Mercedes answered one burning question of the off-season when the team presented its new W14 on Wednesday: would the deposed champions discard the aggressive design concept which was the hallmark of its least successful car for 11 years?
Mercedes clearly still have faith in their core concept. The team consistently said towards the end of last year they did not believe their unique approach to sidepod design was the reason for the porpoising problems which blighted their campaign and, despite some improvements, persisted to the end of the season.
However, much as was the case in 2022, Mercedes is planning a revision to the car which appeared at launch. With only one pre-season test this year instead of two, that change isn’t due to come until after the first race.
“The sidepods will change, not very soon, but we’re looking at solutions,” Wolff told media including RaceFans. “But it’s not a core fundamental performance part, as we judge.”
“I think it’s important to be bold in this sport, and I’m still proud of the solutions that were put in the car last year,” he explained. “Our sidepod design is not something that we believe was fundamentally the reason why we didn’t perform.
“We’re looking, there is no holy cows in our concept. It’s not that we don’t want to follow anybody’s ideas. We kept staying with the narrow sidepod as it is, but you could well see some development from now on, that could be coming with the upgrades and the sidepods.”
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Mercedes’ bitter experience of 2022 led them to rethink their approach to development.
“Last year we learned a tough lesson,” said Wolff. “Because we knew that we are going to bring an upgrade package for test number two, that was worth a second-and-a-half, in a way you’re then looking at the first test and thinking ‘well, that’s not really relevant because that’s not going to be the car’.
“Then we put that on the track and it wasn’t performing at all as we expected. So this year we went the other the other way around.”
Having been misled by their expected performance of the W13, Mercedes’ priority is to verify its successor behaves as their simulations predict.
“What you’ve seen is for a large part the car that we are going to race, also that we’re going to test, because it’s fundamentally important to understand the platform and how the car behaves, rather than keeping some bits in the background that may add a tenth or two on pure aero performance,” Wolff explained.
More drastic changes to the car would have left Mercedes with more variables to juggle. “If you want to change your concept completely, you’re making not one step back, but probably two or three,” said Wolff. “That’s why we stayed where we are.
“And I love the fact that we are bold, we stayed bold and we are just continuing to follow what the science says for us.”
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The team has tackled one shortcoming of the 2022 car directly by removing more paint, returning to the predominantly black livery of its 2020-21 designs, to bring the car down to the minimum weight limit.
“We are on the weight limit of what we wanted to achieve,” said Wolff. “Obviously when we looked at all the weight savings, everybody needs to make a commitment. So it is really a performance issue. There is not tons of weight that you can save on the paint, but it shows the intent of what we do.”
While the car outwardly looks similar to its predecessor, Elliott and his team are hoping to see the fruits of a “big winter” when it hits the track for the first time today at Silverstone for a shakedown test.
“When you look at where we were last year, I think we made some progress towards the end of the season, but we knew it was going to be a big winter. We knew we needed to dig deep.
“It’s been amazing to sort of watch the efforts both in Brackley and in Brixworth that’s gone into this car. A huge amount of hours, huge amount of intellectual thought to try and get to the design that we’ve got to and let’s hope it’s a good one.”
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