Changes at Mercedes but concern over W02

2011 F1 season preview

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Mercedes W02, Valencia, 2011
#7Michael Schumacher
#8Nico Rosberg
Form 2006-2010:4, 8, 9, 1, 4
2010 points:214

Ross Brawn has admitted Mercedes are looking for a big improvement from their car in the test in Barcelona this week.

Mercedes are hunting a missing second in performance with a car upgrade ahead of the first race of the season.

The team had a disappointing 2010 after winning both championships in 2009.

But it was also a year of transition, of adjusting to a new management and ownership structure following the takeover by Mercedes – to say nothing of the cut in staff following Honda’s departure from F1.

There have been developments in this area in recent weeks, including the completion of the Mercedes purchase and the arrival of Bob Bell from Renault as new technical director.

The latter should bring a significant boost to the team’s car development. The team couldn’t match the progress of the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren last year.

As they struggled to integrate new parts such as the F-duct onto their car, Mercedes found themselves fighting a rearguard action from the likes of Renault.

Matters weren’t helped by the unusual split air intake approach the team took. They have abandoned it this year but two other teams (Force India and Lotus) have taken their lead and are persisting with it.

After a complete change in their driver line-up last year Mercedes are sticking with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg in 2011.

However with Jock Clear set to leave the team and Andrew Shovlin taking on the role of chief race engineer, the drivers will each have new race engineers.

Mark Slade will engineer Schumacher’s car and Tony Ross, who was Rosberg’s race engineer at Williams, will rejoin the driver from the Malaysian Grand Prix (Clear will remain for Australia).

It’s a lot to ask the team to suddenly step up to the level of the front runners – even before acknowledging the problems they seem to have with this year’s car.

But having been a reasonably secure fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship it’s not difficult to see them coming under more pressure from Renault, Williams and possibly others in 2011.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “Changes at Mercedes but concern over W02”

  1. Lots of changes and it doesn’t sound promising. If the car isn’t competitive this could be the last we see of Mr Schumacher in Formula 1 car.

    1. I think thats unlikely, he could have given up at Ferrari long before they were fully competitive.

      He seems committed, it is still a relatively newish setup in terms of Mercedes. I think a repeat of the Brawn success would be pretty rare.

      1. Harry Palmer
        7th March 2011, 11:46

        Agreed, Schumi is not a quitter… He seems committed to the three year plan.

        I believe Mercedes will make a big step forward with the updates they are bringing to the last test. They know the reasons why they have been off the front runner’s pace and the package they are running this week is significantly different from the ‘plain’ car they have been running thus far, which had the primary purpose of gaining reliability…

        1. We’ll see. Two years of pounding around in the midfield may change his resolve. It’s different to a 21 year old cutting their teeth in F1 as they try and get the attention of the bigger teams. When you are a 7 times WC you only come back and stick with it if you have a winning car. History tells us this.

          1. Harry Palmer
            7th March 2011, 22:36

            Indeed we will see, though I think they are unlikely to be midfield this year…

            “History tells us this.” When did a seven times world champion last make a comeback?

          2. Well as a 2 times WDC he spent 2 or more years pounding around in the midfield with Ferrari when he first joined them… I can only imagine that another 5 titles would help with the patience factor somewhat?

  2. Is it just me or have Brawn/Mercedes not developed their front wing at all over 2009, 2010 and pre season 2011? It looks pretty much identical to the way it did in early 09 in Brawn guise? When you compare it to Renault in 2010 (who brought a new wing to just about every race) it just doesn’t seem good enough from a “works” team. Granted its not the only area teams should be developing, but it is a pretty crucial area of the car.

    2009 – Brawn BGP001, shakedown:

    2009 – Brawn GP, Abu Dhabi:

    2010 – Mercedes GP, preseason 2010:

    2010 – Mercedes GP, Abu Dhabi:

    2011 – Mercedes GP, preseason:

    1. slight difference, on the Brawn 09 shakedown they had 3 horizontal wings on each side, now its only broken down into 2.

      Lazyness. The front wing is where the car derives all its air from.

        1. God I miss the bumble bee livery.

        2. Nice comparison. Wow, that Renault new front wing looks like a Viennetta!

      1. The 2011 wing does look a little different, but I agree that Ross has just tried sticking to some winning elements of the 2009 car. I really do not expect much from their upgrade, but lets see if they could surprise us with a new wing.

        1. Agreed, I’m expecting a few tenths more from Mercedes, but not the whole second they apparently need. That said, I’d expect most of the big boys to improve by that much too.

