The first race of 2023 confirmed the initial fears about the Mercedes W14 from pre-season testing – with the German squad several steps behind the leaders.
After making significant progress at the end of 2022, there is a sense of disappointment and frustration at Brackley. The Bahrain GP weekend saw the Red Bull RB19 demonstrate a significant advantage over Ferrari and Mercedes.
Hamilton and Russell could only manage P5 and P7 in a W14 machine lacking in performance, which definitively shows the Mercedes concept is a failure:
“We’ve done a lot of work over the past year to look at other types of solutions. But we keep coming back to this concept because it is the one that favours us the most. Is it the right long-term solution? We’ll find out.” said Mike Elliott, defending his work.
Mercedes fourth-fastest in Bahrain, behind Aston Martin and Ferrari: Weak in high-speed corners
In Bahrain, the W14 proved to be the fourth fastest car, behind even Aston Martin’s AMR23, which also outperformed Ferrari in race pace.
Toto Wolff was very harsh and emblematic of the situation at Mercedes post-race: “It was one of the worst days since we’ve been racing in F1.”
Hamilton believes that some progress has been made since pre-season and that the W14 has made improvements in terms of rear stability and traction.
However, there is a lack of aerodynamic load in medium-high and high-speed corners, a very different problem compared to Ferrari but with similar results, slipping, which has a negative impact on tyre management in racing conditions.
Mercedes’ overall performance was quite sporadic, as the team made persistent changes to set-up over the race weekend. However, the team’s new medium-low downforce rear wing yielded some results, although there was a quick comparison (data) in the FP3 session.
The wing’s spoon profile, with a shape similar to Ferrari and the rest of the grid, helped the team find greater aerodynamic efficiency.
The Mercedes Power Unit no longer has the performance problems of last year, good progress has been made on the engine side.
With their medium-load wing, Mercedes was among the fastest on the straight, faster even than Red Bull – who no longer enjoy such an advantage in terms of top speed.
Mercedes has plenty to review in the shortest possible time, but the conclusion that has been reached by Toto Wolff is that the aerodynamic concept is intrinsically wrong.
The “zero-sidepod” car studied by Mike Elliott’s technical department was revised for this year and made less aggressive than the W13.
Changes are now on the way after the first aerodynamic objectives from the wind tunnel were unsuccessfully met.
“Last year, we had some problems, and we went through them, trying to figure out what they were and how to fix them. We believe we have solved some of them, while we still have to work on others,” explained Hamilton at the W14 launch.
Toto Wolff was keen to outline the AMR23 has many components from Mercedes after the Bahrain GP:
“The same engine, gearbox and suspension, and right now, they are ahead of us. It is evident that there is something to be traced back to the aerodynamic DNA of our single-seater and to the wind tunnel that does not allow us to be successful.”
Although it makes little sense to compare the performances between Bahrain 2022 and Bahrain 2023, there are still lessons to be learned.
Despite making substantial improvements last season, the Mercedes W14 has lost ground to Red Bull over the winter break. The Silver Arrows didn’t start last season especially strongly, but the situation has only worsened.
However, Mike Elliott has pointed out the positives:
“If you look at where we were last year, we had really big problems with porpoising. Over the winter, we have solved many, and we went into testing feeling like we had a better package to work with.”
Similarly to what happened at Ferrari, the W14 underperformed compared to the disappointing numbers coming out of the gallery and the simulator:
“However, we believe we haven’t gotten the best out of the car. We’re still getting to know her,” concluded the Technical Director.
Corrections are on the way for the W14 – while Elliott receives an ultimatum to revive the project
As admitted by Toto Wolff himself, Mercedes will need to make changes to the W14 and its overall concept. George Russell underlined the importance of the W14 being a better basis to work from, better than last year’s car, especially in solving the porpoising problems.
However, the ultimate potential of the W14 – in relation to Red Bull’s excessive power – remains limited.
However, improvements can be made in terms of set-up, but above all, plenty of work is taking place in the wind tunnel.
There will be a change of philosophy with more conventional sidepods, with the ‘zero sidepod’ concept failing to reach the desired results.
This is an area that served to move the turbulent wake of the front tyres, a function that is now also partly performed by the sidepods:
“We have a different bodywork in the works, which will not be the same as that of the others, nor the one we have now. It will just be different,” said Mike Elliot.
It must be remembered that Mercedes uses a ‘single’ frame, i.e. flares at the sides for the team to insert its radiators – which are thus moved along the longitudinal axis of the car.
“The new sidepods are part of the planned development on the W14. It takes time to bring it because we need to produce new parts, and we need to change some parts that are underneath the bodywork to be able to assemble it. It will debut we will bring as soon as possible.”
The pressure at Mercedes was already high, as we have reported in recent weeks.
However, the pressure has increased on the team’s technical director, Mike Elliott. After the race, upon returning to Brackley, there was a long meeting held at Mercedes that lasted until late at night.
The climate at the Mercedes camp is shaped by an ultimatum to the team’s technical director – who is tasked with reviving the project in progress.
Author: Rosario Giuliana
Co author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang