Mercedes W14: What to expect from the team’s new direction

23 May, 2023

“In Bahrain, we realised we didn’t have a package that would allow us to fight for the World Championship. If we had continued with the same development direction, we would not have been able to challenge Red Bull even in the medium term.”

“At that time, we made some decisions about how to develop the W14, how it works aerodynamically and how to design some of its features differently.” These are the quotes of Mercedes race engineer Andrew Shovlin early in the year.

Given the concerns coming from Brackley even in pre-season, it would seem that Mercedes started working on the new development direction after the tests at the end of February.

In reality, only the Bahrain GP was confirmation of the difficult situation the German squad put themselves in. In fact, during the winter break, some of the team’s objectives had not been reached.

However, the team was still unsure about the W14’s deficit to its direct competitors. Meanwhile, in Brackley, plenty of resources have been invested to create an effective ‘plan b’ to rectify the team’s early struggles. The three days of pre-season testing certainly confirmed that following this new path was necessary.

MiamiGP, USA - Mercedes W14, George Russell & Lewis Hamilton

The budget cap limits the introduction of corrections to the W14

The path ahead is complicated for Mercedes, perhaps most significantly because of the budget cap. This limit was initially set at $135 million for this 2023 season, but some factors raised it by $16 million to $151 million.

There is also the issue of considering six sprint races that will cost the teams almost $2 million, as well as the extra GPs over 21, for which another $2.4 million will be added. The adjustments made due to inflation rates cannot be forgotten, equal to almost 12 million if we consider the increases in 2022 and 2023.

The budget cap makes it difficult for teams to bring a new chassis to the track mid-season.

So for Mercedes. Until the end of the season, the monocoque will therefore remain that of the current W14, i.e. excavated and designed to maximize the dynamics of the zeropods concept, with its now well-known central wing and vertical cooling inlets.

It will be a limitation for the update of the current car, and only on 2024’s W15 will the conversion to the new aerodynamic concept be completed.

The spending limit has not only limited the updates teams can bring, but it has also made teams more cautious to introduce them – being more thorough when assessing.

It takes much longer to bring updates to the track because, since the introduction of the budget cap, management has become much more complex,” Toto Wolff has explained before going into more detail:

“Before, we didn’t even know how much a front suspension cost, for example, while today, we have to even start from the purchase price of aluminium and continue with the calculations.

“How much does it cost to work with aluminium? You have to remove the waste material from this, then calculate the cost of each screw that goes into the suspension of the carbon you bought as raw material, and then cut and assembled.

“But that’s not all: there is also the ‘energy’ part and general expenses. Only after all these calculations can you determine the price.”

This is a very complex system, to the point that the teams have a specific department in charge of all these calculations, made up of cost analysts and engineers, “who have to decide whether the purchase of a kilogram of aluminium is worth the estimated performance gain,” said the Mercedes team principal.

Consider that in just a few seasons since the introduction of the budget cap, the financial department of the former world champion team has gone from 15 to 45 employees, with a 200% increase which indicates its current importance.

An update worth 2 tenths (intended for Imola) will be Mercedes’ next step in a new development direction

What will be clearly visible in the Monte Carlo pits in a few hours will be “an update that we believe won’t make a huge difference in the short term, but hopefully a step in the right direction,” Russell said post-race in Miami.

A package of 2 tenths of updates in the pre-Imola evaluations and for that specific track, which will include aerodynamic (bottom and bodywork) and mechanical (front suspension) modifications.

Meanwhile, the Anglo-German team will not postpone the update to the Spanish GP. Both W14s had arrived at the Santerno circuit already set up with the new front suspension. Meanwhile, from an aerodynamic point of view, the work had to be done in the pits.

However, the material brought to Imola was only of the new specification, including spares, and has already been shipped to Monte Carlo. The Anglo-German team then has little to lose and then wants to move forward in understanding the package to arrive in Spain more prepared, even if it is aware that the very important work of correlation cannot be carried out so efficiently in Montecarlo.

Mercedes W14

“I hope the update is really a step forward,” Wolff said. However,Monaco has nothing to do with a conventional track. For this reason, we don’t know if what we will put in the car will really bring us advantages,” assessed the Australian team principal.

“It’s difficult to work miracles in Formula 1. We won’t go faster than half a second, but we hope to have fewer problems and, above all, to be able to continue to work with a competitive car.”

In fact, Mercedes doesn’t want to bring to the track just an update that gives advantages in terms of timing but, above all, a different development direction, which will give him a better chance to fight for victories and world championships in the long term with a new more stable aeromechanical base.

According to Mercedes, it is precisely the different development direction that will limit the immediate performance advantage of the new but important package.

It will have to be understood and optimised – it is no coincidence that many Mercedes personnel, such as Toto Wolff and George Russell, have lowered the expectations pushed by many in the media who are already talking about the B-spec car as being capable of ‘miraculous’ gains.

However, there is a lot of expectation within the team to verify the effectiveness of the updates on the track – especially given the recent concerns with correlation. The hope is that this new path can truly guarantee a much more stable aerodynamic and mechanical platform.

As already mentioned, from these correlative answers, which the engineers had to look for between Imola and Barcelona, ​​the upgrade plan already envisaged for the ‘new’ W14 will then be confirmed or re-evaluated.

“We have three races in a row to learn and understand. Then there will be a small break where we will be able to close our analyses, deciding which updates to bring next,” Toto Wolff has concluded.

Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndsang

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