Mercedes “looking closely” at Red Bull and Aston Martin in bid to catch up

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Mercedes have begun examining how the designs of their two leading rivals work in order to turn around their poor start to the 2023 season.

Red Bull dominated the first two races of 2023 with their standard-setting RB19. Aston Martin’s AMR23, which uses the same power unit as Mercedes’ car, has proved a major step forward over their 2022 machine, lapping around two seconds per lap quicker and propelling the team to second in the world championship.

Mercedes has been forced to accept its W14, based on the same visibly different aerodynamic concept as its predecessor, needs a major redesign. Team principal Toto Wolff said they are beginning to look into why their rivals’ cars perform better than theirs.

“We haven’t spent enough time on looking where they find performance because it was important to re-find our own identity, which we did,” he told media after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“Now it’s only the second step in saying how can we refine our car in order to catch up. And that, of course, means looking closely at these two cars and what they do, how they work, what is it that we may be missing.”

Interactive: Compare all 10 F1 cars of 2023 side-by-side
Red Bull lapped around six-tenths of a second faster than Mercedes in qualifying last weekend but their margin in the races was even greater at times, exceeding a second per lap. Wolff admitted the team cannot expect to overhaul that deficit in a single season.

“We are just two races into this year. Is it realistic when we look at the gaps today? No, it’s not. But we just want to give it all we have and then see what the outcome of that is.”

The team began last season at a disadvantage with its W13, but improved it enough to score a single victory in the penultimate race of the year.

“We’ve been able to catch up a lot last year with a car that was bouncing way too much, that was in a way overshadowing everything else,” said Wolff. “And finally we won a race and we got close to them and I think that needs to be the aspiration.”

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2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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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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9 comments on “Mercedes “looking closely” at Red Bull and Aston Martin in bid to catch up”

  1. The hubris at display at Mercedes was plain to see throughout their engine dominant years, but it’s honestly quite baffling it still appears as if Toto just cannot accept they build a dog.

    “We haven’t spent enough time on looking where they find performance because it was important to re-find our own identity, which we did.”

    Like how does that happen? What does finding your identity have to do with designing a bad car. It takes a lot of pride to not even consider anything but your own solutions. Everyone else is looking up and down the grid and taking what’s good and ditching what’s bad. Williams quickly learned to abandon the concept. Aston Martin fixed their car by mid season, but somehow the mighty Mercedes will solve everything on their own and seems incapable of acceptance.

    Franz Tost will straight up tell you he doesn’t trust his engineers (which was way less of a joke than it was played off as), but Toto appears to just accept anything. If that remains the mentality at Mercedes, it will take a long time for them to ever return as a top team.

    1. @sjaakfoo if such ideology works, he’s a God. But when it doesn’t, it makes him look ridiculous.

      That’s what happens with leaders. It’s a decision, in the same way a technical decision is made. I bet they thought they’d be relegated if they didn’t try something radical, because their strong points aren’t as strong these days (their engine advantage).

      But as you said, it takes a lot of pride to continue on your own path. I don’t believe that they are NOW looking at the other teams, they surely had them in mind forever, but now are seriously considering switching to their concept.

    2. The danger of copying other designs is you go the route of McLaren and Williams where you no longer become an innovator and find yourself sliding down the grid struggling to ever make it back to the top of the pile. The performance of the designers and engineers at Mercedes over a 8 year period suggests they clearly knew what they were talking about over that time.

      Should Mercedes have continued with the concept into this year? No, that was a serious error of judgement which they’ve now conceded. They have explained what happened though. Last year they seemed to make some progress on eliminating the worst traits of their car and then as they approached the end of the year they seemed to have caught up to Red Bull and Ferrari a bit and expected that with more development the concept would be able to bridge some of the remaining gap.

      Unfortunately it’s pretty clear now that Ferrari fell back rather than Mercedes catching them up as they turned their engines down to get them through races and Red Bull brought very few updates in the second half of the year as they switched over to 2023 early. This situation gave an impression they were making more progress than they were, plus there was races where Red Bull made setup errors that made the situation look better too.

      The start of the year has proven now they’re too far behind to make the gains they need with the current concept which is why they’re fully embracing moving over to the new concept. Mercedes also needed to understand why their last concept didn’t work so they could avoid bringing the same issues into a new concept. It’s not pride that kept them from switching, it’s the fact that they needed to ensure they understood everything that went wrong or they’d just recycle the issues into the new design and make no progress.

      It’s worth noting by the way that despite everything that is wrong with the Mercedes, they’re still neck and neck with the second quickest car. They have surpassed Ferrari in the off season, they just made no progress to catching Red Bull.

      1. well said…

      2. Good

    3. Arrogance and entitlement will get you in that spot.

  2. When I was working in engineering there would be a small number of designers who absolutely knewthey were right. They’d done the same thing for umpteen years and they knew. Everyone else got side lined, until those expertscame a cropper, then more open minds were given their chance.

    Hubris, something the whole world has been witness to over the past three years.

  3. As much as I dislike them, though If there is a team that can crack the RB19 secrets and unveil what RBR are up to then it’s Mercedes. Ferrari are too conservative and stuck in their traditional mentality and maybe too proud to ask the right questions, not to mention that the team is probably in a panic self destruction mode.

    And that, of course, means looking closely at these two cars and what they do, how they work, what is it that we may be missing

    That’s the crux of it. We already know that Aston Martin copied the RB18 sidepods last year but they where nowhere near the front. However, after they have done their “shopping” in Milton Keynes, they become the team that made the biggest gain from 2022 to 2023 which suggests that some tricks from the RB18 have cascaded into the AMR23 that strangely shares the same trait of the RB18 being easy on the tyres something Mercedes and Ferrari are still struggling to achieve.

    I don’t believe there is a single component that is responsible for such supremacy. There is a maniac attention to details in every single component of the Red Bull. Though I believe that RBR do have a “mechanical” advantage over the competition that they cannot replicate. The way the RB19 doesn’t suffer porpoising nor different fuel loads or tyre compounds and conditions is astonishing. Ferrari on the other hand seems to go into crisis once fuel is loaded into the car.

    There are lots of indications that can constitute a starting point to investigate. From what I see as the casual fan, Newey has been applying his mastery of maximizing the diffuser effect across different rules and eras. He’s done it at Williams, Mclaren, RBR in the V8 era and now with the ground effect cars. The RB19 concept is about working harder the diffuser while for example the Ferrari concept is about maximizing the ground effect.

    RBR have also succeeded in recent past to introduce a trick suspension system that changed the ride height of the car on the straights to compensate for their weak Renault PU till they were caught by a technical directive that banned hydraulic actuation of heave springs after a letter from Simone Resta to the late Charlie Whiting. It seems that they are replicating this exact same effect of having a “passive” active suspension.

    The RB19 (also the RB18) is the most efficient car when the DRS opens. Unlike the rest of the teams, the RB19 never stops picking speed in the second part of the straights when it normally runs out of battery and engine revs which is strange.

    RBR are able to run the RB19 10mm lower than any other team. Mercedes have suggested that they cannot replicate that due to the suspension stiffness and forces that will damage the underbody of the car. It’s doesn’t brake late but it exits the curves earlier than any other car which perfectly suits Max Verstappen driving style. There must be a good reason for Newey who re-introduced the rear pull-rod suspensions in 2009 to drop his own concept and go for a front-pull-rod and rear push-rod configuration which is harder to set up.

    There is a photo showing the rear end of the RB19 that have actually sparked speculations. The mono-pylon support of the rear wing features a carbon element through which passes the exhaust which is normal. What’s unusual is that at the end of it there is a carbon plaque directly linked to the upper wishbone of the rear suspension. This means that the suspension geometry and cinematics change depending on the speed, i.e, the DRS position.

    Is it legal or not ? The rules clearly states it’s illegal :

    10.2.4 Any powered device which is capable of altering the configuration or affecting the
    performance of any part of any suspension system is forbidden.
    10.2.5 No adjustment may be made to any suspension system while the car is in motion.

    Though RBR can argue that the entire system is based on the incidental loads the mono-pylon support of the rear wing is subjected to. By the way, there was a fuss when porpoising first appeared about active suspension and how they can potentially solve the problem. George Russell believed it can deliver a long term fix, maybe he was right…

  4. I think there is a chance they won’t be back. Initially I thought they had some challenges but it seems their DNA is resembling that of Ferrari every day a bit more. Toto might not be the man to make this team win. He was fine taking over from Brawn but this requires a different competences. His profile might not be fitting the challenge ahead. The shareholders should identify this and act accordingly.

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