Wolff: ‘October 2021 where it all went wrong’

Huge technical regulation changes in Formula One for 2022 saw the all conquering Mercedes team deposed from their pedestal in spectacular fashion. The relentless success for 8 years in the sport by the Brackley based team meant the shock was greater than when F1 teams have previously lost their dominance. Yet is was always bound to happen, no team can keep on winning their competition for ever.

The fact Red Bull ran Mercedes close in the 2021 constructors’ championship with Max claiming the drivers’ title too suggested the Mercedes top of the pile era was on the wain.



Mercedes 8-10 months behind Red Bull

Whilst the silver arrows had a modicum of success late in the season with wins in the Sprint and the GP held in Sau Paulo, Brazil, the measure of whether Mercedes have got on top of their issues is several weeks away as we await the pre-season test in Bahrain.

Toto Wolff claimed in Brazil, “we’ve maybe lost eight-to-ten months in terms of development because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong [with our car].”

If true, it’s unlikely the Brackley based team can recover that deficit over the winter despite the big advantage they have in aerodynamic testing time over their Red Bull rivals.



W13 suffered more than the rest

The new ‘ground effect’ regulations  mean that to create downforce the cars must run as close as possible to the ground. However, one of the side effects is porpoising where the car then hits the ground, the downforce is briefly lost – the car rises up and then repeats the ground strike over and again.

A number of teams appeared to suffer from this in last season’s testing, but the W13 was hampered more than the rest.

In an end of season review video released by Mercedes this week, Toto Wolff reveals it was a single decision back in October 2021 that was the root cause of their design flaw as the team set off on the wrong path.



The date of the fatal error

“I remember that we were discussing it in October [2021] how exciting it was to find performance through the floor,” Wolff explained in discussion with Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliott and power unit boss Hywel Thomas.

“The real trick was how low can we actually get the car. And I guess that sent us off to the wrong trajectory.

“It was an interesting journey because obviously we had a massively successful run of eight consecutive championships, and we knew the day would come where it is going to be difficult [to win again].

“But coming out not understanding what was happening [with the car] with some of our competitors [having] understood or having a high-performing car was particularly difficult.



It took Mercedes many months to filter it out

“It took us so many months to filter out and say: ‘This is what the fundamental problem is,’ and it cost us the season in effect.”

Mike Elliot responded and mused Mercedes had pushed too far with their interpretation of the rules.

“The aerodynamics of these cars are such that they want to run really low to the ground, and what we were finding in the [wind] tunnel was huge gains with the car operating in that way,” Elliott explained.

“When you look back at the season in hindsight, we pushed too hard in that direction and I think we’ve learned a lot as a result of that.



Mercedes power unit and chassis not compatible

“Any normal season up to now you’ve been able to look at what comes out of Hywel’s world and the power unit, what comes out of the wind tunnel and also out of our simulation and know where you are going to be with the car and, normally, we start the season with a pretty good understanding of where our performance is going to be relative to the previous car.

“Obviously, you don’t know what your competitors are going to do but you know where you are going to be, and I think this is the first season I can remember in a long time where we started with a problem we didn’t predict.”

Of course Red Bull Racing had anticipated the problem because their design guy Adrian Newey had done his thesis on the ground effect F1 cars of the late 70’s and early 80’s all of which suffered to some extent with porpoising. So the reality of Mercedes mistake was poor homework, rather than trying to minimise the ride height of their car.

Whether Mercedes can make up the ground to Red Bull over the winter is questionable and despite their much lauded improvements during 2022, their lead driver in the final qualifying of the year in Abu Dhabi was  0.7s slower than the pole sitter. This was almost the identical gap Mercedes had at the season’s opening qualifying in Bahrain.

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