George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Mercedes to change car concept after W14 fails to close gap to rivals

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Mercedes has accepted it needs to change the philosophy behind its Formula 1 car after starting the new season almost no closer to the front than it was 12 months ago.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton claimed sixth and seventh on the grid for tomorrow’s season-opening race, getting within 0.632s of pole-winner Max Verstappen. The team was 0.68s off the pace at the same track 12 months ago.

Yesterday Hamilton said he doubts the team will be able to reduce the gap to their rivals if they stick with their current concept. Mercedes have pursued a novel solution to the regulations which were introduced last year, featuring distinctively slim ‘zero’ sidepods.

Team principal Toto Wolff says they have accepted they need to make a fundamental change to their car’s design. “I don’t think this package is going to be competitive, eventually,” he told media including RaceFans in Bahrain.

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“We gave it our best go also over the winter and now we just need to all regroup, sit down with the engineers who are totally not dogmatic about anything, there is no holy cows, and decide what is the development direction we want to pursue in order to be competitive to win races.

“It’s not only like last year that you’re scoring podiums and eventually you get there. I’m sure we can win races this season but it’s really the mid- and long-term that we need to look at which decisions you need to take.”

The team suffered porpoising problems throughout last season which it has cured with its latest design. Wolff said the team had realised the performance gains they expected to find from the car, but it hadn’t been enough to make them as competitive with the likes of Red Bull.

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“We hit our targets,” he said. “That’s why we gave it out best shot. And the moment comes and the stopwatch comes out and that showed us that it’s simply not good enough. We haven’t got enough downforce and we need to find solutions to fix that.”

Wolff’s comments indicate the team intends to pursue a change more quickly than the team’s technical director Mike Elliott indicated yesterday. Elliott said the team would wait assess the car’s performance over the coming races before deciding whether and how to change it.

However Wolff made it clear he is not seeking to make changes in the team’s technical department. “In this team we blame the problem and not the person,” he said. “And at the end I have responsibility so I would need to fire myself if I want to do something.

“We have all the ingredients to be successful. It’s people and infrastructure that won eight consecutive championships in a row and we got it wrong last year.

“We thought we can fix it while sticking to this concept of car and it didn’t work out. So we just need to switch our focus onto what we believe can be the right direction, what is it where we are missing.”

The information the team generates this weekend will be “very important” to inform the team’s future direction, said Wolff. “We’re seeing on the GPS where we are lacking performance and we see where we are good.

“So we just need to sort out what that is and whether this is sticking wider sideboards on the car or the really subtle things that bring performance, is a different question. But definitely we will within the group embark on an untreaded path.”

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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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57 comments on “Mercedes to change car concept after W14 fails to close gap to rivals”

  1. How are they gonna do it with budget cap and aero restrictions.

    1. Toto’s ‘some pigs are more equal than others’ scheme again?

  2. But how easily can they change their concept under the budget cap? Perhaps easier said than done in the end.

    1. @jerejj Elliott was asked about that – though more from a point of view of the Aerodynamic Testing Regulations – and his response his here.

      But also Wolff’s comments from the launch suggest this has been in motion for a while.

      1. Jimmy Cliff
        4th March 2023, 21:31

        Well that is simple – they call in the favor they gave AM a few years ago.

        Then Mercedes let AM copy their previous year car and now Mercedes will get various design and windtunnel test results/data from AM.

        Saves Mercedes money and windtunnel time – nobody cares at Mercedes as long as they will win again.

    2. They can change the car concept if they assumed the area of the car that might be performance hindering. The car performed quite well until the Q3 single run on the low fuel, then the car’s performance crumbled. They knew it before, they hoped it isn’t the case although Lewis said he instantly new the car’s basic characteristic during first shakedown. Now they’re sure the low fuel relative performance is an issue. It’s not the aero package. It’s underlying issue Lewis mentioned during the testing a week ago. It can be fixed relatively quickly if the chassis is designed to be modified in certain way.

      1. Scarbs noted during testing that the wings that are attached to the monocoque (that the mirrors sit on), this year they’re screwed into the side of the monocoque, where as last year they were fully part of it. The only reason they’d make them detachable is if they had something already in the works to replace that sidepod area.

  3. And yet not even weeks ago, all that came from Mercedes’ side was ‘we know what we did wrong’ and ‘we know what to improve compared to last year’ and ‘we got it now boys!’.

