Radically different or not from last years unfortunately named W13, the 2023 Mercedes Formula 1 challenger must be a significant improvement on its predecessor if the team is to challenge for F1 titles again. The list of failures that must be avoided for success have been listed and we take a look into what they are and what it means for the German marque.
Looking over to the race.com, the team there have defined their list of attributes Mercedes will need to improve on. According to the website, Mercedes spent the second half of 2022 knowing that it would have to wait until 2023 to iron out the problems baked into its package.
Indeed Mercedes Geoge Russell was quoted as saying:
“There’s a lot [to improve]…” admitted the British driver at Abu Dhabi,
“The overall characteristics of the car aren’t too dissimilar to what we had at the beginning of the year. There’s still a lot to improve.
“That’s why it gives us a lot of confidence, knowing that we’ve still got a lot of things to iron out.”
The Big problems for Mercedes
Having contained the worst of the inherent porpoising phenomenon in the first quarter of the season, other weaknesses quickly emerged.
Successive races on street circuits in Monaco and Azerbaijan mercilessly exposed their mechanical flaws. The car’s rigidity exaggerated the porpoising for instance. Indeed, the W13 had to run higher than ideal because of a combination of the aerodynamic stalling the car suffered at its intended ride height, and the stiffness that meant it bounced so aggressively off the track surface so Mercedes had to increase the ride height at certain tracks.
If the overall ride is improved and the aerodynamic bounce is kept to a minimum, the W14 should run lower than the W13 and perform better.
Mercedes will probably stick with the narrow sidepod design for the W14, as they stressed several times last year that it was not the cause of the W13’s problems. However, one specific problem it did cause was related to the stiffness of the floor, a trait required to have the ‘zero-pod’ some experts claim, evidenced by the metal rods required to keep the floor flexing too much.
With more of the edge of the floor exposed, it is difficult to maintain the rigidity. And with the ground effect rules, a floor that’s less stiff will amplify any porpoising.
Throughout 2022, Mercedes suffered from too much aerodynamic drag. In fact, Hamilton listed it as “number two or as good as number one” on the list of things Mercedes needed to fix for its new car.
Mercedes had to raise the car’s ride height to prevent the car from bouncing, and to use a bigger rear wing to provide the downforce that the higher ride height had made impossible. All of these factors made the car very ‘draggy’.
Mercedes suggested that in Mexico, where aerodynamic drag was less of a penalty and the cars were all running at maximum downforce, Mercedes were as competitive as any team, with the exception of the particularly low-drag Red Bull.
Toto Wolff estimated that, in the worst case, it cost Mercedes 6 tenths on the straights. And Russell simply said of the drag issue: “It’s clear where we need to improve for next year if we’re going to have a car that’s stronger over the course of a season.”
Along with almost every other team in the field, Mercedes have been struggling to get their 2022 car close to the weight limit, a combination of the weight of the cars in general and specific problems such as the fact that they have such a large area of exposed floor that they have to be heavier to withstand the flex.
There will be other areas where Mercedes can improve for 2022 and beyond, even if they’re not a priority, one of which are braking performance.
It has a tendency to cause lock-ups on out laps, but it can be brought under control by working the brakes. However, while that can be managed in the build-up to a qualifying session, it’s not much use fresh from the pits in a race or after a safety car.
“We’ve had problems with our brakes all year,” said Hamilton in the USA,
“When you hit the brake, instead of both fronts doing the same amount of work, either the left one does more or the right one does more because you get more temperature.
“It’s something we’ve seen a lot of this year with the new bigger drums. And it’s something we’re working on fixing.”
Mercedes have also talked a bit about the engine shortfall they feel they have for 2022, which they have been working on throughout the year, but are certainly going to focus on over the winter. An area traditionally that has never been a problem.
Although Mercedes did not seem like the benchmark any more, the actual gap might have been one tenth of one second. Even though engine specifications have been frozen as far as performance updates are concerned, it is still possible to squeeze a little more out of the units through software optimisations and reliability improvements that allow the engines to work harder. Mercedes might well be stuck in terms of big gains in this area now until 2026.
Late last year, Hywel Thomas, head of Mercedes High-Performance Drivelines, suggested that the work being carried out up to 2022 will pay dividends in the long run:
“What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the link between the powertrain and the chassis is that you can’t develop them separately, especially if you want to get the performance out of them. From this development of the non-hardware and the powertrain, you have to match the powertrain even better to the chassis.
“I would say that, especially in the second half of the season, some of the gains have come and that’s a great thing for the future as well.”