          1. I’m guessing McLaren will make the biggest jump forward from testing to the first race. Mercedes will probably struggling to hold onto 4th, just like the end of last year. Although Renault without Kubica may not be able to take as many points off of them as last year…

      2. Yea, lazyness. They probably can’t be ***** to develop the front wing. They might have forgotten about it actually.

        And yes, the car derives all its air from the front wing, integrating over the bodywork and finally differentiating over the lower rear wing. But what about the fresh air that logarithms under the car and t-distributions over the rear main element?

    2. They must have been really content with that wing!

      No suprise Ross is expecting a lot from their new aero package coming in, after 2 years of development :p

    3. I read that they are purposfully using a 2010 wing on their test car at the moment, & that they don’t want to show their definitive race wing until Melbourne….Autosport I think in the Ross Brawn Interview..

  3. I found this to give a pretty nice inside look on what Merc did wrong last year.

    Even if they are almost a second behind right now, if they make up at least some 2-3 tenths relative to the Ferrari and RB cars, one would think they have the drivers and their team is getting there as well.

    I hope to see both of them on the podium at least several times, and I would love it if Schu or Nico or even both could have a thought at contending the WDC.

    1. Good stuff!

    2. Very interesting. Particularly about how they had to use areas of the floor for their F-duct, that they had planned for later updates they could no longer implement. Also interesting to hear Brawn be pretty realistic about Nico beating Schumi last year, and basically saying that the tires are not an excuse.

  4. I think Schumacher will get back on track when it comes to his own performances but will struggle when it comes to race wins and podiums. It’s hard to tell where the car is at right now but if they need a second and the other teams are all developing as well it looks like they’re in for a tough time at the start at least. However, Schumacher’s had a year back, the Pirelli’s might suit him more and he’s had some input with the car so he should look much more at home even if the results may not show it.

    1. I’m such an idiot I ahd two tabs open and meant to stick this on the Schumacher article! Oh well it’s still about Mercedes :P

      1. You’re not alone, the World Champion is also an idiot (Vettel at least admitted he was an idiot in AUS 2009).

        1. (Sorry, couldn’t resist it) ;)

    2. You have a point though: Schumacher’s improvement (if it happens), will definetly help Mercedes imrpove.

      1. That’s true.

  5. If you are a fanatic F1 visit and play to QF1

    Limited places.

  6. Just off the top of my head I can’t think of any other team last year that had so much to contend with when starting a new season. RBR we’re starting to pull them apart halfway through 2009 so this will have hit 2010 development no doubt…and that’s just the car. Really, really keen to see the W02 perform this year. I don’t know if they’re quite up there with Ferrari and RBR but if the McLaren doubts prove to be true we could see a shift in power in the top 3.

    1. I don’t know if they’re quite up there with Ferrari and RBR but if the McLaren doubts prove to be true we could see a shift in power in the top 3.

      TBH, I expect it to be Red Bull, Ferrari and Renault, in that order.

      Mercedes and McLaren need to find an awful lot of time to be up with those teams, at present.

      1. Considering both McLaren and Mercedes GP have the best engines, there is going to be some serious head-scratching going on if that’s the case!

        1. Engines are a much of a muchness these days. Red Bull would have probably won the 2010 championships more easily using Cosworth engines. Even Cosworth themselves reckoned that they would have won quite a few races had their engine been in the back of the Red Bull.

          Aero is King in the F1 world. It’s what makes 80-90% of the difference between the fastest and slowest cars.

          1. But that 10-20% all counts ;)

            I know the engines are all very close, but that few % can make all the difference.

  7. Harry Palmer
    7th March 2011, 15:19

    I’m confident that Ross Brawn knows what he’s doing! He has said Mercedes deliberately started testing with a ‘plain’ car to establish reliability and it was always their intention to go to the final test/first race with a significant upgrade. They were further hampered by cooling problems which meant their performance was restricted as a result of the compromises they had to put in place to deal with it. The upgrade will deal with this and should move them, if not up to then very close to, the level of RBR and Ferrari – dependant on what they come up with obviously.

