his decision is driven by whether Mercedes can deliver a W14 that is not between 0.6-0.8 seconds slower in qualifying over a single lap than the Red Bull car – as the W13 was in Abu Dhabi.
Those kinds of gaps are huge and similar to where Mercedes were at the start of the year.
Lewis Hamilton reacts to a disappointing end to his 2022 season, after he was forced to retire with a mechanical failure 👇 pic.twitter.com/mXPsTZQgze
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) November 20, 2022