George Russell, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2022

Mercedes lost confidence in “disorientating” 2022 setback – Allison

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Mercedes’ technical director James Allison admitted the shock of the team’s backwards step in 2022 wrong-footed them at first.

Allison was restored to the position of technical director in April this year after it became clear Mercedes’ second car built to F1’s new regulations was not a sufficient improvement over its first. He said the team found it “very disorientating” to see their title-winning streak end with a season in which they won just one race.

Mercedes largely dominated the 2014 to 2021 seasons, winning all eight constructors’ championships. But their 2022 car only won one race and the team failed to achieve a single victory this year, despite moving up to second place in the standings.

Allison admitted Mercedes struggled to process how badly they were struggling at the beginning of last year, when their drivers were unable to get beyond Q1 at times. “When a team has been, as we were, on a very high plateau for quite a large number of years, for quite a long period of time, and then takes a dip, it’s very disorientating,” he told the Performance People podcast.

“It’s very unpleasant to suddenly feel that what you had previously felt about yourselves as a group, the foundations of that have been loosened by the reality of the stopwatch and being beaten by other teams. It shakes the confidence of an organisation and it also puts a lot of very short-term pressures on a company that’s been used to thinking further ahead.”

The urgent desire to improve the car’s performance was counter-productive at times, Allison explained.

“The short-term pressures are that the car is poor and the results are poor and they must improve. And the call of that is very loud, completely natural, but very loud nevertheless, and it rouses people to action.

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“But the action can tend to be that all the disciplines in the company – the aerodynamics, the vehicle dynamics, the drawing office, all the specialisms that are necessary that work together to create a good car – that each of them can sort of scatter on the four, five, six winds to their individual corners to do what they can do or contribute in the way that they think is best, driven by this very loud call that the car needs to improve.

Mercedes’ sudden loss of competitiveness was “very unpleasant”
“If you’re not careful, then those groups can stop talking to one another because they’re all head down trying to fix what they see as their part in making the world a better place. Probably the most destructive pattern that we as a group got into over that difficult period from when our crown first slipped, was that we fragmented more than we should have done.”

Following the launch of the W14, which was outwardly similar to last year’s Mercedes and yielded insufficient gains, the team reinstated Allison as technical director, a position he had handed to Mike Elliott two years earlier. Elliott left Mercedes later in the year.

Allison said the consequence of that change has not been him having a greater direct contribution to the chassis design but organising the team to ensure Mercedes produce a competitive car for 2024.

“If I’ve had any effect that’s been a positive thing, it’s to try to draw that back together, to try to get the main engineers who are leading the main divisions in the company to talk to one another more, to try to take off their shoulders some of the immediate pressure and just dampen down the shout that is coming from the car and just to focus on coordinating our work,” he said.

“Just bring those important folk together and ask a few questions of them, the answers to which are only possible if they spend a bit of time talking to one another. And the fact that they then spend that time talking to one another automatically means that they will coalesce around a jointly-agreed programme of activity to get those answers.

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“It doesn’t take too long before people fall back in the habit of leaning on each other rather than working individually, because actually it’s way more fun that way. And if someone’s giving you permission to do it because those are the questions that need to be answered, then that’s what happens.”

He is hopeful it will prove sufficient to put Mercedes back in contention for a championship for the first time since 2021.

“I hope that we have put in place enough of a programme of work that we have put ourselves in with a shout to be back to winning ways.

“Does that mean winning a race? Does that mean winning a championship? In my head, it’s only ever about championships. That’s what F1 is. It’s a constructors and a drivers championship. So I hope we will have done enough to give ourselves a shout of being in the championship fight in both championships.”

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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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21 comments on “Mercedes lost confidence in “disorientating” 2022 setback – Allison”

  1. Coventry Climax
    6th December 2023, 12:02

    Focussing and relying on a single component and direction, their engine, for way too long, then overestimated themselves, their knowledge and the importance of the ground effect, underestimating their rivals in the process.

    Yep, desoriented is a way of putting that, be it a very political one.

    1. Coventry Climax
      6th December 2023, 12:04

      ‘underestimated the importance of the ground effect’, is what it should have been. Sorry.

    2. Robert Henning
      6th December 2023, 12:16

      Yep. The only season they didn’t have a huge engine advantage was 2021 and even then they had to resort to running the engines high to even get a chance at the titles, both of which should have gone the other way with luck balanced out.

      Now engines are at a parity and other teams even their own customers outperformed them at multiple races.

      1. Good point, with luck balanced out there wouldn’t be much of a battle (still more than most recent seasons) for the driver’s title in 2021, and abu dhabi wouldn’t have been such a talking point cause it’d have been a race for the win, with the title already over.

        In terms of the constructor’s though, bottas generally did better than perez in 2021 and he suffered most of the bad luck mercedes had, so I believe overall merc was up there with red bull in the constructor’s championship taking luck out of the equation.

        1. Robert Henning
          7th December 2023, 9:43

          I think even luck adjusted Verstappen’s point advantage would have been sufficient for the WCC. Agreed re Bottas vs Perez however.

    3. Well Ferrari passed them in 2022 but then went backwards in 2023. Sure Mercedes dropped the ball for the last 2 years and Red Bull excelled but it’s not like any other team has massively moved forward in that time. Jumping on the bandwagon that Mercedes have made mistakes is to ignore the fact that 8 other teams on the grid haven’t exactly made huge leaps either.

      Mercedes might have had an engine advantage from 2014 to 2016 but after that most of the other teams had largely become competitive. Despite what many people might hate to admit, the Mercedes aero concept under the last rules were simply better than every other team including Red Bull. It was only in 2021 when the FIA made last minute changes to the rear end of the car that they managed to cripple their concept enough to allow Red Bull to pass them.