    All this concern about how far behind Mercedes are seems to be missing the point really, as if Ross Brawn is to be believed, they were never likely to be at the front straight away. Of course it could all be bluff, but I doubt it…

  8. Hard to know without much to go by given that they’ve got improvements to come, but as has been pointed out, so do other teams. I would initially say that if they need to find a full second then thats gonna have to be some wicked aero improvement to find that. And who knows, maybe they will. Maybe it will help with tire degradation and that will be a huge factor vs. the competition. Somehow I doubt it though. My gut feeling is that they will not have progressed enough vs. the competition to make that much of a dent compared to last year. That said, the tires remain a huge variable and methinks that how fast somebody is depends on when during the race one is asking. Sounds like the tires are only so durable and can fall off after only a few hot laps, so I’m thinking BE may not need the sprinklers as the Pirellis might provide just as much shakeup during the race. With little to go by for now, I just can’t imagine Merc putting up a sustained fight vs. Red Bull, (the natural favourite for 2011 as defending Champs) Ferrari, and Mac, and perhaps Renault.

  9. It used to be that Williams would have been a “natural favourite”, but lately they are relegated to mid field mediocrity status. F1 can be hard sometimes.

    And definitely better to have Pirelli’s tyres than Bernie’s sprinklers. Because if you didn’t have Pirelli’s tyres……….

  10. AUTOSPORT F1 editor @eddstrawF1 says (last day of Barcelona test):

    “They definitely aren’t hiding anything. The car looks pretty bad on track – lacking front end grip and forcing the drivers to work hard to get it to do what they want, which is never a good way to carry speed through corners.

    The car seems to be something of the order of 1.5 seconds off the pace, which is definitely a big problem. Ross Brawn has said that the plan was to launch a “plain” car for the start of testing and then do a big upgrade for Bahrain, but you can be sure that the plan wasn’t to run a car with such plain performance.

    The team has been switching between two versions of its front wing – one with two slots cut in the main element – suggesting aero problems. Our technical consultant, Gary Anderson, firmly believes that a two-element front wing is more unstable than a three-element one, and it’s possible that this is to deal with airflow separation problems.

    Nico Rosberg was at his fastest running this wing yesterday, so we will probably see a new front wing based on that concept. There will also be new exhausts – Brawn has promised an innovative design – as well as other aerodynamic revisions. Although it would be an exaggeration to call it a B-spec car, this will be a major package and bolting it on at the eve of the first race is not something you would do in an ideal world, as it will change the characteristics of the car. Also, new exhausts can lead to overheating problems.

    This is not the kind of schedule you would design, unless forced to by circumstances, so the team has a lot of work to do.”

    1. Harry Palmer
      7th March 2011, 22:53

      Yes and soon after they announced the cooling issues they were having which accounted for the performance issues…

      As Ross Brawn said in the article,

      “The biggest challenge for us so far has been a cooling problem,” Brawn acknowledged.

      “The short-term modifications that we made to the launch-specification car cost a reasonable amount of performance.

      “The solution has been incorporated into the bodywork design for our upgrade package and will recover that performance before the first race.”

  11. for the round up keith-
    nice little vid to get our blood pumping!
    check out liuzzi twitching coming onto the back straight.

  12. theRoswellite
    8th March 2011, 0:57

    The question for me is a bit more long term…

    What kind of pressure is going to make its way across the channel if the Mercedes team continues to perform as it did last year? With the new shift in ownership one can imagine there will be less patience with the new ’employees’.

    After all, if an energy drink company can win both the driver’s and constructor’s championship what should the most sophisticated car company in the world be able to do…?…a few podiums doesn’t seem to be the right answer.

    1. I agree. I remember that Mercedes were hoping to win a title shortly after they purchased the team from Brawn. They said that they wanted quick results, and that they were willing to pull the plug if results weren’t coming in. I guess Schumacher wasn’t quite the advantage they were expecting, and now the team looks like it is in a little bit of trouble.

  13. I still doubt that Mercedes is up in the pace. They are struggling just like Mclaren. Schumacher needs to come up with something,doesn’t matter what the car is he needs to beat Nico.

  14. Yeah, to me the most telling is that comment that the Autosport F1 editor makes about the Merc ‘lacking front end grip’…if true, that must be the last thing MS needed, and exactly what they needed to tackle vs. last year’s car at least in order to see MS do better. NR should presumably have less of an issue with this, just like last year. Either way, it sounds like they are starting off on their hind foot vs. some of the other teams. Button is giving the nod to Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of what he has observed in testing, and it would be hard to argue with him at this point, so Merc and the others sound like they are in for an uphill battle. Who knows though right? For now all the teams’ reliability once racing in anger is an unknown, as well as tire degradation etc. Methinks we won’t know who stands where in the initial 2011 pecking order until all the pit stops are done and we see where they shake out in the last 3rd of the first race.

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