Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2024

Mercedes ‘changed everything but haven’t solved fundamental issue’ – Wolff

Formula 1

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Mercedes still haven’t mastered the latest technical regulations despite making many changes to their car design over the last two years, says team principal Toto Wolff.

The team abandoned its previous concept soon after its 2023 car was launched and produced the extensively revised W15 for this year. However after the first three races they are fourth in the championship.

Wolff said the team’s cars have not lived up to the predictions made by their simulations under the current rules.

“I think we’ve lost our way at the beginning of ’22 because all our tools and systems [previously] gave us cars that were winning championships every single year,” he told Fox at the Australian Grand Prix. “Then the new regulations were very much around the ground effect, that means all the suction happens through the floor, and we came out with a car that showed all the promise in the data and in the wind tunnel, but it didn’t deliver.

“Since then we’ve changed everything: The layout, the suspension, the drivers’ position, the gearboxes. But it seems that the fundamental issue is, at the core, we haven’t solved that.”

Last year’s Mercedes failed to win a race last year and its predecessor only took a single victory. Wolff said the W15 is only a slight improvement over their previous two cars.

“It’s a little bit the same since two years,” he said. “I think this one is the best of the bad.

“It’s a better platform to work on but it’s still not a car that a driver feels really good about throwing in the corner at 200 miles an hour.”

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The car appears to be especially susceptible to changes in temperature. Lewis Hamilton was pleased with its balance in final practice at Albert Park, then failed to reach Q3 a few hours later.

“After FP3… he said that the car is the best in three years,” said Wolff. “He had so much rear downforce and he feels confident.

“We didn’t change the car a lot. The track temperature changed by five degrees, believe it or not, so that’s nothing, and the car transformed from something that was the best in three years to something that is undriveable.”

“We are looking at everything and there’s something which our technology is not showing us because this window of performance is so narrow where the aero works or it doesn’t,” he added. “The wind picked up in the afternoon, that plays a role but we haven’t really been able to pinpoint it.”

Wolff said Mercedes will have to sacrifice more of their race weekends in order to understand what they need to do to improve their car.

“We are coming to a point now that we probably need to experiment every single race, not only on Friday, because our performance seems to get worse throughout the weekend,” he said. “We are good on Friday and we are good in some of the sessions on Saturday but the more grip we have, the faster it goes, the more we reach the performance ceiling of the car. And our data shows us it’s not the ceiling.”

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Keith Collantine
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42 comments on “Mercedes ‘changed everything but haven’t solved fundamental issue’ – Wolff”

  1. It is difficult to build the best car since all do their utmost best. Mercedes is not that far off and still are in contention of having the 3rd best car. Their challenge is that they got used to having the best car, or at least the fastest one. I think they have benefitted extensively from having the best power unit all those years, while back then the car already was a bit behind in terms of design and the same can be argued about their race strategy which was often flattered by the overpowered car. So overall they are where they have always been but without the benefit of a rocket engine. Makes me also believe there is little room for improvement, but then again sometimes little is just enough since in reality they are not that far off and the top 5 cars are quite close.

    1. Agreed. I don’t think Mercedes have some fundamental issue to their design. They’ve got one of the best cars on the grid. What they have is just not as good as RedBulls and Ferraris.

      2022 – the came 3rd in the WCC with: 17 podiums including 1 win
      2023 – the came 2nd in the WCC with: 8 podiums

      If the above are results achieved with a car that has a fundamental design issue, then it really is all the other teams that have a much bigger fundamental issues with their cars. It’s just that they don’t make so much fuss about it.

      1. its not the car, its management. What Merc are are doing, (changing every part…) is called the shotgun approach to troubleshooting in industry. Its when you have a team/company with so much money and no capacity for understanding just starts throwing parts at a problem, hoping to fix it. I have worked around a lot of people who think this way, and these kinds of thinkers never fix their problem unless they get lucky.

        Guys like Red Bull on the other hand, probably know what they are doing. And right now thats pretty crazy, that the best team(s) in F1 are demarcated by those who actually know what they are doing, vs teams just throwing parts at a problem.

        This is the true cost to raising the price of the power units 50x and then punishing able minded people with testing bans. This is a scam, its not an innovative environment. Its called big money rolling in and turning teams like “Williams” in to share croppers vs actually getting lucky and hiring brilliant engineers to push them up the order.

        1. and yes, the difference between testing ban and no testing ban, is a team like Mercedes would be forced to hire competent engineers instead of their friends, which is clearly what is going on…

          –as someone whose see a lot of this kind of behavior in other industry.

        2. Excellent analysis and response.
          They need to change Toto wolf, period.
          He is the one last change that needs to be made.
          As he said, they have changed everything?
          Not quite yet until I they change Toto wolf, everything will keep failing!!!!!

    2. Couldn’t agree more. I think all those years of having a power advantage allowed Mercedes to bolt on ‘dirty downforce’, aero that produced the downforce but not particularly efficiently. Red Bull with their less powerful engine had to bolt on the cleanest most efficient aero imaginable. Now that we are back to an aerodynamic dominated series Red Bull have the talent and skills within the team to design the best car on the grid.

      1. Nonsense. In a Beyond The Grid interview years ago, a Mercedes engineer told of how they let everyone believe their advantage was all in the engine, when in fact it was mostly in the chassis he goes on to explain. Of course they had a great engine too. You only have to look at the championship winning Mercedes cars to see how much more developed they looked than others.

        1. a Mercedes engineer told of how they let everyone believe their advantage was all in the engine, when in fact it was mostly in the chassis he goes on to explain

          I thought it was Lewis ;-) They seem to say whatever fits them, depending on what is being asked. The idea is that we analyse the situation and not go with what(ever) the team says…

          1. It’s easy to claim anything with zero proof. Brawn designed a very good chassis and then they had a dominant engine. They came up with some impressive features, but never the aero.

    3. Indeed, we often see this with Ferrari but the same applies here: the car is very good, but not quite good enough. Being second or third is a disappointment to those teams, but that’s still better than seven or eight others.

      As they say, the last step is the hardest.

    4. I don’t agree. The narrative that RBR possesses the best chassis and aero in the hybrid era while Mercedes are only winning thanks to their superior PU is is largely propagated by their PR machine with Horner and Marko putting pressure on F1/FIA to get the rules changing in their favour because they couldn’t compete with a Renault PU.

      Let’s not forget that RBR produced a subpar chassis in 2015 by their own standard. In 2017 and 2018 they were outperformed by Ferrari judging by their performance in the low speed high downforce tracks. In 2019, they didn’t react well to the front wing changes and produced a car with an unpredictable backend that was only drivable by Max Verstappen.

      Mercedes on the other hand were the complete package in the hybrid era pre 2022. Their dominance began in 2013 with the W04, which, despite being a tyre eater, showcased their potential before they have stopped its development to focus on the 2014 season.

      RBR dominance in the ground effect era owes in part to the strategic shopping Horner did in Brackley, which not only weakened Mercedes but also bolstered RBR. Similar tactics are now evident in Ferrari’s maneuvers against RBR.

      1. Mercedes on the other hand were the complete package in the hybrid era pre 2022. Their dominance began in 2013 with the W04, which, despite being a tyre eater, showcased their potential before they have stopped its development to focus on the 2014 season.

        I wouldn’t say dominance, but a lot of people do indeed ignore how strong Mercedes was in early 2013. They won three of the ten races before the summer break, and trailed Red Bull 208 to 277. A gap yes, but one inflated a bit due to a very strong season by Alonso (Ferrari) and Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault) meaning it was very competitive behind Vettel’s Red Bull.

      2. What is it exactly you disagree with? Seems like you are rambling, with all respect.

  2. They lost some of their best people. They lost the engine advantage and the ability to recreate it (at least until 2026.). They can’t solve the issue with throwing money at it (cost cap). It’s not like they will find a quick fix. It’s possible that they will never find it. Red Bull always had better cars, just poor engines. Even if they do a great job, by some miracle, they face a much stronger opposition than before. In this situation, if you must blame someone, you can only blame the guy on top.
    If they fail to do much better in 2026, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mercedes starts reconsidering their own role in the project. Those big German companies don’t like participating, only winning. At the moment this is only bad marketing for their brand.

    1. And mercedes have a history that whenever they compete in f1, they win, they were very strong at fangio’s time before leaving and it didn’t take them many years to become really strong again since their comeback in 2010.

    2. Quite honestly I am surprised the board of Mercedes still backs this F1 project. I don’t think it has brought the brand any value the last 2 to 3 years.