    At this point, it’s what bothers me most about Formula 1; the lazy throwing around of claims that then get picked up by the likes of Sky F1 to then be used to spend two full hours talking about during the FP’s. I just wish team principles and drivers would keep their mouths shut if they didn’t have anything useful to say.

    1. Some teams are deliberately feeding what you describe. Its intentional and used within the competitive framework. I noticed the judgement/perception/opinion of use of these tools might be might be a cultural thing and vary per country. I personally think it is unsportsmanlike behavior and I would rather see an Olympic mindset and attitude enjoying each others performance. In 2021 I found out however that a large number of UK fans actually feel it is part of the sport to play mind games and launch false PR campaigns at competitors. That would explain a big part of the animosity between Lewis and Max fans (or Rosberg at the time who was also flabbergasted by the unsportsmanlike behavior of his team mate) as the people I know and hang out with all watch to appreciate the effort (technology wise and driver wise) that is being displayed. We regard it a sign of mental weakness if you resort to these antics.

  4. What’s this … on Pole.?
    Were it as easy as Wolff makes it out to be … Just Do-It…. that would be great.
    Somehow I doubt it will be that simple given cost cap limits for this season and next.
    Will they slip backwards before closing the gap.? Probably.
    Like the Harry Potter bus driver said … “Hang on, it’s gonna be a bompy ride…”.

    1. Unless Wolff sees the slap on the wrist Red Bull got for going past the cost cap and decides to go over as well.

      1. If the budget cap penalty is ineffective, it makes sense to breach the cap ofc, however you can only breach it by 5%, it’s not a lot, you don’t magically jump to being competitive with 7 extra millions or whatever, if you go over 5% you probably get dq’d.

  5. We thought we can fix it while sticking to this concept of car and it didn’t work out.

    Wow. So a few days testing and before the first race, they already know the improved 2022 car is a failure? That’s sad.

    1. @david-br

      I reported your comment by accident.

      I agree.. It’s honestly sad because they came up with such an innovative approach, and I was hoping that last year’s struggles would amount to them being more competitive this year. Was looking forward to another Lewis vs Max battle, but I guess that will have to wait another season or two.

      1. @todfod For difference’s sake at least, definitely, it would be good to see them get the concept finally working… I’m not sure what comes next though – rumours (quashed) that there’s a backup concept already waiting, or the new bodywork/reworked sidepod design they’ve already hinted is coming, or just a long slog, starting from zero again. I’m not a fan of the Mercedes design philosophy in general, though, with its low rake and long base. Are they likely to change that? Depends how they’ve resolved the floor issues from last year, I guess. But I imagine not. Seeing that they’ve apparently solved the purpoising, I guess they’ll stick with whatever they’ve got underneath as it’s working. All a bit strangely chaotic despite what Wolff says.

    2. That’s sad.

      What’s sad is that they took it so far.

      They didn’t need to shoot their own foot for 2023, too.

  6. They said they were giving the concept one last chance. And this chance is just one race?
    Now they wasted a lot of precious track time investing on a concept they knew it was hardly going to work, already gave up on it and are likely going back to where they were a year ago running drastically different cars to gather the data they didn’t collect in winter testing because they were again testing cars they didn’t intend to race on.

    They are a mess at the moment. And i think they miss all the personnel that left at recent times to other teams.

    1. Yeah I don’t get how everything unravelled in one week, bonkers management. Should have kept his mouth shut until after the weekend.

    2. “And this chance is just one race?”

      They’ve had a filming day, three days of testing and most of a race weekend.

      At some point, reality has to supersede your beautiful, but fundamentally flawed simulations.

    3. Let’s not forget that they built a car with sidepods for the 2022 tests with no intention of running it.

      Toto says the engineering team are not dogmatic but clearly they are. Fuelled by the arrogance of seven years of dominance they were certain their approach would be a winner despite all the evidence to the contrary.

      Who else has gone into testing for both seasons of the new regs with TWO cars in production?

      Does make you question how much the cost cap is really affecting a team like Mercedes with all their pre-existing resources. Haas claim to be running at the cost cap and they can’t even afford a full pit wall.

      1. @david hiding a radical sidepod between 1 test and another isn’t that different to when red bull turned up to the final test in 2010 with fake exhausts to try to hide their blown diffuser concept until the last minute. Teams could do stuff like that when there was more than one test. Harder to do this year

  7. A few years ago, during a time when Mercedes were unstoppable, Allison was bragging about their low rake set up and took jabs at both RBR and Adrian Newey for their high rake set up.

    However, Newey, known for his unwavering commitment to his ideas, was vindicated when RBR’s high rake RB16B led Max Verstappen to his first championship in 2021. By the end of last year, RBR even managed to introduce the high rake set up to the RB18 though not as extreme as the pre-ground effect era.

    Ironically, Mercedes, who had lobbied for a rule change that favoured their car concept, have decided to switch concept themselves. Their new car will be a combination of RBR and Ferrari’s car concepts.

    1. I think 8 championships on the bounce gives you fair bragging rights, clearly high rake was not the correct way for most of that period as the fastest car never had it.

      1. @slowmo But how much of that was down to maximizing engine superiority they already had for most of that time?
        Once the engines are equal (and maybe Mercedes actually down a bit on power now) the high rake seems to favour more tracks overall.

        1. The Dolphins
          5th March 2023, 2:30

          Hard to say how much was down to engine but fair to say it wasn’t all power unit because there were other teams with the Mercedes PU who were not in championship contention.

        2. @tifoso1989 @david-br @slowmo I’m not sure that the championship win in 2021 was vindication of the high rake setup because the main thing that actually equalised them was the fact that the regulations were changed to reduce the floor edge dimensions which severely hurt the low rake teams. Without that I doubt red bull would have managed to get anywhere near Mercedes in 2021 (and dare i mention that the “win” was controversial?). Allison was essentially right about those regulations as they were originally written

          1. It wasn’t a vindication, these people just like to cry about the engine power and pretend that’s why they won. They had the best PU and aero package that worked better for the majority of circuits. 2021 was simply the regulations finally sufficiently hurt the Mercedes aero philosophy alone to boost Red Bull. Even then, the result wasn’t exactly conclusive in their favour what with them cheating on budget and the rules not being observed for the last race.

      2. @slowmo I don’t believe the high rake was bad. During those 8 years of dominance, even Adrian Newey’s design cannot clearly compensate for the lack of engine performance. Once that got sorted in 2021, they were good. Even during those 8 years of Mercedes dominance, RB was always good in tracks that did not need engine power. Mercedes engine advantage helped them win despite their aero package being weaker compared to RB.

      3. @slowmo
        Those cheap shots were not fair from Allison. As mentioned by @macademianut the high rake concept that Newey never ever put in question wasn’t the reason behind RBR lagging behind Mercedes. Besides, who ended Mercedes dominance of the hybrid era ? It was RBR and they did it with a high rake car.

    2. @tifoso1989 But that’s skipping the part where Newey didn’t win anything of note between 2013-2021. Nearly a decade of failure is hardly something to be bragging about.

      And if their performance suddenly increased but the aerodynamic concept remained the same, that suggests something else made the difference – and that something else is probably a combination of the Honda engine and new floor regulations that limited the Mercedes concept.

      1. Newey didn’t win anything of note between 2013-2021

        He’s used to being #2. The same thing happened from 1999 through 2010.

      2. Coventry Climax
        4th March 2023, 19:56

        MichaelN: That’s skipping the given that Renault failed to live up to their promises year after year, leading to RB saying to Renault to stick it where the sun don’t shine.
        With engines of equal power, I’d put my money on a Newey car. Sure he makes mistakes, he’s human like all of us, but in general I think he’s the superior engineer.

      3. MichaelN,

        Mercedes displayed a cocky attitude when they were winning, and their digs at RBR are now having a more significant impact than ever. While Mercedes’ dominance in the hybrid era can be attributed to their superior PU and excellent chassis, this does not imply that other teams’ designs were subpar.

        However, the mid-2020 ban on qualy modes and Honda’s decision to bring their 2022 PU plans forward to 2021 and create their most powerful PU that also met Newey’s extreme packaging requirements placed RBR in a position to win the championship. Additionally, the 2021 floor changes posed a challenge for Mercedes, but they were able to resolve their issues with the Silverstone upgrade package.

        1. What cocky attitude? They actually had to eat the jabs from other teams almost on a yearly basis, as more and more clampdown on engine performance, plus regulation changes to the chassis, to the tyres, front wing, floor, rear brake ducts, etc, came into force. If the regulations hadn’t been touched to the extent that they have been, Mercedes would still be on top.

    3. Redbull only had a chance in 2021 because of the regulation changes for that year that affected the rear of the Mercedes. They lost relative performance to Redbull from one year to another. Rear brake ducts and floor/diffuser, if I am not mistaken.

  8. Who is getting fired for staking his career on this concept?

    1. we blame the problem and not the person

      One (or multiple) people were the problem here, pushing for their ill-fated concept based on simulation data that didn’t correlate with reality.

    2. Coventry Climax
      4th March 2023, 20:08

      I wouldn’t mind mr. Wolff firing himself. Not one bit. But I also don’t care for Mercedes one bit, so if he decides to keep himself in his position, fine with me.
      It still rings in my ears; when the regulations changed and Hamilton was asked, he said his team doesn’t make mistakes.
      Well, they do, and the biggest of them is making the same mistake a second time. In F1, that borders idiocy. And under who’s responsability again? Which makes claiming they don’t blame the people rather lame.
      Maybe the team’s been hurt by people leaving. Can’t blame them; wouldn’t want to work for mr. Wolff for all the money in the world.
      They’ve got their string of championships -through clever lobbying for their powerplant mainly- and now, hopefully, it’s time for other teams to fight for the championship. Quite an improvement actually.

    3. I hope they don’t become like Ferraris. At this level of competition, ideas like this might hit or miss. But, you need to let people try and fail; but if you keep firing people, people will tend to become too conservative.

      1. People need to be held accountable for keeping a design that was the result of bad data.

        If they are not, that sets the whole design group up for failure cause everyone knows the person/people were wrong, and ignored reality to the point of losing all authority to make decisions.

        1. People need to be held accountable for keeping a design that was the result of bad data.

          Nobody would use a design knowing that it is derived from bad data. If the problem is bad data, the problem is not in the decisions, but in the tools and tests. For sure Mercedes saw compelling reasons to pursue this car concept. This was not a single persons’s or a group’s “mistake”. They saw a potential to be unlocked, but that turned out to be more difficult than expected, also for not anticipating certain problems such as the porpoising. But kudos to them for being bold and for trying. Now they will reach a point where they will have to either finally unlock that car’s potential, or choose another avenue if they cannot get their heads around this car. Fail fast, learn fast. More important than the blame game – which will prevent people from taking risks – is to learn fast and correct course. They had a chance to fix the problems for this year. If the next updates in the pipeline don’t do it, then it is time to go back to the drawing board.

          1. If the problem is bad data, the problem is not in the decisions, but in the tools and tests.

            … until you run the car on track and get real data back.

            That first real piece of data was gathered on Feb 19th, 2022, 378 days before Toto Wolff would announce Mercedes ditching their ill-fated concept.

            At that point, someone or a group of people in Mercedes decided to trust their bad simulations over reality and pursue that mirage regardless of what data the car produced on track. And they were high enough in the team that they dragged everyone else with them.

            That’s who needs to be held accountable. Not for getting bad simulation data, but for believing it over reality, losing all authority in the process.

  9. 2022: wasted first test on a car that wasn’t the final one, bragged about having a 1 lap ahead concept which resulted in a failure

    2023: wasted the only test on a car that once again wasn’t the final one

    They like wasting tests apparently

  10. Sounds like they’ve been designing the “no-zero-pod” option for sometime, but are not yet ready to use it, so are sticking with the current concept until then.

    I doubt Merc would have gone full-in on the initial concept for a second season, only to announce they will ditch it after the first qualifying session. It’s quite possible when they said “we know where we’ve gone wrong”, the plan was always to re-design away from it.

  11. Humble pie. Plan b was already cooking, maybe we’ll see it in Baku. I think there logic makes sense. They struggled with porpoising, they have that fixed and wanted to see if there concept was actually competitive, but suspected it wouldn’t be based on the lack of meaningful success at the back end of last year. If the gap was smaller maybe sticking with the concept would’ve been worthwhile. Abandoning now is sensible but would presume that they can take something from the failure to give them a good basis for the future concept. It’ll just take time…

  12. Will Lewis stick around for more experimenting with car concepts or is the actual 2023 car still a work in progress and did this GP come too soon? They gained development time after the first half of the 2022 season because of the rubbish results so maybe they just started working on the alternative car for this year after the summer break. That would make it logical that it’s not done yet. But then… Why all the theatrics? Could have said it would take into this season to develop something new and better…. They need to get a working car soon or Lewis will probably become fed up with fighting to be best of the rest after Red bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin and will likely quit. Remember he doesn’t have a contract after this year.

  13. The only time I’ve experienced situations where organizations stick with a bad idea is when the boss’ family relations occupy positions in the firm, that they are not qualified for. Merc spent all of last year with a bad design. Not only is there design horrible, their computer design simulations are also rubbish. Their iterative improvements last year were horrible. And they still showed up this season, with the same design, tweaked a bit. How can this be going on in an organization that is supposedly dedicated to excellence? Who is sitting at the top determining who the designers are and which design to proceed with? That someone at the top is really fond of whomever is producing these horrible designs or else they would have changed direction last season at the break.

    1. last race of the year, a week after a 1-2 in Brazil, they were again off the pace and slower than Ferrari, whose car by that point had no upgrades for nearly 10 races.

      They did improve the bouncing but the car was too slow to win in all but a couple of races. They didn’t cut the gap at all and still insisted in the same concept. And now it’s too late to start from scratch without writting the year off.

      1. To give credit where it is true, Mercedes found 1 extra tenth more than Red Bull, while having significantly more CFD/windtunnel time allotment and some extra budget.

        1. *due

  14. I’m guessing the replacement car will look quite a bit like the RB.

  15. “Yes, we have to copy Red Bull, just like everyone else”.

  16. The Dolphins
    5th March 2023, 2:36

    The question is when? No doubt they will know which track is really unfavourable to their no sidepod concept and aim to introduce a solution by then at least. What is interesting is the current geometry gives them plenty of room to add bodywork but any more bodywork will mean more weight

  17. Let me make a guess from my almost zero expertise in aerodynamics, and bits and pieces I heard from Scarbs.

    Last year Mercedes needed the car very close to the ground, and stiff, to perform. When they had that, pace was good, but straight line speed was still lacking. So, their floor didn’t work very well and their car was draggy. What would they have fixed for 2023? Try to make the car work with less stiff suspension, helped by the raised floor, and make improvements to the floor to generate more and more consistent downforce. Meanwhile, improving the other surfaces to reduce drag. Their top speed doesn’t seem as bad as last year, but they seem to lack traction, from what I understand from Lewis. So, their floor is still lacking, and although they often say that the zero-pod has nothing to do with it, maybe part of the problem is that they can’t properly seal the edge of the floor to the same extent as the Redbull-like teams, because they don’t have the same kind of aggressive out-wash from under the side pods. They try to achieve that with other tricks but they don’t work as neatly. Did you see the ugly purple flow-vis on their barge board and zero-pod area? It looked like a mess. Nothing like the clear flow lines on the Redbull. Maybe a lot more turbulent air in that area coming from the front tyres, because it is more exposed and doesn’t force the dirty air away from the edge of the floor.

    But then again, this could be completely nonsense. Let’s not pretend that we, armchair experts, know what the problem is.

    1. TBH it’s all a bit unclear in terms of reporting. Mercedes have said they’ll introduce a new sidepod design at Baku (Bahrain>Saudi Arabia>Australia>Baku – so 3 more races after today but two months away, time for more tweaks I guess). That design is said to be unlike anything else on the grid, including themselves.
      So my question is: is this change in concept Wolff means? Or something even more radical? Or basically both – change the sidepod design at Baku, change other stuff over the rest of the year and maybe even bigger changes for next year?
      Another question is why change the sidepods 4 races in? Maybe it does make sense to test out the original concept and sacrifice just 3 races if it is disproved as fundamentally flawed (as it seems to have been). Or maybe like McLaren, also making a big upgrade at Baku, they saw this issue coming and were already planning to switch but haven’t had time to implement – only McLaren fessed up that they messed up, whereas Mercedes are claiming it’s all under careful control.

  18. I think it’s come down to the fact HAM has said the car will not win , he’s done with experimenting. They rely on him to make it a winning car.

    When you see Aston Martin gain 2.5sec in 6 months you know you have gone the wrong way.

    Plan B coming in Baku, Merc will be in the fight this year but will be a championship contender in 24.

  19. I don’t get it, why abandon the zero-pod concept? They can just say larger sidepods are unsafe and get FIA to ban sidepods surely?

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