There was plenty of anticipation to learn about the performance of the pack chasing Max Verstappen and the RB19 in Spain. Important developments were introduced to the Mercedes W14 and Ferrari SF-23. In some ways, Barcelona represented a fresh start for both teams.
Ferrari had a relatively worrying weekend, while the performance of the Brackley-based squad was much more positive, securing second and third place at a crucial race weekend.
Mercedes W14 Evolution: simulator-track correlation is positive in Spain
These changes were initially due for Imola but were forcibly pushed forward by the floods causing the cancellation of the Italian race.
Given that Monaco is a venue where understanding such important updates is notoriously difficult – due to the circuit’s unique layout – the Spanish GP became crucial for Mercedes.
At least so far, Lewis Hamilton has given positive feedback about the latest changes – “Last weekend, I had a little more confidence with the front of the car,” explained a visibly energised and optimistic Hamilton.
This aggressive development direction is one that Hamilton has wanted since Bahrain, but the Mercedes technical department chose to delay this by three months to give the ‘zero sidepods’ concept a last chance.
However, Plan B was already in place. Only on-track confirmation was necessary.
“We just needed the early season shock to figure out when to drop our old concept. From then on, we only accelerated with the new development direction,” said Toto Wolff, following the Spanish GP.
The package was worth around 3 tenths for Montmelò, producing the desired results and showing great consistency between the simulator and the track – an area that has made the team sceptical about its developments.
It cannot be forgotten that a package of this importance could need more time to be understood and optimised.
“We changed so many parts that we thought we couldn’t fully understand them. It was a risky step because we made decisions we weren’t sure would work. I’ve always said that initially, we could have even taken a step back. “ said Toto Wolff.
Mercedes W14 EVO: further confirmations are awaited to understand if the operating window has widened
The risk, for now, seems to have paid off.
“The awareness is that we have a good car in the race. If we think that Lewis lost five or six seconds for overtaking Stroll and Sainz, we could have finished about 15 seconds behind Max,” explained Wolff.
An average gap quantified at 2-3 tenths per lap by the Austrian team principal, although Lewis Hamilton disagrees – having spoken of a half-second disadvantage.
In the middle, there is also the important intuition of the former world champion team during the race on the poor performance of the Hard tyres, discarded in their thoughts since the post of Friday’s free practice.
“We had different strategies before the race. We knew it would be two stops because we didn’t have much data from Friday anyway to think about a single stop with the Hards,” – said Andrew Shovlin –
“During the race, we saw that those who had started with the Hard were having difficulty getting rid of the traffic. We had good Media data from Friday and knew it was a solid pick.
“We just had to choose a tire that had good grip and an easy warm-up, which would then allow us to switch back to the Soft in the last stint, which is a tire that we certainly liked in the first stint,” concluded the English engineer.
“We have to keep both feet on the ground because we’ve had great conditions here in Barcelona. The car was fine here last year, too, and the weather conditions were perfect for us.”
George Russell has largely mirrored these comments from Andrew Shovlin. And it is curious that the most important steps forward have been made by the new front suspension, an advantage above all for Hamilton, and by the new bottom, compared to the always much talked about bellies.
However, Mercedes also wanted to change the development direction in terms of bodywork to remove any doubts regarding that macro part as well.
“Engineers always tell us that the shape of the sidepod makes little difference and what’s important lies underneath the car. But we wanted to eliminate these factors. With a more conventional sidepod and bodywork, we have no more doubts,” George Russell said.
In the meantime, as in the Ferrari house, the high-resolution images of the Red Bull fund are also being analyzed in the Mercedes technical office. The first impressions are already promising:
“I’ve asked my engineers what we can conclude from this, and they say there’s already an interesting analysis of how airflow works,” explained the Austrian team principal.
At Mercedes, they are very focused on further improving the W14, if only in terms of understanding the new package.
This is because even if the result of the weekend doesn’t show it, the Anglo-German car could still be too much of a “diva”, as it is still complicated for the team and drivers to easily find the best set-up.
In Spain, it’s not the first weekend in which Friday’s free practice didn’t go as planned, and only a great job on Mick Schumacher’s simulator made it possible to obtain the car that did so well on the track on Sunday.
“The car has a fairly narrow operating window even with this aero package. We don’t have a large window like Red Bull clearly has. We must therefore focus on getting the best set-up gradually, fine-tuning the car in each area.”
This is one of the improvement objectives for the next rounds, then trying to understand if the trend undertaken in Spain can also be confirmed on the next tracks.
“In Barcelona, we were quick both for updates and for the characteristics of the circuit. The innovations worked well on a circuit with many fast corners like Barcelona, but we have seen that the W14 has always been at ease on fast, front-limited circuits.
“Canada will be another story: curves at low speed and straights to do in full, and we expect a more important challenge. We’re not going there thinking we’re fighting Red Bull, but probably be alongside Ferrari, Aston Martin, and maybe even Alpine,” Andrew Shovlin concluded.
Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang