When Mercedes launched their 2022 W13 challenger for real at the Bahrain test, the paddock was agog at the now famous “zero sidepod” design. Of course the car proved to be poor and Lewis Hamilton repeated regularly it was the worst he’d ever had in his Formula One career.
Yet it wasn’t the radical sidepod and air intact design that were the problem, Mercedes entire floor, suspensions and diffuser design was based on a flawed concept.
Why no B-Spec Mercedes in 2022
The usual solution for a big F1 outfit would be to redesign the car and deliver a B-Spec version somewhere around Barcelona. However, Mercedes struggled for almost half the season to understand the “porpoising” problem and until that was resolved it was pointless spending a lot of budget to redesign the car.
Clearly there were early discussions within the team over this approach given Lewi Hamilton was firmly in the ‘blank piece of paper’ and B-Spec camp, whilst James Alison and other technicians preferred the more cautious approach which did deliver some late season success.
Paddock obsessed over Zero Sidepod design
Sky’s Ted Kravitz was gushing using, describing the Mercedes as “radical” and “gorgeous” explaining the design, “It’s to accelerate the air as much as you can around the area on top of the diffuser, in order to make that ground effect absolutely as powerful as possible to push the car to the ground.”
There was a huge amount of paddock debate in the autumn over whether Mercedes would retain the “zero sidepod” design for 2023
Mercedes F1 retain bodywork for this F1 season
By the time the F1 circus had reached the US in Austin, Toto Wolff told reporters, “The DNA of the car is going to change for next year, that’s clear.”
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that our bodywork is going to look very different.”
Taken at his word, Toto was pretty much revealing the side pod concept would remain for 2023.
Again when asked at the seasons finale, Wolff claimed of the W14, “I go in the wind tunnel, and I say: ‘That thing looks exactly like this year’s car’.”
A conspiracy or Toto telling the truth?
Of course conspiracists will argue that Wolff is bluffing to send his competitors in the wrong direction.
However, for nine whole months every aerodynamicist in the paddock will have modelled the Mercedes design and come to a conclusion as to whether the concept is worth adopting or not.
Nothing Toto had said would persuade them otherwise.
So why did nobody absorb the design during the season into their 2022 car designs?
Why no one copied Mercedes side pods
F1 Analysts referred to Mercedes having “baked in” a design flaw that could not be resolved without a completely new car design. The Zero sidepod concept was part of an entire design philosophy and not easy for other teams to incorporate into the design paths they had taken.
Alfa Romeo’s technical director Jan Monchaux explained this at the recent car launch for 2022.
“Last year – during the season – it was not possible [to make the developments we have made on this car], and the concept we had followed last year, we were of the opinion that [it] had come to a sort of plateau.”
“And to unleash the next level of performance, we had to do all those changes that have been quite a journey for us, because it’s a big, big, complex part we had to re-do.”
“In effect [for this year], we decided to change the rear axis, redoing the rear suspension, and therefore the gearbox casing.”
“Which then opens the door to new layouts, especially on the [cooling] side, which once in place allowed us to develop the bodywork.
No Mercedes style side pods at this year’s car reveals
Well zero side pods have not so far featured at any of the 2023 F1 car launches, but many of them have been merely a livery launch and partner marketing event.
Red Bull did a private ‘filming’ day this weekend at Silverstone so the press were not invited. Yet despite the security some ingenious fans clearly found a way to record some footage of the RB19 in action.
Pictures and video appear to suggest that Red Bull have integrated into the RB19 the Mercedes sidepod and air intake design from last season.
#RB19 on track today in Silverstone!
— AMRacingF1 (@AMRacingF1) February 10, 2023
Media suggest a Red Bull F1 bluff
Media comment has been cautious over these images should it be they are some kind of pre-season bluff.
The reason they are highly likely to represent the real RB19 design is two fold.
Firstly, were Red bull trying to throw their competitors a curve ball, the car reveal in New York would have been the starting point.
The second reason is simply time.
At the first test in Barcelona last year, Mercedes arrived with no indication of their “zero sidepod” design. One week later in Bahrain a completely different look was revealed.
Red Bull’s F1 bluff is not in fact a bluff
However, this years pre-season testing is shortest ever with just 3 days per team. This is why most teams have used a ‘filming’ day to shake down their cars – even that extra 100km is proving precious.
Time is short and Red Bull don’t have the time to switch in and out fake body parts.
The zero sidepod concept was accepted by most F1 analysts last year as inherently positive. So it may be the case when the new F1 cars hit the circuit in Bahrain that others have indeed copied this much debated airflow design.
Day 1 with the RB19 ✅ More to come in Bahrain 🔜 pic.twitter.com/qAOe3R3T21
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 10, 2023