F1 News: Mercedes underperform in Spa, porpoising returns

Jaden Diaz
1 Aug, 2023

Mercedes’ goal before the Spa weekend was to establish itself as the second-fastest team. However, the Ferrari SF-23 proved to be a well-set-up car in a weekend characterized by the Sprint Race format. Bad weather played an important role, preventing teams from collecting data in the first and only hour of free practice. 

The former world champion team arrived in Belgium with aerodynamic innovations, showing that they don’t fear the much-criticized new format with the Sprint Race.

More generally, any team during this season, given that in Baku, it was Red Bull to introduce a package of updates, in Austria both Ferrari and McLaren, while in Spa, Alpine and Mercedes itself.

Mercedes knew that Spa would not be a difficult track for its updates

Despite the limited time available to examine them on the track, practically wiped out by adverse weather conditions during the first hour of practice, Mercedes nevertheless brought the most important evolutions of the Spa package to the track on both W14s, i.e. the new bellies and the new bottom.

The new rear wing also appeared only on Lewis Hamilton’s car, which should instead be considered an adaptation to the low-download Belgian track.

After having clearly modified the front wing in its home GP at Silverstone, with a review of the flows directed towards the central and rear part of the car to improve the car’s slow speed performance.

The updates introduced in Belgium were less specific and designed for a general increase in the aerodynamic load generated by the English car. ‘ Overall downforce improvement’ to put it in English.

Mercedes
Comparison between the bellies introduced in Monaco and those adopted in Belgium on the Mercedes W14 – Illustration Rosario Giuliana

At Mercedes, they knew they ran the risk of not being able to extract the maximum potential from the new updates, mainly due to the weekend format. 

This was even more punishing for a W14 that often relies on Mick Schumacher’s engineering work on the Simulator between second free practice on Friday and Saturday, and that the update brought to the track would not have shown the best gains on a track like Spa.

“This last update was not so useful in Belgium; it will give its best on other types of tracks,” an engineer from the German team let us know.

The W14 was not in the best operating window 

However, “the race was frustrating,” said Toto Wolff after the Belgian Grand Prix. Although a major step forward was not expected from the updates, the W14 still ran below the team’s expectations.

We simply “didn’t have enough pace” against a Ferrari, which surprised Mercedes.” McLaren hasn’t been as competitive as we thought, while I think Charles has been a surprise for us. We didn’t expect them to be so fast,” said George Russell at the end of the race. 

The low temperatures helped the SF-23 contain the overheating of the tires in the central sector, as Red Bull’s Pierre Wache had rightly indicated a few minutes before the race:

“It’s quite cold, which should favour Ferrari, but Max is quite fast on this track.”

On the positive side, Mercedes extended its lead in the constructors’ championship both against the Maranello team and, above all, against Aston Martin, the third force in the championship, thanks to the fourth and sixth positions of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

The new bellies of Mercedes introduced in Belgium – Illustration Rosario Giuliana

The most important problem the two drivers had to contend with was bouncing: “Both of our drivers complained that the car jumped so much under braking that the [rear] tires get very hot at that stage,” Wolff outlined post-race.

Yet the world champion team from 2014 to 2021 seemed to have solved, like Ferrari, the big bouncing problems that hit last season’s car above all. Is it the fault of the new bottom brought to the track at Spa?

“I think the underbody may have been the reason for the rebound,” continued Toto Wolff. 

However, the technicians believe it is more a question of setup, with the bounce being a product of an imperfect configuration window of the W14 at Spa.

On the other hand, with this type of car, it is much more probable that the hopping is triggered if you don’t race in the, still small for Mercedes, correct window of functioning.

It is something intrinsic to the new regulations, only partially limited by the new regulations introduced at the beginning of this season:

“Today, we suffered a lot from rebounds. It’s happened to several teams, but not as much as it has to us. However, I see this as a general problem and not just for us.

“This is a bit of a shame, and we hope that a permanent solution can be found in the future,” concluded the Briton.

A rebound that certainly makes life more difficult for the tyres, especially the rear ones, and is the reason why the W14 didn’t have the usual advantage in terms of wear and, above all, performance on the tires compared to Ferrari in particular.

Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang

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