      1. Sure Mercedes dropped the ball for the last 2 years and Red Bull excelled but it’s not like any other team has massively moved forward in that time. Jumping on the bandwagon that Mercedes have made mistakes is to ignore the fact that 8 other teams on the grid haven’t exactly made huge leaps either.

        Looking at the advantage Ferrari and Mercedes used to have over Aston and McLaren compared to now I don’t get to the same conclusion as you.
        Gaps from the 7 slower teams to pole lap are much closer than in the previous years and many races finish without lapped cars. Mercedes and Ferrari got themselves 30s+ behind race winning pace and that’s enough to be beaten by McLaren and Alonso.

        1. McLaren won a race in 2021 and finished close to Ferrari in the WCC. Their meteoric rise hasn’t been that massive to those paying attention. They actually beat Ferrari in 2020 as did Racing Point (Aston Martin) incidentally. Sure Aston Martin made big progress over the winter but they literally abandoned their 2022 car to do so and fell back over the year.

          Qualifying times are closer but race pace is massive in difference which suggests to me the tyres are most likely the cause for the closing gap in qualifying.

          1. McLaren won a race in 2021 and finished close to Ferrari in the WCC.

            Ferrari was not a top team at the level of Mercedes in 21. McLaren won a race. Alpine, Alpha Tauri and Racing Point also won races before the reg change. None of them were at the level Mercedes used to be. One of them looked fast by copying though.

            So Ferrari is not as strong as 2018 and 19, Mercedes not as strong as 14-21. McLaren closer to race winning pace today than who knows how long ago.
            Aston Martin made progress you finally admitted, Mercedes could have abandoned the 22 car to develop 23, to some extent they did, still not back to previous performance level.

            As I already said in the previous post, the field os not closer in Qualifying, many races finish with all cars in the lead lap, with Mercedes much closer to cars they used to put laps down.

            I’m paying attention, just can’t get to the same conclusions as you.

      2. it’s not like any other team has massively moved forward in that time.

        What Aston Martin Racing did in the early season was a massive move forward IMO. Only it did not last, not even until half season. But another push like that and they would be ahead of RBR.

    4. A good sumary, though I think the 2014 car onwards had a fundamentally different aero to the other cars which was strong, provided the drivers adapted to it. All the other cars were essentially clones of the Newey Red Bull. I think as the chassis rules changed, they were slow to anticipate the effect this would have on their car.

    5. I think it’s not fair to reduce all their performance advantage before 2022 to the engine. Yes, it was in an other league in 2014, but so was the whole concept until 2016. With the next generation of cars it’s even more obvious. Probably in 2018 and definitely in 2019 Ferrari had the upper hand when it came to engine power. Still Mercedes won the titles either quite comfortably or pretty dominant.

      1. Roadrunner, I agree there was ore to it than just an engine. It also annoys me when people say a team can only win because they’ve got the best engine. The engine is a vital part of F1 and winning because you design and build a better engine is no different to winning because you designed and built a better floor. If you are keeping it within regulations then being better than the others is the name of the game.

      2. Williams often had the second most competitive car in much of 2014 and 2015, but Bottas and Massa…not the strongest pairing. So, yeah, the engine was 80% of their advantage.

      3. Agree, generally speaking I’d say ferrari overtook mercedes engine wise in 2018, and were still behind in 2017, you can see a clear example in the spa battles between hamilton and vettel, where vettel didn’t succeed at overtaking hamilton despite being right behind him at eau rouge in 2017 and instead did it easily in 2018.

    6. If it was just the engine, why weren’t the customer teams winning races? And don’t say they didn’t have parity, that would have been illegal, and grounds for Mercedes being DQ’d from the championship.

      Why was Ferrari leading the championship in both 2017 and 2018 if the Mercedes engine was such an overwhelming advantage?

      1. Why do you even bother?! Some people are in denial about the aero platform of the Mercs from 2017 to 2020; their low rake, long wheelbase was simply superior!
        All the other teams jumped onto the newey bandwagon of high rake short wheelbase, until Racing Point got off and copied the Mercs instead, and all of a sudden they were quick!!!
        Between 2017 and 2021, the Mercs beat Newey with their aero concept, and with Allison in the lead, they are about to beat him again!

    7. pretty much, too much politics, probably nepotism, and lying straight to the media like its the GHT. Merc’s concept was so off, and their inability to systematically engineer their car the last 2/3 years is very confusing. Its like they were trying to sabotage themselves ? at any rate, very poor big picture leadership (politicking) from the Merc squad.

  2. I thought the most interesting part of the article was Allison talking about hw he is trying to bring the various groups back into harmony more. When Shuey, Brawn, etc went to Ferrari and turned the around, the culture problem they solved was that previously Ferrari’s engine department was considered the be-all and end-all. The car was built around the engine, and things like aero, balance, driver input, were all secondary. The engine department didn’t talk to aero, and vice versa. Drivers were there just to drive the car. After Alesi ran out of fuel from using too rich a mixture, they solved the issue by taking the fuel mixture control out of the cockpit and putting it in the engine bay where it had to be adjusted by an engine mechanic. That was how little trust they put in their drivers pre the Schuey years.

    So yes, I can see how Allison might be thinking about bringing the team back into synergy rather than tinkering with the designs himself.

  3. He’s a great communicator isn’t he, he talks with a lot of imagery, and is just super agreeable. And see how he talks so much about the people, more than the car. Empathy, so important. But I bet he does do the engineering as well, these ‘questions he asks’ will have to be answered with good numbers, for this all-new car

  4. It seems they had a (long) good run based on a combination of Brawn design and an excessive power unit. Now both are gone it is understandable they struggle. There is not much more to read in this. There are 10 teams, it is unrealistic to think their domination wouldn’t end at some point in time.

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