Even before F1 testing started in Bahrain, Mercedes knew the concept of the W14 had to be changed. For this reason, the Brackley squad anticipated a difficult start, with the team aware their 2023 package would not prove capable of competing with Red Bull.
However, the SF-23’s little to no improvement compared to the F1-75 allowed Mercedes to stay ahead of the Scuderia in both Saudi Arabia and Melbourne. As a result, the Anglo-German team already enjoys a 30-point lead in the Constructors over their Italian rivals.
Red Bull currently leads with 123 points, almost double Aston Martin’s tally of 65 points, with Mercedes (56 points) and Ferrari (26 points) in third and fourth positions.
Mercedes W14: The specific ‘external’ conditions of Melbourne widened their operating window
The third weekend of the season went above and beyond expectations for Mercedes:
“I could tell you that we expected it. But it’s not like that,” a smiling Toto Wolff said after qualifying.
“The reality is that we are not yet where we would like to be. The goal is to fight with Red Bull, but the second and third positions on the grid are certainly more than we expected before this weekend.”
Lewis Hamilton’s P2 result in Melbourne, alongside George Russell’s impressive pace early on, was consistent with this impressive start.
Mercedes were again third-fastest in Australia, as they were in Jeddah, consistently in the mix with Aston Martin and Ferrari.
The important difference between these two races was the different operating window of the W14:
“Fernando was very fast. He always stayed in my slipstream, and this normally happens when the one following is faster,” – explained Hamilton.
“But I managed to contain him because we had a lot of speed on the straights, while he was only faster in the corners,” concluded the World Champion.
The fact that Sunday became a race where tire degradation was generally limited meant the advantages shown by Aston Martin and Red Bull over Mercedes and Ferrari in the first two rounds were denied.
The Mercedes W14 adapted very well to the smooth and low-energy Australian asphalt laid down last year, with a less penalizing set-up compromise, especially for the rear of the W14.
This track surface, combined with the low ambient temperatures, allowed Mercedes and Ferrari to widen the small operating window that has characterized both the 2022 (post-DT39 for Ferrari) and 2023 projects.
Mercedes W14: Why Australia will not be a new Brazil
What Australia has shown is that the W14 with the ‘zeropods’ concept, albeit revisited, certainly has the potential to perform well:
“When we put the tires in the right spot, we take a big leap forward in terms of performance, ” said George Russell. However, the W14 and SF-23 remain much more problematic cars to optimize than Aston Martin.
“The team did a great job to get the most out of the car. I think we got the tires to work well, but you can see in the onboards that the car is still difficult to drive.”
“Aston Martin and Red Bull are much better in this respect. We’re driving on a razor’s edge, but here in Australia, we did it well,” Toto Wolff explained.
However, Australia will not be a false dawn like Brazil was. It cannot be forgotten that last year’s victory in Brazil for Mercedes is what gave Mike Elliot’s team confidence to pursue their ‘zerosidepods’ concept over the winter.
Lewis Hamilton was skeptical about this direction, as Toto Wolff has explained:
“Lewis had a different idea. But in the end, we all decided together to remain faithful to this concept, encouraged by the good results at the end of last year.”
“We did everything to make our concept work because, based on our data, it should have worked. But now we have confirmed that we were simply wrong,” admitted Toto Wolff in Australia.
“The two fastest cars of us [Aston Martin and Red Bull] generate downforce in a similar way and look very different from the W14.
“Our aim is to make the right decisions for the long term. For now, we’ll run with the best possible package we can handle. Whether or not you have tight bellies is irrelevant. We just need more downforce,” Wolff explained in Melbourne.
The Austrian team principal’s words are linked to the short-term impossibility of redesigning the chassis, something essential for a complete transition to a Red Bull-like concept.
Mercedes W14: Several ‘projects’ to improve performance in the next five races
Mercedes simply went in the wrong direction over the winter. However, discovering it before the W14 actually hit the track meant the former world champion team didn’t waste any more weeks of time and money.
Of course, the impossibility of working on the chassis is a major limitation for the complete development of the Anglo-German car in 2023.
However, the goal is to proceed with a partial change of concept which will certainly be limited by the budget cap but which will allow Mercedes to evaluate on the track how much good they are seeing in the tunnel.
These changes are not just limited to the shape of Mercedes’ sidepods.
“At the moment, we have many plans to improve the performance of the W14 in the next five races. “ Shovlin said before Australia.
In short, an important package that will be completed by the Spanish GP, confirming our reports in previous articles, will not be limited to the developments expected at Imola.
Focusing on the short term, updates have already been planned for several weeks, which will reshape “a lot of aerodynamic surface,” said Toto Wolff. This includes the Sidepods.
However, before Imola, Mercedes could bring updates concerning the mechanics and cooling, which will partly be in preparation for the aerodynamic changes at Imola.
The team has been working on improvements since Bahrain, where they saw that the W14 not achieving all its intended objectives.
However, Red Bull has produced an excellent car, which has only worsened Mercedes’ forecast of their prospects for 2023.
“We are missing six to twelve months of development, which is how long it took to really understand what was happening to our concept.
“This means that we now have to double our development speed,” concluded the Austrian Team principal. It is likely that Mercedes will have better addressed its weaknesses by 2024.
Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang