Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2023

Mercedes face moment of truth as hopes hinge on critical Imola update W14

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It’s rare to hear a team principal use the word “poisonous” to describe their car’s handling. But that is exactly what Mercedes boss Toto Wolff did in Miami.

The team endured another tricky weekend at the Miami Grand Prix. Mercedes lead Friday’s practice 1-2 but then suffered a shock Q2 elimination on the Saturday for Lewis Hamilton

They were perhaps more encouraged by their race pace on Sunday. George Russell, who scraped through to the final part of qualifying by a mere 0.052s, brought his car home in a respectable fourth position after making up two places.

However Russell was 33 seconds off the winner Max Verstappen while Hamilton, sixth, was nearly a minute behind.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Wolff called the team’s W14 chassis “poisonous”
Toto Wolff and the Mercedes technical team have been left scratching their heads since the start of last season. With the W14 they remained largely faithful to last year’s car concept, bar some adaptions for the 2023 floor rule tweaks, believing it still had a big upsides.

But they decided weeks ago a change in direction was needed. Their rollercoaster weekend in Miami was a further demonstration why: the team is sorely lacking consistency in the performance of its car.

“That’s the story of the car,” said Wolff after the race. “We have very good sessions like on Friday, then we had a very difficult qualifying and then on Sunday we have solid pace.

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“But solid pace is not where we want to be. And we need to understand why we are lacking that speed for a lap.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2023
Hamilton missed Q3 in Miami
“So there is nothing to be relieved of by having a more decent Sunday because you’ve just got to start at the front and you’ve got to be able to manage all the Red Bulls and the other guys and that’s not the case yet.”

Mercedes is introducing a major update for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which includes changes to the floor, front suspension and its distinctive sidepods. The revisions are eagerly awaited, but Wolff is at pains to stress they won’t immediately transform the team’s performance.

“We need to manage our own expectations because we’re bringing an update package that’s going to consist of new suspension parts and bodywork and some other things,” he said Wolff. “I have never in my 15 years in Formula 1 seen a silver bullet being introduced, where suddenly you unlock half a second of performance, so I very much doubt that this is going to happen here.

“What I’m looking forward is that we take certain variables off the table where we believe we could have introduced something that we don’t understand in the car and to go more to [of] a stable platform. Then we should see where the baseline is and what we can do from there.”

If they can achieve it, better platform control should allow the team to run the car lower, produce more downforce consistently and increase rear stability. On top of that, the team will hope to see greater long-term performance potential in the revised car.

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“We are chasing downforce and we’re trying to do the best possible job in terms of the mechanical platform,” Wolff explained. “We’re introducing a new bodywork and a new floor and doing a new front suspension. That’s a pretty large operation, large surgery, and it’s gonna be a lot of learning in the virtual world.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Hamilton has particularly struggled to get the maximum out of the W14 compared to Russell. At the second round of the season in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton said his position in the car is compromising how he drives it. This is something the team may not be able to change before producing its next car this coming winter.

“We sit closer to the front wheels than all the other drivers,” he explained. “Our cockpit is too close to the front.

“When you’re driving, you feel like you’re sitting on the front wheels which is one of the worst feelings when you’re driving a car. What that does is it just really changes the attitude of the car and how you perceive its movement.

“It makes it harder to predict, compared to when you’re further back and you’re sitting closer, more centre. It’s just something I’ve really struggled with.”

Like all teams, Mercedes are also constrained by the cost cap in how significantly they can change their car. They cannot alter the monocoque or make comprehensive rear suspension changes because of the cost cap and homologation rules. All individual gearbox designs were all homologated at the same time as the power units and are locked in until 2025.

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Although Wolff is wary of letting expectations grow too high around the upgrade’s potential, he is confident the team will get a good read on how well they work over the coming trio of races at Imola, Monaco (often a ‘bogey circuit’ for the team) and the Circuit de Catalunya.

Mercedes Miami Grand Prix car updates, 2023
The W14 will look very different next week
“I think we know what we’re doing to the car,” he concluded. “Really quickly we will see whether that correlates with the virtual world. I think it’s good to have three races in a row to understand what’s actually happening and then it gives us maybe a little bit of a buffer later on to filter that and then take next decisions of what to do in terms of updates.

“Monaco between the two is something that it’s a single-lap issue and a tyre that comes into life quickly. None of that we do good. So let’s see where we are in Imola.”

This is much more than a routine upgrade for Mercedes: They hope it will prove to be the new foundation they can build on in order to finally get back on terms with Red Bull. But to do that they must first prove themselves against Aston Martin and Ferrari and show their upgrades have indeed “set the direction” they can follow to turn the W14 into a winner.

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2023 F1 season

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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24 comments on “Mercedes face moment of truth as hopes hinge on critical Imola update W14”

  1. I hope the Red Bull’s narrow gearbox isn’t too much of their advantage, baked in until the 2026 season! It’s a bit foolish, now there’s the cost cap, to have these freezes and then be fretting about domination.

