Mercedes W14 new hope or just a false dawn?

No sooner than has Toto Wolff declared the concept behind the W13/14 as dead, than it rises to meet the challenge of the Aston Martin. 

Much has been written about the Mercedes ‘concept’ since the introduction of the new car design regulations last season. The ‘concept’ at first was represented by the striking looks of the car which had ditched the traditional side pods for an all new look.



Mercedes concept more than ‘zeropods’

However, the ‘zeropod’ feature for many became representative of what became known as the Mercedes design concept and the idea of ditching the ‘zeropod’ look became synonymous with a change in design philosophy.

The reason Mercedes didn’t simply attach some traditional side pods to the 2022 car was because the fundamentals of their design concept runs much deeper than this.

Of course the side pods on the Red Bull cars are crucial to the management of the downwash airflow for their concept, but this was not the case for Mercedes.



Toto declares Mercedes ‘concept’ dead

Were Mercedes to truly ditch their concept this would require a complete redesign of the car, which as both Lewis and Toto Wolff have explained this year is impossible within the cost cap.

The opportunity to do this was over the winter but Mercedes decided to retain their ‘concept’ within the fundamentals of the W14. As Mike Elliot, the team’s technical director described it, “it has retained the DNA of the W13.”

Toto’s announcement after qualifying in Bahrain that the Mercedes design concept was now dead by stating “it will never be competitive” has thrown a shroud of confusion over the topic of what Mercedes can do to improve now – without a complete redesign of the car.



Mercedes set for incremental evolution

Well the team can move incrementally towards either the Ferrari or Red Bull design concept/philosophy though they will always be hampered to some extent by fixed pieces of architecture they can’t replace until next season.

Whilst limited in its scope, this approach at least allows the Mercedes team to begin developing ideas and upgrades that move them in a different direction/concept which can come to completion when the car for 2024 hits the drawing board.

However, for the die hard techies in Brackley who believed in the concept behind the W13 and fought for it to be carried over to this year, they will have taken heart from the last time the car hit the track in anger at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.



Russell qualifies ahead of Ferrari and Aston

Firstly, Lewis Hamilton had a troublesome weekend, so we’ll take the performance capability of the W14 as it was run by George Russell – who Hamilton admitted had a different setup.

Russell qualified ahead of a Ferrari and an Aston Martin and neither Sainz or Stroll had particular troubles which explains this. The Mercedes was just quick enough over a single lap to beat two of its main rivals.

Further, during the race in Jeddah, George was capable of living with Fernando Alonso’s pace for large parts of the race.



Mercedes and Aston Martin race pace closely matched

During the closing stages Aston Martin were concerned Fernando may have a time penalty coming his way and so asked their driver to open a lead of 5 seconds over George Russell behind in P4.

Although the Spaniard was able to do this it was by only between half a tenth and a tenth per lap and both drivers were on the same tyres and had fitted them on the same lap during the safety car period.

The top speeds of both cars outside the DRS zone were similar which gives Mercedes something of a conundrum.



Was Toto’s pronouncement premature?

Put simply in the hands of George Russell the W14 competed admirably with the Aston Martin piloted by Fernando Alonso which is considered to be the class of the field behind the Red Bulls.

When Toto called off the pursuit of the current Mercedes design concept, his eye was on the Red Bull cars. If for now Mercedes lower their gaze and consider the rest of the field they may in fact not be in the trouble they think.

The W14 when launched it was set for a big package of upgrades at round 4 in Imola. These could set the car and the team on a new trajectory and placing them firmly behind Red Bull as the best of the rest.



Imola upgrades will prove decisive

Whether the competitive nature of their car when compared to the Aston Martin in Jeddah proves to give a glimmer of hope to those responsible for the Mercedes design concept or ushers in a false dawn is yet to be seen.

However, given the time constraints of shifting design concepts there will be those in Brackley now hoping they yet have time to prove their ideas were worthy before the guillotine falls and they are forced to build a Red Bull lookalike.

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