The F1 paddock is well into its preparations for pre-season testing in Bahrain (23-25 February), just one week before the first race of 2023. The Mercedes W14 will be among the most scrutinised cars in these tests.
There is plenty of intrigue surrounding the new RB19, which is the only car yet to show itself. However, the various car launch presentations have naturally led to an increased interest in Ferrari and, above all, Mercedes.
Ferrari impressed everyone with its presentation that took its car directly to the track, at Fiorano, with the Maranello squad clearly not afraid to show many interesting details of its SF-23.
Toto Wolff’s team, meanwhile, is expected to respond after a difficult 2022. The W14 is the car Mercedes hope will put it back into title contention alongside Red Bull and Ferrari.
An installation problem with the Power Unit slowed down Mercedes’ shakedown. The rumours since have been denied.
The Brackley team announced it would take the W14 to the track immediately after its unveiling at Silverstone. In these situations, there is always the chance something goes wrong, with this being the first time the new 2023 car is fully assembled and taken out on the track.
A few issues did arise for the Mercedes W14, forcing them to use plan B. The team had preemptively booked the Silverstone circuit for two days, anticipating a potential issue with the car or sub-optimal weather conditions. Ironically, the W14 did plenty of laps in the wet anyway.
“On Wednesday, we had a demo day just to gather basic information about W14 and verify that the installation went right. We didn’t do any shooting,” one of the Mercedes personnel informed us:
“It may be that not everything goes 100% on the first day of a new car. Problems can always arise. However, there were no misfire issues as reported online,” concluded the Mercedes member. In that case, what slowed down Mercedes?
What afflicted the W14 was a typical issue when first starting the car. When it was switched on, the Power Unit revealed some problems, which later turned out to be connected to an incorrect installation of the unit on the car, relating to the fuel supply system.
This was promptly resolved and did not reappear as an issue the following day.
However, the delay Mercedes suffered made some suspect that the problem was not so trivial. From there, various rumours emerged about the possibility of the W14 having significant problems.
This manifested itself in speculation about potential steering issues and the potential re-emergence of porpoising as a significant problem. This is something that Brackley, at least officially, continues to deny, having successfully completed its filming day.
“We had a good start with the W14. The conditions weren’t ideal for filming or racing, but we completed the 100km allowed without any problems, and both drivers gave us a good assessment of their first impressions of the car,” said Andrew Shovlin However, there is still plenty of interest to see the W14 on track in Bahrain.
The Mercedes front wing is legal: it incorporates (in a less extreme way) the concepts of the 2022 specification.
The 2023 launch presentations have provided the opportunity to analyse the team’s new innovative technical solutions.
Among the different areas that were most eye-catching – besides the shape of the sidepods and bodywork – the W14’s front wing is quite distinctive.
At the Alfa Romeo C43 car launch, Technical Director Jan Monchaux admitted that the team had concentrated on the rear of the car in 2022, postponing updates to the front area until this year – which are already in the pipeline.
The C43 actually has no important innovations in the first part of the single-seater, proposing a front wing very similar to the one introduced at Suzuka, which is based on the innovative concepts first seen on the W13 and reproduced in a less extreme way to make them compliant with the 2023 regulations.
The front wings brought by Mercedes at Austin last season generated plenty of intrigue, with the FIA swiftly intervening to limit the search for an exasperated outwash effect. However, Alfa Romeo has developed a similar solution inspired by Mercedes for 2023.
Meanwhile, Ferrari has reproduced the aerodynamic appendages placed on the flaps of the front wing– taking advantage of a regulatory change by the FIA, which previously blocked the Mercedes solution, but is now perfectly compatible with the new regulations.
The function of these deflectors is clearly aerodynamic, even if the advantage is ‘minimal’, as well as structural.
Even on this year’s Mercedes W14, the team has continued to push towards solutions that amplify the outwash effect of the front wing.
The extreme solution from 2022 (pictured above) was banned by the FIA, but the technicians led by Mike Elliott found an alternative way to keep these rather large slits in the endplate.
In fact, the new front wing sees the flaps join the front wing through minimal attachments, with the edge of the flaps showing the usual final curl without binding completely to the endplate.
It is only in contact through this small connecting element, thus leaving a free passage in the wing’s lateral area.
Mercedes: Doubts about the W14’s baseline. There will be a cautious approach before introducing updates.
We arrived in Bahrain testing last season with major speculation accompanying Mercedes, with rumours suggesting that the Bahrain specification was expected to be a second quicker than the W13 from the first tests in Spain.
Toto Wolff discussed this false down at this year’s launch, admitting that Mercedes saw a 1.5-second advantage in the tunnel:
“When we saw the performance of the W13 in Barcelona, we didn’t worry too much because we knew that in Bahrain, we would bring an upgrade package that was worth a second and a half,” Toto Wolff admitted:
“However, when we put it on track, it didn’t work at all as we expected. Now we’ve learned our lesson.”
This year, Mercedes will completely change its strategy. The car seen at the W14 presentation will largely be the one used in tests and in the first rounds.
Mercedes is taking a more cautious approach, waiting to collect the first results from the track and then comparing them with what emerged from the simulator, the CFD and the wind tunnel.
The work done on aerodynamic refinement, weight loss, and improvement of the Power Unit seems to have satisfied the objectives that the Mercedes technicians set themselves during the winter.
Nonetheless, the approach for Bahrain is a cautious one, which is linked to a certain pessimism that surrounds the Brackley-squad, at least based on the words of Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton
Therefore, it is no coincidence what a Mercedes technician told us, following the very positive results surrounding the performance of the Ferrari SF-23 – that Mercedes hope Ferrari hasn’t found the improvements that are being speculated.
The World Champions are not fully satisfied with the first version of the W14
“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,” Hamilton said.
Work is already underway in Brackley for the first major package of aerodynamic developments, which, at least to date, is planned around the Baku Grand Prix.
“Regarding the sidepods, this is an early version, but after the first few races, they will change a bit,” explained the Austrian Team Principal.
From these updates, the German squads expect a real step forward – although this is not to say the Mercedes W14 is not already an improvement on the W13.
Ideally, the team aims to close the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari – which could remain after the first rounds of the season.
“I don’t expect to be fighting for the win in the first races of the season. I have more confidence for later stages when the first updates on the W14 arrive,” stated Lewis Hamilton at the presentation of his new machine.
Author: Paolo D’Alessandro
Co Authors: Piergiuseppe Donadoni and Daniel Bialy
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang