At Mercedes, the bar is always set very high. Unfortunately for the Silver Arrows, victory is still out of reach due to the dominance of Red Bull and Max Verstappen – a combination that continues to set records in F1.
For now, Toto Wolff’s team aims for second place in the Constructors’ World Championship and place Lewis Hamilton and George Russell as high as possible in the standings, trying to make the W14 capable of fighting for a race win.
Spa heavily influenced by weather conditions and Sprint format
One of the terms coined by the Brackley team to describe the characteristics of the W14 is ‘Diva’.
These cars should generate performance, at least on paper, but they are very complex to put in the right window of use to utilise their full potential.
This description was often made of the SF-23 to start the year – or for the cars produced at Mercedes over the last two years.
Data from the simulator is promising to the engineers but can often disappear when upgrades are taken to the track due to the extreme sensitivity of these cars.
The W14 is a car that often requires a lot of analysis of the data coming off the track and then cross-referencing it with that of the simulator, on which Mick Schumacher often finds himself working on Friday night to find solutions that can be used in view of FP3.
In Spa, this was not possible.”As in every race, we arrive at the weekend after a lot of work on the simulator.
“The work we do allows us to choose the level of downforce we want on the car for that track, but also the general mechanical and aerodynamic balance in order to hit the ideal window of use,” explained Mike Elliott, Chief Technical Officer of Mercedes.
However, the simulator does not necessarily find a single working base and in Belgium, in fact, the two riders of the former world champion team went on two different paths.
“The drivers did this simulator work ahead of the weekend, and George felt that a heavier wing gave him more setup options and preferred that kind of balance for his car.
“Normally, what happens is that during free practice, the riders converge on the same solutions, but obviously, it rained at Spa, so we weren’t able to test in the dry”.
The absence of the normal race format prevented Mercedes from being able to execute the classic work plan, and this also affected the set-up of the W14 in the race, with a balance that was not optimal but impossible to correct.
“Usually, we have good tire degradation, and we do better in the race. The problem was just that we simply didn’t have the right balance.
“This is the result of not having had the chance to ride in the dry and not being able to work well with the setup and so we went to the race with a car that was not very balanced like our rivals, and we had more degradation,”
In fact, compared to usual, the W14 appeared more competitive over a single lap than in the race, where its rivals – in this case, Ferrari – were more competitive in terms of pace and tire degradation, with the SF-23 at least on par with the W14.
A messy weekend in Spa: Poor communication in qualifying, bouncing returned
One of the critical moments for Mercedes in Belgium was Q3 in the Sprint Shootout, where Lewis Hamilton and George Russell went wheel to wheel at the last attempt, losing the chance to complete a really good lap in order to improve their starting position.
George locked up into turn one but continued his lap, forcing Lewis Hamilton (who was just behind him) to lift his foot briefly and abandon his lap Kemmel straight.
It is right that both continued their lap as the track was, in fact, constantly improving, and even the time lost could therefore be made up by improving the previous time.
“When there are variable track conditions, which dry out, what you want is to do the best lap at the end of the session.
“So it’s a question of going out on the track and setting useful lap times, but above all, making sure to cross the finish line at the last possible moment with the tires in the right window of use.”
Mike Elliott tried to explain what happened in the Mercedes pits because the fundamental error was in team-driver communication and not so much between Russell and Hamilton.
“There were a lot of cars in the last corner trying to give each other space, and we had to cross the finish line before the session was over. We, therefore, asked the drivers to speed up the pace. But in the end, we found the two cars too close.
“This has also happened to other machines. We weren’t the only ones to have problems of this type
“This, unfortunately, meant that we couldn’t do the lap we wanted and get a better result in the Sprint Qualifying.
“We will analyse what happened with videos and sparse communications, and we will learn new things to improve”
In fact, the W14 didn’t make much progress in the Sprint and on Sunday, and indeed, an unexpected comeback compromised Hamilton and Russell’s weekend.
“We certainly had some bouncing this weekend, with both riders seeing it on track, but it showed in the data as well. We also noticed it on other cars, so it was probably also due to the nature of the circuit. In fact, even last year, there was a lot.
“This has certainly conditioned our performance, starting with the driver who cannot use the maximum grip of the car, as well as having an impact on the balance of the car and on hitting the right braking point .”
After a year and a half of work and the belief that the problem has been solved, going back to ‘jumping’ on the straights, but also and above all in the high-speed corners, is not an encouraging sign.
At Mercedes, however, they seem to have quite clear ideas, and these days and those back to the break, waiting for Holland and Monza, will provide the answers they are looking for.
“We have to ask ourselves how much is due to the SPA layout and how much can be solved through the setup.
“We will also check the updates introduced to be sure they have not been affected, but at the moment, we believe it is more a question of setup or track.”
Mike Elliott confirms what has already been anticipated, namely, the return of porpoising is linked more to an incorrect setup, which was not possible to evolve them during the test sessions as would normally have happened, rather than to the changes introduced.
These updates included new sides and a change to the floor, which – though important – was far from a transformative change.
Finally, the summer break is often talked about as an opportunity for some teams to analyze data, progress with developments and so on.
Still, the regulation is clear, and the factories will have to close for 14 consecutive days. However, Mike Elliott makes it clear how this period of inactivity can be exploited anyway and declares the objectives for the second part of the season.
“During the break, you can’t do much. It is not allowed by the rules. We have to take two weeks off, without the possibility of developing, but I think this is a useful break for everyone.
“It will help to have more energy for the second part of the season, where there will be a need to bring more updates.
“We have to keep pushing because we still have a lot to learn from this car in order to get new information in view of the winter and the development of next year’s car.”
Author: Paolo D’Alessandro
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang