Out of the four front-runners at the start of the 2023 F1 Championship, some teams (such as Ferrari) regressed in Saudi Arabia compared to Bahrain. Others, like Mercedes, made a notable improvement – going from 4th to the 3rd-fastest team. Red Bull and Aston Martin confirmed their impressive pace from the first round.
Mercedes made up significant ground on Red Bull last year, hopeful that the ‘zeropods’ concept still had potential.
In the last four races of 2022, the W13 was quite close to the RB18, which gave the Silver Arrows a false positive about the potential of their concept.
This flawed concept has been compounded by development problems over the winter, with the start of the season confirming that Mercedes was following the wrong path.
Mercedes: The new floor upgrade was worth a tenth of improvement
Mercedes’ 2023 season has been disappointing so far, with even Aston Martin – a customer team that takes almost its entire tear end from Mercedes – (suspension, gearbox, power unit and hydraulics) notably faster.
The W14 has been slightly improved since its difficult first days of pre-season testing, but it still lacks plenty of downforce in medium-high and high-speed corners. This was exposed in both Bahrain and Jeddah.
“We lack downforce, especially at the rear. The more stable that part of the car becomes, the more comfortable I will feel driving the W14,” seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has explained.
George Russell has given similar comments, explaining that “Our weakness is simply the lack of downforce. But we’ve definitely taken a step in the right direction.”
The positive steps George Russell is referring to are partly thanks to a floor update Mercedes introduced in Saudi Arabia.
Toto Wolff has described the W14’s recent upgrades as changes which “won’t change the cards on the table, but he can start to take us in the right direction.”
Mercedes’ Jeddah update package included a change in the inlet area of the Venturi channels, which now has less curvature, with the aim of improving the performance of the diffuser. It worked positively and was worth just over one-tenth per lap. Russell has received these changes positively, although Lewis Hamilton has made no secret about his discomfort.
However, Lewis Hamilton has attributed some of his struggles to an incorrect setup choice, with his W14 proving “too unstable in fast corners.”
Mercedes: incorrect simulations also due to out-of-tolerance parts placed in the tunnel
The concerns surrounding the W14 have been clear for some time now, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton aware even during pre-season that the first version of the W14 hadn’t fully satisfied Mercedes’ technicians in Brackley.
“Last year, we designed the W13 to run as low as possible, which was wrong. This year we thought it was too high. But now we think we know what the optimal height is,” Toto has explained.
When the team returned to Brackley after the Bahrain GP, there was a long meeting where all the technical management was questioned, including the technical director, Mike Elliott.
“After Bahrain, we had discussions about planning our future. In the short term, we will struggle to find further performance. Longer term, we will focus our development on trying to take Red Bull.” said Toto Wolff during the second weekend of the season.
Mercedes found the answers they were looking for in Bahrain. “We needed to have confirmation that we went in the wrong direction for development in the winter. Now we have it,” Toto Wolff explained in Saudi Arabia.
More information has surfaced surrounding problems during the development of the W14 in the wind tunnel over winter.
Mercedes has worked to better understand this issue, carrying out a complete investigation in the factory through scans both in the scale models used in the tunnel and in the real ones.
It has emerged that some parts used in the wind tunnel (the scale models) were inaccurate and went beyond the necessary parameters.
These problems have not only affected the development of the W14, such as the delays we reported during the winter, but also in terms of correlation. Subsequently, some of those who worked in this area have been dismissed.
Due to dissatisfaction with the wind tunnel numbers for the W14, development at Mercedes has been ramped up in recent weeks. In addition to innovations that will concern aerodynamics, including the sidepods, as already mentioned by Mercedes, there will also be mechanical and, most significantly, cooling changes.
What will not change is the chassis, which will stay the same – i.e, excavated and designed to optimise the zeropods concept – and remain different from the conventional design used by Aston Martin, for example.
In this respect, a new chassis will only be introduced with the W15 2024, due to the budget cap.
Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang