US GP upgrade by Mercedes points to bigger war

Formula One has witnessed the utter dominance of Red Bull Racing this season, thanks to their groundbreaking car design and engineering.

But as the cars line up at the Circuit of the Americas for the US Grand Prix, Mercedes are hitting the headlines with a significant upgrade to their car, fuelling speculation of increased competition from Ferrari and McLaren.



Game-changing upgrade for Mercedes?

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was enthusiastic about the new Mercedes upgrade, calling it “our last big update, the biggest of the big updates this season”.

Technical director James Allison was also positive about the upgrade, noting that the true value of the upgrade would be seen in the change in direction it would bring to the team’s understanding of their car’s performance.


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Red Bull’s dominance & rivals’ struggles

According to an insightful article by Mark Hughes in Motor Sport Magazine, Red Bull had an early advantage by developing a successful concept for the ground-effect regulations introduced last year. This gave them a significant lead over rivals Mercedes and Ferrari, who not only adopted different approaches, but continued with those concepts into the current season.

This has allowed Red Bull’s advantage to grow despite resource constraints.


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The story of two giants: Mercedes and Ferrari

Mercedes’ initial design, based on a ‘zero pod’ concept, exhibited severe bounce characteristics. While the team believed this would be addressed in this year’s W14 model, the continuing problems show that the bounce issue masked other underlying problems, as Hughes points out.

Anticipation is building for more Red Bull-inspired designs from Mercedes and Ferrari next year. However, the delay in adopting such strategies raises some fascinating questions. The circumstances for each team have been unique, further complicating the picture.



New Red Bull livery breaks cover




In the case of Ferrari, the outflow-focused aerodynamics of their 2022 car initially showed great promise, possibly even outperforming Red Bull’s RB18, before undergoing significant adjustments. Adding to the complexity was an underlying mechanical issue that forced Ferrari to scale back their engines, clouding the assessment of their aerodynamic concept.

While the team believed their approach had room for development, they later realised its limitations. Unlike Red Bull’s heavily undercut design, which offered greater flexibility for improvement, Ferrari’s initial concept proved to have a more restrictive development ceiling.

This early promise ironically led them astray, a realisation that has only recently been fully acknowledged.



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As for Mercedes, their situation was characterised by a completely different set of challenges. Their previous car, the W13, had a major limitation: severe bounce, particularly in the rear suspension. This problem was so acute that it couldn’t be fully mitigated within the existing design constraints.

The team had hoped that the new W14 would solve this problem and unlock the car’s full potential to compete with Red Bull. However, solving the bounce problem exposed other performance issues that had previously been masked. Although Mercedes managed to reduce the performance deficit, it wasn’t enough to consistently challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Since the Monaco upgrade, the Mercedes car has adopted some Red Bull-like features in its bodywork and front suspension.

However, the core geometry of the car remains compromised by design limitations inherited from its predecessor, particularly in the cockpit layout.


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McLaren’s rise & a bigger battle ahead

McLaren seem to have cracked the code earlier and have shown promise as potentially the second fastest car this season. Lando Norris, one of McLaren’s drivers, was cautiously optimistic about the Austin race, but expects a bigger challenge from Mercedes and Ferrari given the characteristics of the circuit.

The significant upgrade from Mercedes and the growing competition from McLaren suggest a bigger battle ahead at the US Grand Prix.

While Red Bull still appear to be the team to beat, Mercedes’ latest significant update could prove to be a game changer, marking a pivotal moment in the dynamics of this season. Whether Mercedes can finally close the gap on Red Bull remains one of the most eagerly awaited questions as F1 fans prepare for a thrilling weekend of racing in Austin.

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