“We knew the day would come when it would be difficult,” says Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff. Since 2014, the Silver Arrows had won every single constructors’ title and only narrowly missed out on the drivers’ title in 2021. The new Formula 1 regulations for 2022 naturally carried the risk that this streak would snap. Now a year on since the W13 came online, the team admits a big error which then defined their season.
It was only two races before the end that they were able to take their first win of the season, and they were far away from Red Bull for most of the season. Yet last autumn they were still confident about the coming season.
“I remember in October we were talking about how exciting it was to find performance through the underbody,” Wolff says in a video review released by the team, “and that the real trick was how low we could actually get the car. And I think that led us down the wrong track.”
Mercedes had seen huge performance gains in the wind tunnel when they got the car low to the ground, he said. But, “I think looking back on the season, we pushed too hard in that direction,” says engineering director Mike Elliott.
Porpoising caused a lot of problems
Because when the cars came out on the real track for the first time, an unexpected phenomenon appeared: Porpoising. This caused the cars to bounce around the road and caused Mercedes in particular a lot of problems and headaches.
“Normally you know where you’re going to be with the car and normally we start the season with a pretty good idea of where our performance is going to be compared to the previous car,” Elliott said.
“But I think this is the first season in a long time where we’ve started with a problem that we couldn’t have predicted.”
For Mercedes, the season opener was a shock. “Through normal development over the winter, the car felt good. Then to go into winter testing and find some major problems with the car was quite disheartening,” said the technical boss.
Although they surprisingly took third and fourth positions in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton in particular struggled: at the second round of the season in Saudi Arabia, he questioned whether there was any point at all for his tenth place, and at the fourth round in Imola, he finished 13th outside the points.
“That cost us the season”.
And while the competition seemed to be gradually getting to grips with the problem, Mercedes continued to puzzle.
“For us it was particularly difficult that some of our rivals seemed to understand it or have a powerful car and that it took us so many months to find out what the fundamental problem was,” Wolff said. “That cost us the season,” he adds.
Of course, it was not an easy situation for Mike Elliott either. The technical director had only taken over the position from James Allison the previous year and was thus responsible for a team car for the first time.
“Of course, that was not a good starting position,” he admits and describes the beginning of the season as a “real challenge”.
But what pleased him was Mercedes’ response to the situation: “The way the team has stuck together and tried to understand and the progress we’ve made is the part I’m happy with,” he points out. That’s because Mercedes fought their way out and even took a win in the end.
Mercedes looks to the future with confidence
According to Wolff, this was a valuable experience for the team after all the successes: “It’s only in the most difficult environments that you learn the most, and it might have been a different story if we had gone on to win,” he says.
“But I think it’s super important from a personal development point of view and as a leader, and I’m sure of that, as difficult as it was at times.”
“I think we’ve all said that we don’t know how good we are as a team until the tough times come,” Elliott adds.
“I think you learn the most from that, and hopefully we take that with us into the next few years.”