McLaren’s huge step forward during the F1 British Grand Prix weekend both in qualifying and the race has once again created a debate over the modern F1 cars’ sidepod concept.
Mercedes famously came into the new car designer in 2022 with a zeroed concept which most F1 technical writers felt was revolutionary.
Mercedes refuse to copy Red Bull
It indeed was revolutionary as it marked the end of an era when the Mercedes car designs from 2014 had been all dominant.
McLaren now like other teams in their latest upgrade clearly moved toward the Red Bull sidepod philosophy known as the downwash concept.
However, Mercedes have persistently maintained that sidepods and bodywork are not something they are prepared to copy from Red Bull because they are not a major factor in there current cars performance.
The ex-world champions did bring their B-Spec car to Monaco this season which ditched the zeroed deign and moved towards the Red Bull philosophy, yet the W14 remains visibly significantly different from the Reed Bull car running away with both championships.
Hamilton criticises design team
Lewis Hamilton took a swipe at Mercedes’ design team earlier this season lambasting them for “not listening” to him over the design of their car. He also praise Red Bull’s car design guru Adrian Newey as a genius, in a clear indication he believes the RB19 design is the way his own team should go.
Despite claiming third at his home race in Silverstone last week, Hamilton was again on the attack when talking about where Mercedes need to improve.
Lewis claimed in Silverstone, “I know the direction we should be taking,” but also gave the impression he had to win hearts and minds back at Mercedes HQ.
Yet when questioned by motorsport.com about the Mercedes’ decision not to copy the Red Bull concept, Wolff stubbornly revealed:
Wolf claims they rejected Red Bull concept
“We had the sidepod concept and the bodywork in the tunnel very early on already [before 2022], to see which avenues you could open up and how much it would add to performance.
“And the relative loss of downforce, the way we measure it, was substantial. So, it’s not something that we wanted to follow up early in the year.”
Toto has repeatedly over the past 18 months referred to the fact that his team will follow the data.
Following the recent big upgrade revealed in Monaco, the Mercedes boss stated:
Mercedes tech team in a muddle
”We’ve just got to collect the data and set the car up in a good way. Over the last two and a half, three years, we’ve had a really good race car and less so a qualifying car. So Sundays look more positive than it looks on qualifying days.”
It is this ambiguity which Hamilton is seeking to put to bed. The team appear confused as to why their whiz design isn’t working and press on again and again to fix the real life performance which does not meet the theoretical data.
Even the terminology of the car design is muddled. Prior to the winter break and the redesign of the W13, Toto Wolff claimed this years car would retain the ‘DNA’ of their 2022 challenger.
Yet at this years car launch in February, Mike Elliot contradicted his boss explaining, “We believe there was a lot of goodness in the W13, along with some things that we didn’t like.
Stubborn over “goodness”
“For the W14, it’s about taking that goodness and carrying it forward, and correcting the issues that we had in the W13.”
“When you look at the W14, you will see the DNA of the W13 but also a lot of evolution and detail improvement. That may surprise some people but in all the testing we have done, we have seen no reason to move away from our concept.”
Of course since then Elliot has been replaced with James Allison and the B-Sped car delivered. But this design is still a half way house between where Mercedes believed the data was leading them and the Red Bull design which has won 10 out of 10 races.
Asked after the British Grand Prix about the direction Mercedes design team were now considering, Wolff was again evasive with his answer.
Wolff evades the question
“Will we change our design direction? I think we have a great group of aerodynamicists led by James [Allison] and I’m sure that it will be a consideration seeing the step they [McLaren] made.”
Yet again Toto refuses to accept his team will produce a Red Bull lookalike car arguing, “The sidepods and the bodywork are just one part of the chassis, and it clearly looks like there are interesting solutions that it opens up,” he said.
Of course this is true, but Mercedes will need to redesign their chassis and tub for 2024 as Hamilton has already pointed out he is sat way further forward than his Red Bull counterparts. Changing chassis and tub in mid season is impossible since the introduction of the cost cap given the multiple safety tests the team would have to undertake again and again.
Finally on McLaren’s leap forward Wolff argues no one can really tell why this has occurred given the underfloor design is where he believes the magic really exists.
Toto needs Occam’s razor
“But most of the performance comes from the floor and the diffuser, and we haven’t seen how they interpreted the regulations and how they’ve done it.
“In my opinion, it’s just the fact that we see that the strong cars look a little bit the same when you look from the side and from top down, and certainly that played in our minds already back in the day. Maybe that’s just more an indication about where it goes.”
It could be someone needs to take Toto aside and explain the Occam’s razor principle which states, the simplest explanation is preferable to the one which is more complex.
Maybe Hamilton has a point
Maybe the reason the cars [Aston Martin and McLaren] that look like the Red Bull and have been quicker than those that don’t is because their top of the car aerodynamic philosophy works better than the rest.
Whilst the new 2022 regulations relocated a lot of the downforce form the upper bodywork to under the floor, it is still responsible for about 50% of the downforce the modern F1 cars achieve.
Maybe looks are important Toto?
And maybe Lewis Hamilton knows a thing or two about Formula One cars.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 12, 2023