After qualifying for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in March, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff blamed his car.
Team drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished more than six-tenths of a second behind the top time set by reigning champion Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, a huge gap in Formula 1.
“We got the physics wrong and now we need to fix it,” Wolff said. “We did our best, but now we need to reorganize the team, talk with our engineers and decide what direction of development we want to pursue in order to win the race.
“We hit our target, but it turned out that it wasn’t enough.”
A few weeks later at the Monaco Grand Prix, Mercedes unveiled an upgraded version of its W14 car. New sidepods change the aerodynamic shape. There was also a new floor and front suspension.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend will feature a new front wing.
Wolff’s words in Bahrain underscored the seriousness of the team’s situation a year after new aerodynamic regulations were introduced last season, when the team won only once.
“It’s not such a mystical process,” said team technical director James Allison in an interview about the car changes. “Whether your boss makes such a comment or says nothing, what happens is pretty much the same.
“At the beginning of the year, long before we know if the car is good, bad, or indifferent, we’re going to make assumptions about the amount of budget and employee time during the season after the cars start rolling.” battle. ”
He said the floor and front wing were “planned before the car took a turn” while a series of what he described as “background tasks” are being evaluated via computational fluid dynamics, a digital form of aerodynamic analysis. It is said that there was a bodywork option of.
“What changed as a result of the car turning the wheel was the suspension,” Allison said. “This wasn’t a planned upgrade. Normally you don’t mess with it during the season because it’s complicated, but we thought it would be a good investment.”
The impetus for such a radical change to the car was the growing awareness of the post-season regulations, in which Mercedes were “a little over our limit”. bouncing eyeball‘ said Alison.
A by-product of the rules designed to facilitate overtaking and make the race more exciting was the porpoise, a violent up-and-down motion caused by the stalling airflow under the car. Mercedes struggled more than the other teams.
“This generation of cars isn’t very nice to drive compared to older cars that have reached a state of great sophistication,” Allison said. “Being close to the ground, it has very stiff springs, and with such a big front wing, it’s a bit cramped.”
Mercedes felt it could make its existing suspension aerodynamically work, but was distracted by trying to solve the porpoise outbreak.
After fixing that, Allison said the team focused on other parts of the car, modifying the suspension and introducing an anti-dive system that reduces the car’s front dive when braking.
“That’s what we could have done and should have done earlier,” he said. “This year, car tamers and their underlying behavior became more apparent, so we could look into it and do something about it.”
After his performance at the Spanish Grand Prix, seven-time champion Hamilton said the car was “the best it’s been in a year and a half” and that the team had the “Polar Star” again.
“We know where we are going,” he said. “We don’t know everything about how to get there, but we do know that if we just keep our heads down and focus on science, together we can get there.”
However, there is a limit to the speed at which automobiles can be developed.
For 2021, F1 introduced a budget cap designed to increase team equality and prevent Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull from spending unchecked on vehicle development. That year’s cap was $145 million, but this season it’s $135 million.
Mercedes chief operating officer Rob Thomas said the team was “never wasted” but the budget cap has made the whole organization more cost-conscious.
“One of the things we had to look at was how many parts we actually made,” Thomas said in an interview. “When you think about the thousands of parts that go into a car, it gets very complicated.
“We found that we weren’t as efficient as we thought we were, so we needed to be more astute. That made us take it seriously.”
Using the floor of a car as an example, he said that in the past, entire components would have been replaced due to wear. not now.
“We worked smart with our engineers to ask, ‘What part of the floor is actually going to wear out? I am,” he said.
Budget caps have also reduced the number of spare parts teams bring to Grand Prix.
“What we’re taking to the track now would never have been possible three years ago because it would have been too scary,” said Thomas.
“What if you had an accident with two cars and you didn’t have a spare?
Allison said Mercedes has become more discriminatory than ever.
“There are even higher hurdles to clear before throwing cash into parts,” he said.
“The front wing cost is not lower than the previous front wing cost, but now the number of iterations we do in a year is an issue, and when we do iterations, fewer iterations mean inventory costs. come down.”
Even as the car improves, it will continue to be updated during the season. At the same time, the team will step up its development plans for next year’s car, the W15.
Allison said of the W14, “The plan of when to wind this car and start winding the next car was planned long before the car was on the road.” “And depending on what kind of fight you’re doing, you’re going to skew that plan one way or the other.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/07/sports/autoracing/f1-mercedes-car-performance.html Race car tweak boosts Mercedes’ F1 performance