      1. Well, the team does turn a profit……

  3. Jonathan Parkin
    29th March 2024, 9:55

    Just out of interest is there any corner on the calendar you take at 200mph

    1. Blanchimont, probably. Maybe not in the race, but qualifying onboards show some hitting nearly 330km/h.

    2. Coventry Climax
      29th March 2024, 12:28

      Suzuka’s 130R

  4. Stephen Selfridge
    29th March 2024, 11:05

    the results don’t match the simulations. there is a hardware or software glitch that they are missing.

  5. Fundamentally Mercedes are caught in a trap of designing a car with the perfect airflow in mind. There are times when imperfection is what you need to design for. The airflow under the car, to my mind would be more consistent if it were turbulent. If they deliberately disturbed the air as it entered the under floor, as counter intuitive as that may sound, it would make the airflow consistent for all conditions, enabling them to tune the ride height based on that consistency, enabling them to change the frequency of the porpoising which they seem to be still experiencing. They may have missed this detail in their interpretation the other cars underfloor. This all points to a lack of experimentation at the start of this ground effect endeavour.

    1. Coventry Climax
      29th March 2024, 12:41

      Sorry to say but that’s croc. Do not expect a call from Mercedes – or any of the other teams- for an aero engineering position. Spokesman at most.
      Do you have any idea at all what the terms laminar and turbulent airflow actually mean?

      You’re right in one thing though: If you destroy the airflow under the car, you get consistent performance around all circuits, with consistent trouble making the 107%, around any circuit.

      1. Well i did say this will seem counter-intuitive.

        It’s counter-intuitive, the way putting dimples on golf balls must have seemed an odd thing to do way back in 1905.

        I am saying even with a clear view of the underside of the Redbull car something else is going on which defies the perceptions of those scanning those images. Even now ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, hasn’t registered.

        I’m saying it may be some minor disruption to the airflow, which prevents the car from reacting too soon to every perturbance in the track surface. Yeah, i have heard about laminar and turbulent airflow. I am not saying they should go to extremes, but that a balance could be what is overlooked.

        Imagine a buffer of calculated turbulence, which was more consistent than the rush of airflow that conventional thinking says is preferred. Imagine the equivalent of dimples in that airflow to make the airflow more uniform, consistent, and less ebb and flow.

    2. I know where you’re coming from but the specific idea obviously won’t work. When looking at how Red Bull used to work around having an engine with less horsepower and a car with more downforce by using shorter gear raitos, it was making a positive out of a negative. Around the same time McLaren were going for the opposite by making their car as slippery as possible, then introduced the F duct to make it even more slippery.

  6. I feel like this iteration of Mercedes is very reminiscent of McLaren from 2013. They thought they’d designed the best car, only to find out they’d got it very wrong and spent a long time chasing and rebuilding.

    Mercedes haven’t fallen quite as far as McLaren did after 2014, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising to see more key members go to other teams and for them to fall a little further.

    1. McLaren kept pushing the ‘best chassis but worst engine’ during their Honda years. Until they got the best engine (Mercedes) and it turned out they did not, in fact, have the best chassis after all :D

      1. While conveniently forgetting they had the Mercedes engine in 2014 and still finished behind the worst Ferrari since the F92A. That should have been a warning sign but Ron was too proud to admit any of that.

  7. “We changed everything…”
    And that is the problem. The car hasn’t been designed as an integrated system. They started with an integrated system that turned out to be garbage and have been trying to fix bits and pieces. The proper term is a Frankenstein car.

    1. Coventry Climax
      29th March 2024, 12:54

      That’s quite a correct estimate.
      I’ve said for ages here, that Mercedes have no real, deep, integrated understanding of the ground effect car concept.
      I usually word that as ‘they have no clue’. Finally seems backed by their own top-guy now, cause that’s what it means if you manage to change everything and anything, yet fail to address the real issue.

      Until they hire the true experts, with one of them having enough oversight and insight and weight to get them to a consensus and overall vision, then Frankenstein cars is what they’ll be producing year in year out, hoping for a chance miracle ‘add-on’ that suddenly does the trick. I can tell you, any guy slamming his fists on the desk at every occasion, is not the one going to be the one to solve it.

      There’s no real difference to how things went for Ferrari for the last couple of, what, decades already?

    2. They didn’t change the drivers either.

  8. Stop building the car around George, Toto. Problem solved. It’s clear Toto has been looking to discard Lewis the last couple of years, especially after hearing about all the contract negotiations. Wouldn’t even give the guy a proper ambassadorial role, speaks oodles.

    Build the car around a guy who knows how to win races, not bin it on the last lap, or end up like McLaren. Life time guarantee. It’s clear with George not complaining, having great pace on low fuel and actually being able to overtake people down the straight who the car is being built around. Lewis is an after thought, and so is Mercedes.

    Also, Ross Brawn admitted to leaving because he said he could not trust Toto Wolff. I think it’s clear whats going on. And I think it’s Mercedes that will ultimately be pitched under the bus after Lewis joins Ferrari and wins more races.

  9. Mercedes are simply too far behind the curve now. They went all in with their original failed concept, finally decided it was wrong after over a year and are now trying to catch teams using a concept thats new to them but 2 years old to everyone else.

    McLaren proved that once you understand the rules you can make huge gains. Mercedes look like fools fumbling around as they still don’t understand anything of these regulations. I mean they are still confused how they woke a race 2 years ago.

    I feel sorry for Sainz and hope he holds out for the RedBull seat rather than join these losers.

    1. Yeah, seems to me the time is now to stop throwing money at trying to fix something they don’t fully understand and invest in fully understanding the concept for the 2026 regulations. George seems to be able to adapt to maximize runs and at least give Mercedes a shot at third in the constructors the next two years, maybe using a year to get Antonelli up to speed in a non-contending year isn’t the worst idea than spend and chase and never get there. I have a lot more faith in James Allison with the next concept, maybe it’s also time to bring in someone else on the technical side while Toto runs the business side.

  10. You can only simulate what you understand. There is clearly too little known about ground effect to simulate it accurately. F1 is broken when it cannot be used to learn new things and can only work in the realm of already-understood principles. The only way forward for Mercedes is to do their live testing during races because they’re not allowed do any at all before they release their car. This is silly and the result of blindly adhering to reality-defying principles. The worst thing is that, while there is clearly egg on the face of F1, it carries on regardless, as though there’s nothing wrong. Nine out of ten teams are in similar positions to Mercedes and there are indications that Red Bull don’t get everything right, either. Max has been allowing them to hide their weaknesses. The most recent example of this is the Australia pole, achieved when the car didn’t have the best race pace, let alone the pace over one lap.

    Not all of Adrian Newey’s cars have been masterpieces and the current car’s main advantage could be greatly reduced with some tyre competition and allowing tyre manufacturers to make tyres that aren’t rubbish.

    1. I have been seeing that the most of the F1 community do think that Ferrari were definitely faster than Red Bull at Oz, but I must say I disagree. We saw Max getting a better start and building a gap of over a second even though his right-rear brake had been partially engaged that whole time. It was the problem getting worse that caused him to drop below Sainz, who he still kept up with for a long time before the situation became unrecoverable.

      Max’s ability is of course, undeniable. And I could be convinced that the advantage in race pace Red Bull enjoyed was relatively smaller, but I still think Max would comfortably have won that race had it not been for the issues. I’m not sure what to think of Perez’s performance, though. I’ve also come around to see that Sainz had the pace to get pole with a perfect lap.

      1. I agree that it is difficult to be definitively sure. There’s too much shadow boxing in F1 and certain narratives can take flight very easily. The Red Bull advantage isn’t straightforward. The killer element is how the car works with the tyres as it’s no longer possible to compete once the tyres go off. I would expect that perhaps nobody could have predicted this when designing the original 2022 cars, so there may have been an element of luck. Red Bull clearly had the best team and expertise and Mercedes were caught asleep at the wheel simply by not having the right team in place.

        I’d loved to have seen Max race in Australia. The problem may have been tyre wear, and he may have struggled to hang onto his lead. That the Red Bull would suddenly be overcooking the tyres is not something I understand, and it seems contrary to what we’ve seen.

        Perez is looking good so far. I don’t think he should be expected to be in the sane solar system as Max. He just needs to cut out the blunders.

  11. Sometimes when you’re in scramble mode the answer is right there in front of you…you just don’t see it.

    1. yep. As simple as a buffer or pocket of higher-pressure air.

      1. Haha. Yeah think we can rule out it won’t be found on an excel spreadsheet either!

  12. Even when Mercedes had the dominant car it chewed up the tires. The Red Bulls do not chew up their tires, doesn’t bounce, and is fast everywhere. It is a balanced, integrated machine. Kudos to them.

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