The Formula One teams have cleary been examining the thousands of photographs taken and TV footage shot to understand what their competitors are doing differently and Mercedes are no different from the rest.
Toto Wolff believes it is clear from looking again at the the images of the Red Bull RB19 on track last week that it is running much closer to the ground than the new Mercedes W14 equivalent.
Red Bull running lower than Mercedes
Last season we regularly saw the Mercedes W13 bouncing and sparking its way along the track while the RB18 serenely glided on a cushion of air well above the track surface.
When Mercedes did raise their ride height, the car was struggling to score points. When lowered again it caused vicious bouncing such that Lewis Hamilton could barely extricate himself from the car following the race in Baku.
A war of words broke out in the media between Toto Wolff and Christian Horner who told the Mercedes chief to simply raise his car’s ride height to make the drivers life more comfortable.
Mercedes expected regs change to hurt Red Bull
Wolff in turn petitioned the FIA to change the regulations to force all the teams to run with a bigger ground clearance believing it would mitigate Mercedes loss of performance and bring the likes of the Red Bull back towards them.
The FIA bowed to Mercedes’ pressure and regulated for 2023 that the outer edge of the floor in front of the rear wheels must be raised by 15 millimetres.
Further, to prevent teams from just building a car which sits above the minimum prescribed height but flexing downward when loaded, the deflection allowance of 8 millimetres downwards and 12 millimetres upwards is for 2023 restricted to just 5 millimetres each way.
The intention of the FIA was to restrict the teams ability to use the lateral edges to create a physical seal with the ground which they suspected increased the bouncing phenomena.
RB19 “10mm lower than everyone”
Another regulation introduced affected the “throat” of the diffuser. This is where the underfloor Venturi channels accelerate air flow to produce a pressure change, increasing downforce at the rear of the car.
The FIA has decided to raise it by 10mm to reduce the sensitivity of Formula 1 cars to variations of dynamic ride heights (meaning when the car is in motion).
The unanimous opinion from testing was that the 2023 cars suffer less from bouncing than their predecessors but a closer look at the TV footage reveals the Red Bull are now running a car lower to the ground than even Mercedes.
Speaking to AMuS Toto Wolff now observes, “they are ten millimetres lower than everyone else. If we drove that low, the underbody would break.”
F1 cars not FIA approved in testing
TJ13 reported exclusively that Mercedes had discovered issues with the stiffness of its chassis prior to the Bahrain test. Further, the ex-world champions had to revert to a metallic suspension arm compound due to grave concerns over the structural integrity of their carbon arms.
Not only have Red Bull been able to out do Mercedes by running lower to the ground but Wolff adds, “they brake later, accelerate much earlier and gain an incredible amount of time with better traction. If we approach the corners like this, we don’t even get to the apex.”
Of course during testing the cars are not scrutineered by the FIA and the teams can technically run non FIA compliant components.
Mercedes can protest RB19 ride height
Whether Toto Wolff’s observations on the ride height of the RB19 will result in a protest to the FIA will depend on how the results of the FIA scrutineers tests this Friday.
It could be the Mercedes boss is sending a coded message to the FIA to ensure the RB19 is fully compliant with the flex tests of 5mm.
Then again maybe Red Bull decided with the new ground effect regulations to design a car that didn’t push the limits too far in 2022. Given what they learned from last season, they can now push the boundaries further. If this is the case, Mercedes could be 18 months behind the curve before they deliver their Spec-B car midseason.
However, If Red Bull are ordered to reduce the flex of their chassis and stiffen the ride height of the car we saw in testing, the pecking order of last week will no doubt be upended.Red Bull.