    1. Agreed.

      Especially as that baked in advantage came in a year that RB broke the financial rules.

  2. Mr. Keith Collantine made such interesting team radio transcript articles. I guess we won’t have any with Perez and Max in Miami because it exposes Mr Anthony Davidson as a liar.

      1. Sipping gin and juice have we Mr Bold

  3. The cost cap, the freezes, the many standardised parts, the windunnel limit, its all killing F1 as the pinacle of motorsport, the development lab for new tech. It’s about time a new king of autoaport arisies

    1. CheeseBucket
      13th May 2023, 18:33


    2. Agree, but I think that there won’t be a replacement. The trend of the last 30 years is down. Very strongly down.

    3. The only truly new tech has F1 pioneered in the last 30 years is the MGU-H, and it’s being scrapped because it’s largely pointless outside a few very specific use cases.

  4. They knew from the start of 2022 that their car was a disaster and they needed to do then what they will show now in imola.
    Instead they tried to cripple their opponents with the porpoising and they killed Ferrari at least but their target which was RB is fine.

    Anyway i will say better late than never at least.

  5. The worst aspect seems the driver position. With Hamilton probably the most driver with most feel for car balance on the grid, designing a car that nullifies that talent seems a huge mistake, and one born of completely failing to respect the input of their own drivers. Mercedes are messing up horrendously.

    1. Well, it can’t be all that bad. Have a look at the 1980 Renault driver’s position vs the Mercedes today.

      1. @stever I disagree because I think at a fundamental level Mercedes have always put engineering input over driver input. Red Bull are the opposite with Newey and his team always focusing on how best to produce a car that suits their driver(s).

        1. @david-br I’d go slightly further to say Red Bull engineer their cars to favour their effective lead driver as evidenced by the Vettel and Verstappen eras.

          1. @slowmo Exactly, great example as Vettel and Verstappen are polar opposites, Vettel wanting a car with a planted rear, Verstappen comfortable with levels of oversteer and lack of rear grip that other drivers, including his successive team mates after Ricciardo, have found near impossible to control.

  6. And then there is the change to the new Pirelli tire… (coming out of nowhere)

  7. If Mercedes doesn’t factor in Redbull’s very liberal interpretation of the rules, they wont make much of an advance on Redbull. Things like the flex floor shows Redbull will bend the rules when it suits them, and the FIA will do nothing until specific questions are asked

    Mercedes should be asking themselves is there a method to increase the downforce under the car which they haven’t yet considered. I have in mind a mechanical skirt under the car to isolate the exterior airflow from the venturi airflow. This would be triggered by redirecting he airflow to a sprung flap running the length of the car.

    Short of having cameras under the car it would be undetectable when triggered with the DRS in operation.

    1. All the floor flex, it is just a question of how much under what loads. All teams have to meet the same rules, measurements and deflection criteria.
      Skits are banned and moveable aerodynamic devices are similarly banned. Unless it’s called DRS. There would be no feasible way to hide any mechanism or actuators. Most likely you would want to trigger moveable skirts when the DRS is not in operation. All about downforce.
      Check out the on-board front wing videos of the Mercedes and see just how much the upper vanes deflect at high speed. WOW …! All within the spirit and technical imitations of the rules.

    2. Red Bull doesn’t have a flex floor that is why they are going so fast! If the floor Flex they would lose a lot of downforce in wave form.

  8. I’m still not convinced that Mercedes have moved on from their design. It is unbelievable that they showed up this year with only minor changes from the prior year’s car. I wish them luck but organizational inertia is difficult to overcome and their recent staffing changes merely swapped positions but kept the same employees.

  9. Robert Henning
    13th May 2023, 23:44

    This upgrade is more likely to make them stay near the top 3 than help them make progress.

    Aston and Ferrari are not sleeping and they will push more bits and pieces to the car.

    Mercedes achieved all their targets and are 5 tenths to 1 second a lap slower than Red Bull.

    They are clueless.

    1. And yet worryingly seem to have a better car than Ferrari. For all Mercedes woes, they do seem to have arguably the second fastest car despite how disastrous they claim it is and with all its flaws. Mercedes will put at least 3-4 tenths on Ferrari and Aston Martin in development this year imo.

  10. Steve Holmes
    14th May 2023, 3:43

    What will break Lewis?

    Is the honeymoon over behind the scenes?

    How many misses will be accepted?

    It would be good for F1 to put down RedBull and Max every victory less popular infact more and more Booing.

    It would be good indeed for another team to rise up and win. It is needed in Formula One at present.

    Many of Us grow tired of Max’s unbelievable fortune from RedBull. It’s impressive yet so dominant it’s draining the interest of too many now.

    Great success once equates to boredom finally.

  11. How do you improve something that you don’t understand 🤔

Comments are closed.