Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Mercedes considering “radical changes” to W14 after “very difficult start”

2023 F1 season

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Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, says that the team will look to make “radical” changes to its car after its performance in Bahrain was “not good enough”.

Mercedes finished fifth and seventh with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, respectively, 50 seconds behind the race winning Red Bull of Max Verstappen.

Speaking on the first Mercedes race debrief video of the season, posted on the team’s YouTube channel, Shovlin admitted that Mercedes’ pace in the first race was “not good enough”.

“Ultimately, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Shovlin said. “The gap in qualifying was quite large, we were over half a second to the front. In the race that was even bigger.

“That was compounded by the fact that when you get the tyre degradation, you get a bit more sliding, the tyres run hotter and you end up finding it very difficult to keep them under any kind of control. There is a lot that we need to understand but the key things are really getting on top of that long run degradation, which last year was a strong point for us.

“Clearly, we’ve got something that’s not in the right place that we need to work on but ultimately the other thing is that performance gap to the front. The raw pace of the car is not good enough. We are working very hard at the moment to understand what we can do in the short-term future and in the mid-term future to try and get ourselves in a better place.”

Mercedes adopted an aggressive “zero sidepod” concept for their 2022 car, the first season held under the current technical regulations. After sticking with the concept for the W14, team principal Toto Wolff admitted there would be no “sacred cows” as Mercedes look to try and return to the font, something Shovlin says will require heavy revision of their new car.

“People have tended to use the word ‘concept’ when they mean ‘the sidepod design’ and Toto had said recently that we are looking at a revision that is going to come along in the next few races anyway,” Shovlin explained.

“Given the gap to the front, of course we are going to look at bigger departures and more radical changes. But those changes take time to turn into a faster solution in the wind tunnel – you can’t do them over night.

“There is quite a lot of development that you’ve got to do around any sort of big change in geometry in that area. Of course, we are looking at where we can improve the car, we are looking for potential to develop and you will see visible changes coming on the car over the next few races.”

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Shovlin says Mercedes opted to run both Hamilton and Russell with different specification rear wings in practice to conduct side-by-side tests, something the team did at times last season such as during the Canadian Grand Prix.

“We did look at a bigger rear wing on George’s car on Saturday morning, so he went to one that we were running in the test,” Shovlin said.

“Lewis stayed with our update wing, the lighter downforce wing and the conclusion from the Saturday running was that the wing that Lewis had, the one that was faster in a straight line, was overall quicker. Come the race, both cars were on the same rear wing.”

Shovlin admitted Mercedes have a “tough journey” ahead of them over the rest of the 2023 season, but that they were “committed to improving the car” in an effort to return to the front.

“It’s a very difficult start to the year and after the season we had in 2022 we certainly didn’t wish for this sort of challenging start. But everyone’s been very quick to acknowledge that problem.

“The drivers are very much on board with that, and they have been working very well together to try and help us develop and improve the car. It’s nice just to see how everyone is very honest about the challenge that is ahead of us, very humble about where we are and what we need to do to move forward and committed to finding solutions because we are not happy with our current performance. We know that’s not good enough, but we will be doing everything we can to improve it.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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48 comments on “Mercedes considering “radical changes” to W14 after “very difficult start””

  1. I think Mercedes are discovering (as Red Bull and Ferrari have in the past) that no matter how dominant they have been in the past, they’re not entitled to being competitive.

    1. I think they’re learning what their weaknesses are now. It will be interesting to see how well they extricate themselves from the third best team position. Ferrari is a basket case and not a good comparison.

      1. Ferrari is a basket case and not a good comparison.

        LMAO.. but its also true. Ferrari believes that Ferrari has no weaknesses. They cannot fix what they do not know is broken. Resting on their laurels is Ferrari’s greatest achievement.

    2. Same goes for Red Bull. I wish they could have quit in 2015-2018. Their complaints about Renault were absolutely the worst. Red Bull is worse than Mercedes by a loooong way in terms of bad and disgusting attitude.

      1. For sure. Red Bull are terrible for F1. Would love to see Andretti and anyone else have those two teams.

        1. Itsmeagain (@)
          10th March 2023, 16:36

          Why are they so terrible? It seems many here like the indirect influencing of the FIA by Toto more than the direct (no BS) manners of RB. Or is it people are fan of a certain driver and accept the (mis)behavior of the team around it

      2. F1 needs a baddie. Plus, the boat has only just unsettled at Mercedes so expect them to become more and more toxic over the next few months.

      3. @krichelle Their complaints about Renault were fully justified. When they were complaining Renault were turning around pretty much saying there was nothing wrong with the PU. RBR even paid for Mario Illien to review and make recommendations to improve the reliability, which Renault also ignored.

      4. I am sorry, but I think the complaints about Renault were very on point if you had looked at those engines from the point of reliability and power they were supplying. That ultimately all the dirty laundry was hanged out in the open between Red Bull and Renault is not so nice, that is something you can complain about, but please don’t tell me that the engines that Renault were providing were reliable.

      5. Itsmeagain (@)
        10th March 2023, 16:46

        Can you explain what the difference is between, for example, Wolff. With his pretty unfresh way of behavior when he is not winning? Or the straightforward way of communicating of a Horner. Not always most clever but at least not accusing teams about illegal floors, or the health of drivers in order to get midseason rulechanges. Further, is complaining about an engine which not works and costs millions disgusting but influencing media, fans and FIA example of good behavior? Interesting opinion

    3. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend)
      9th March 2023, 23:45

      Time to get the RB19 photos out….

    4. Give Mercedes back 260 million in spending power, and they’ll be winning races by Monaco.

      Now they’re in the position the smaller teams have been in for years (and still are)– get it wrong out of the gate, and you’re screwed for the entire season.

  2. “Considering”?

    I thought they were finally done considering and Toto had told them to get this monkey off their collective backs and do some proper engineering?

    1. Being original in their concept for the sake of being original is a strong drug and Toto has a huge ego. With their resources they might be beating Red Bull now if they would have just “copied” Red Bull already.

  3. There’s a great story here that no journalist wants to report on. Who at Mercedes pushed for the side pod design, prevented significant changes last year, and prevented a new design during the winter. The person is powerful within Mercedes and lacks technical awareness.

    1. I’d go with an ego (or a few) overinvested in a flawed idea rather than a general lack of awareness.

    2. Yes, right back to the ’22 pre-season fake sidepods…

    3. Is it the sidepod design?

      1. Seems to be. Astin Martin is running the same power plant.

        1. There’s a LOT more to it than just the sidepods. It’s just that the sidepods are the most visually different element of the Mercedes design package. You can’t just bolt on the Red Bull sidepods and immediately be competitive. Every single surface on the car is optimised to work in harmony with the rest. Make big changes to one and you have to alter all the others as well. Mercedes have a lot of work to do in a short period of time if they are going to choose a totally different approach, meanwhile all the other teams will keep developing and enhancing the one they already have.

    4. Mercedes PR usually pre-empties good journalism with lots of other noise. Them being on the back foot to such extent that it is basically useless, is the current theme. This should lead to Liberty & FIA stepping in similar to 2021 (mid season tyres change) and 2022 (porpoising). Plus they have a successful Brit, so UK press is less likely to do their job since they do not want to discredit their man.

    5. @jimfromus let’s fire the wind tunnel then ! It’s powerful, kept pointing in that wrong direction and doesn’t have any awareness whatsoever.

      I can understand the need to try a different route though. The only really baffling thing is why did they retain the concept after 2022. Maybe because there is potential but probably more that we are now in a cost-cap era, limited CFD and wind tunnel time and better iterate than starting all over.

  4. Rename it the FW14.
    Lewis and George may already be calling it the F… W14

    1. Red Bull are about to do what Mercedes have been doing for the past 8 years. Build a rocketship so fast you can pretty much start designing next year’s car right now. Everyone else will catch up throughout the season but you’ll be so far ahead they’ll never catch you. Then, next year you start the season with another rocket ship so fast you can pretty much start designing next year’s car……. Rinse and repeat.

      1. With their reduced wind and cf time this is the best they could do.

      2. I sure hope this is not the case.
        More than the budget cap, the wind tunnel/development tokens that are recalculated at the middle point of the season should hopefully prevent such dominance.

        1. Reduced aero/CFD time will not usually make your car slower, nor will more time necessarily make your competition’s cars quicker.

          So when you start out with a rather sizeable lead and a design team with a solid handle on their car, as Red Bull do, it’s hard to imagine any other team overcoming their deficits under current circumstances.

    2. Rename it the FW14

      Why not FW190? That was a pretty good design, and the TA-152 version outraced pretty much everything.

  5. I think someone should consider radical changes to internet as last weekend this site crashed every time I tried to open it…..

    1. I can handle Mercedes being out of the podium places but if Racefans crashes it’s a totally different thing..

    2. I think someone should consider radical changes to internet as last weekend this site crashed every time I tried to open it…..

      How many other people had the same problem?
      Hmmm, I don’t recall other complaints. So…

      Perhaps check your systems for little nasties like disc errors, glitchy PSU etc?
      I could start making additional recommendations, but I’m on leave and trying to ignore what happens inside a computer

  6. Everyones very focused on the sidepods because they’re so different but it could be their underfloor design that is the bigger problem. I do think the lack of sidepods reduces opportunity to clean up airflow from the front, especially tyres, but it’s probably a bit like McLaren blaming Honda then realizing they have other issues. I expect the sidepods do need to change but I’m not convinced there aren’t other issues with the Mercedes.

    For example, the previous regulations, Mercedes was basically the only team running a flat chasis while everyone else ran nose down tail up to exhance ground effects so maybe this cost Mercedes understanding of ground effects that every other team has had more first hand experience with? They’re trying to build based on their previous knowledge which is no longer relevant?? Asking the question.

    1. The biggest visual difference is indeed going to attract attention first, especially from those who see the car as a set of seperate parts rather than an interdependent system.

      The teams have definitely tried to take different approaches to handling the upper airflow, and how these are steered towards the rear of the car, wing and floor, and how this interacts with the the diffuser. But let’s not forget that all three (Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes) won last season, and were competitive in races they didn’t end up winning.

      Mercedes is arguably still the 3rd best team as of now. So the concept they have might be limited, or underdeveloped, or complex, or misunderstood, but it’s not outright bad.

  7. Is there a good video online explaining what went wrong? I’m an armchair viewer and to me it seems like the Red Bull ethos funnels the air where they want while the Mercedes one just lets most of that air flow to the back with little way of really directing it or using it. Perhaps less drag overall but seems difficult to do anything with the wall of air the car is ploughing through.

    1. The Dolphins
      9th March 2023, 23:47

      My understanding is aligned with yours. The lack of upper surfaces looks to be detrimental to them because it may not be energizing the floor and diffuser. It is not as simple as slapping some sidepods on the car either given their floor is likely designed to maximize the energy given their current “sidepod concept” so in some ways it could be detrimental.

    2. @davidhunter13 I guess the original 2022 idea was to generate downforce via the floor and make the upper surfaces as little ‘draggy’ as possible. But then they couldn’t run maximum down force using the floor because of the unexpected purpoising. So raising the car to avid the latter meant they lost that downforce efficiency and made the slim side pod design more a negative (failing to channel enough air to the rear/diffuser) than a positive (less drag on the straights). What I don’t get is why they persisted with the same failed design philosophy this year.
      The new sidepod design – originally set for Baku but maybe they bring it forward now – is supposedly unlike any other solution, presumably because of what The Dolphins says (any new side pod will have to be compatible with the floor in particular).

      1. @david-br – I think that since they largely solved the porpoising problems they still needed to validate if the “concept” is still viable. If they were closer to Rbr in Bahrain 2023 then the “concept” would’ve been validated and it would be a case of further development to get on par and/or exceed.

        Testing they had suspicions, Bahrain confirmed them. Concept change is required and it wouldn’t surprise me if they already have options to tweak what they have so they can get to where they need to.

        They are essentially over a year behind so I don’t expect anything from them this year unless they stumble upon something that gives significant gains similar to what AMR have achieved.

  8. Given that the new regulations were designed to reduce dirty air, I’d love to know whether the slim Sidepod design’s air flow is radically different to (say) the RBR car.

    Is the FIA monitoring dirty air on the cars or is it a case of “I’d you’re producing a really dirty airflow making it more difficult for a car behind then good luck to you”

    Probably not an issue with 1 car being so far out in front, but I’d love to know if the midfield cars are being hampered by any one car in particular.

    1. Given that the new regulations were designed to reduce dirty air, I’d love to know whether the slim Sidepod design’s air flow is radically different to (say) the RBR car.

      I seem to recall a comment from one of the FIA technical people (was it Symonds?) that there was a comment about how the air flow behind the Mercedes was way cleaner than any of the other cars.
      On a similar note, the other direction, I would recommend looking at any wet running footage you can of the Red Bull wake – absolutely none of the other cars leave the air that chopped up.

      1. In the wet you can see most vehicles travelling at a reasonable speed, and more so at motorway speeds, will produce a chopped or striated air pattern behind the rear wheels. My recollection is this striation is also visible on F1 cars in the wet.
        I think F1 should allow or even require the rear wheels of the cars to have some sort of aerodynamic tapering behind the rear wheels to reduce the air turbulence in the wake behind the car. However this would be contrary to the open wheel philosophy, so it probably isn’t going to happen.

        1. In the wet you can see most vehicles travelling at a reasonable speed, and more so at motorway speeds, will produce a chopped or striated air pattern behind the rear wheels. My recollection is this striation is also visible on F1 cars in the wet.

          I was actually referring to what a lot of commentators call the “rooster tail” which shows air flowing off the rear wing in the fashion the FIA said they wanted to see. You see that, and a smooth vortex flow down the sides of all the cars, but less vortex and no discernable rooster tail on the Red Bull.

  9. Given the gap to the front, of course we are going to look at bigger departures and more radical changes.

    Before you can fix something you’ve got to have an idea on how something is supposed to work. Do you want to make the car faster or do you want to make radical changes to the car? If you want to make the car faster then that doesn’t mean you have to make radical changes to the car, although that might be what you need to do, but if Mercedes do make radical changes then that means they’ve wasted a lot of their aerodynamic testing time last year and the thousands of hours put into designing this car. The aim of all the changes must be to make the car faster while maintaining the comfort and safety of the driver.

  10. Most of a 2022> F1 car’s downforce comes from the underfloor depression, that in turn depends upon how much low energy air leaks in from the side of the floor to reduce that delta P.

    Previous F1 regulations allowed the use of additional aero surfaces to generate powerful floor edge vortices that acted as fluid ‘skirts’ to counteract underfloor pressure equalisation. As we know, these are now disallowed. Other teams seem to have used the undercut design to direct air below the side pod hence energising flow across the top of the floor, therefore making the minor floor edge features more effective in vortex generation to maintain underbody depression.

    Mercedes’ design seems to pretty much ignore this opportunity to help generate floor edge vortices. It smacks of an influential person in design who has, in Toto’s words, a sacred cow that they are clinging to in the face of evidence to the contrary.

  11. Electroball76
    10th March 2023, 11:29

    Now I want to see them come back with the biggest sidepods possible. Giant inlets like an F-15

  12. Given the cost cap, if Mercedes now embark on an overhaul of their current design, and blow their funds on those activities, how is that going to affect them later in the season and going into next season? Part and parcel, same question about personnel: if they are busy rethinking their design, what activities will they no longer have time to do?

    Maybe they are both the same question; I’m not sure.

    1. Maybe even at this stage, they are going to start taking the longer view. Merc must know already that unless something really surprising happens, the best they can hope for this year is a win or two and a few podiums.

      With what sounds like a radical redesign required, maybe they are going to write-off 2023 as far as either championship is concerned, and try to get the new concept perfect for 2024? They will still try to do well this year of course but I don’t see how the budget cap will allow them to achieve too radical a change in this year.

  13. Mercedes, a fascinating study in organizational behaviour. You can have the best design on paper, best design on the computer, wind tunnel data looks great, but at the end of the day, their running a donkey with the thoroughbreds. Reality’s a b….

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