After a challenging Friday practice session at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin addressed Lewis Hamilton’s recent comments about the difficulties faced by the team in pursuit of Red Bull Racing.
With the introduction of ground effect aerodynamic cars last season, Mercedes encountered difficulties in competing with Red Bull’s RB18, which showcased superior downforce created primarily by the car’s floor. This season, Adrian Newey’s RB19 has been unstoppable, securing victory in all ten grands prix so far and forcing other teams, including Mercedes, to develop B-spec cars in an attempt to narrow the gap.
Mercedes: Why catching Red Bull is too difficult
Ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix in Budapest, Andrew Shovlin, the trackside engineering director for Mercedes, has expressed concerns that the cost cap implemented in Formula 1 is hindering teams’ ability to close the performance gap and challenge Red Bull’s dominance.
Throughout the 2023 F1 season, Red Bull has consistently demonstrated superior performance on all types of tracks, leaving their competitors struggling to keep up. Shovlin shared his insights during the Hungarian Grand Prix, pointing out the challenges teams face when trying to catch up to a competitive car under the cost cap regulations.
“If you launch a competitive car, in a cost cap, it is quite difficult for teams to catch up because if you’ve got a competitive car, you don’t need to be throwing updates at it,” explained Shovlin.
He emphasized the initial advantage Red Bull gained with their highly competitive car, which has made it challenging for rivals like Mercedes and Ferrari to narrow the performance gap over the course of the season.
“They started in a very, very good place, and the fact is, our wind tunnel resource is not very different from theirs, it’s not very different from Ferrari’s. So that initial performance advantage you start with, and it has come down over the year. But when you look at how big it was in Bahrain and Jeddah, it’s always difficult to shut that down in terms of the championship,” added Shovlin.
Hamilton comments on ‘mind-blowing’ factor
Hamilton’s recent remarks highlighted the complexity of the new generation of cars and the crucial role of airflow throughout the vehicle, particularly under the car’s floor. The aerodynamic vortices and flow structures underneath the car have become fundamental to success, but understanding and mastering them present a significant challenge for Mercedes.
The limitations of wind tunnel testing and the need for simulations to comprehend the flow structures further complicate the development process. Hamilton emphasized that the new regulations required the creation of new tools to better understand these complexities, and the team is still working to gain a complete grasp of the car’s dynamics.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 21, 2023
We can’t see what’s happening under the car
“The thing we can’t see is the airflow throughout the car,” said the seven-time World Champion. “That is just limited when you look in the wind tunnel because there’s only a certain amount you can move the car.
“There’s simulations with the new rules that we have, and all the new tools we have had to create and understand the flow structures underneath the car.
“All those vortices would blow your mind if you saw what’s happening underneath the car, which is a lot different to the previous generations of cars. Working through that just takes time.
“And obviously, you’re very limited with resources as well. So you have to be careful which decisions you make.
“If you go full steam ahead in one direction, you could lose weeks of development and it could be tenths of performance, so you have to have to be very methodical in the way they go through that process. I wish it was faster but unfortunately, it is not.”
Mercedes clarifies Hamilton comments
Andrew Shovlin echoed Hamilton’s sentiment, stating that the flow structures under today’s cars are more intricate and transient than before. While the team is making progress in understanding the effects of changes, they haven’t yet reached the same level of understanding they had with the 2020/2021 regulations.
“Well, with the old regulations, which we had a good grasp on, you didn’t need to consider the car in the same dynamic sense,” he said.
“You were just saying it’s at a certain roll angle, steer angle, certain ride heights and in doing that, you could capture what was going on.
“The flow structures under our car, under every car, are more complicated now and they’re more transient.
“And what Lewis was referring to was really the fact that, as other teams will have had to develop their tools to cope with this new set of aero regulations, we’re getting to a stage where the correlation is good, we can start to understand the effect of changes.
“But we’re not at the position we were with the regulations in 2020/2021 where you had a really, really good grasp of everything that was going on. So he’s just referring to the fact that the way the floors work is more complicated than it used to be.”
Despite Mercedes’ current position as the runner-up in the Constructors’ Championship, they face a significant 208-point deficit behind Red Bull. The battle to close the gap continues, and the team is determined to methodically address the challenges posed by the new generation of cars in their pursuit of success.