Formula 1’s 2023 season officially starts in March, but for Mercedes we could say that the upcoming season will start in Texas, with four rounds left in the current season. Max Verstappen already won his second drivers’ title in Suzuka, and Red Bull’s first constructors’ championship since 2013 is a matter of mathematics now.
It isn’t rare for engineers and technicians to concentrate on next year’s season back at the factory at this point of the year, with a lot of simulations of all sorts running away from the race track.
But Mercedes’ 2023 season will start this upcoming weekend on the Circuit of the Americas. More than a month ago the team decided that every race and session would be used as a trial: tests and new solutions for next year’s car. In Austin the team from Brackley will bring ahead another crucial stage of this program.
Toto Wolff’s team will bring a number of solutions designed in order to transform the W13 into a faster and more stable benchmark to begin with in the process to become competitive again. This process will involve a completely new air flow around the car, which should give a fully different setup window.
The changes will give more freedom to the height of the rear suspension, but on the other side drivers will have to change and adapt some aspects of their driving style. Given the shortened winter testing, such a shift in the approach for next season will allow engineers to collect more valuable data and guarantee a better tuning work in the following months, including Russell’s and Hamilton’s simulator shifts.
Such a big change requires equally important modifications to the car from the front wing to the rear, and we expect to see some significant updates to the car already on track at Austin.
As we all know the floor and underbody of this generation of cars is the area responsible for most of the performance, but the nose cone and front wing are the elements that start the process and consequently the entire air flow.
This season Mercedes’ engineers only brought 2 specifications of the front and rear wings: high load, and a low downforce spec designed in a hurry, and avoiding the downforce options in between. A similar approach to Red Bull’s but for opposite reasons. This is another indication that the car’s main problem was drag.
According to information obtained exclusively by Formu1a.uno we should expect small changes in the nose cone, front wing and the new floor. Furthermore, Mercedes will complete another step towards the weight limit.
New lighter components should guarantee a weight reduction of around (but less than) 5kg, and bring the car closer to the well known 798kg minimum weight. Talking about the weight only, this should ensure an improvement of around 1 tenth per lap.
Given the stability in technical regulations and the fact that some of the components used this season will continue to be on the car for the coming season, we can imagine that the attention was mainly focused on these exact components. The development package at Mercedes, despite being a new concept, won’t be new in terms of components themselves.
Recycling is the key word with these new financial regulations, and we saw it already many times this season: cuts, junctions, patches, and holes are visible on components without the paint.
The new package will be mostly built with parts already available from earlier in the season. If the solutions work on track, new ones will be built before the start of next season. This situation shows that the financial regulations can be effective if every competitor follows and respects the limits.
Above all, top teams can no longer develop and produce infinite parts and components. Even the limitations in the wind tunnel had a significant effect. Mercedes used most of their wind tunnel time in the first half of the season while working on a solution for the porpoising effect. This meant that other packages were sometimes worked on almost in the dark, and team members never denied it earlier in the season: some components which weren’t properly tested in the wind tunnel were brought on track at times! Apparently the team used 86% of the season’s budget so far, and 8% of the money has been put aside for damage costs.
As we said, preparations for next season are ongoing both back at the factories and soon on track, but also by putting as much pressure as possible on the FIA in order to see a strong reaction to Red Bull’s ‘minor breach’ of the budget cap. Mercedes knows that it’s impossible to take away Max Verstappen’s 2021 title, so the goal is now to reduce development options and impose further budget limits on the soon-to-be World Champions.
The chance of seeing a similar scenario to this is more likely, because by removing the penalties related to championship points and financial penalties (too lenient), leaves only two other options available.
Mercedes’ position was made clear to the FIA by Toto Wolff himself in a straightforward conversation, and is the same as Ferrari’s. The front could be even bigger, but to have clarity on the situation we have to wait for the media to break their silence, a very unusual one in F1.
Despite rejecting all allegations up to this moment, Red Bull knows that the situation could become worse and the media could start a storm.
For this reason the team already started a negotiation process with the FIA, and results are expected in a couple of weeks. We should also be informed of the amount of overspend by Red Bull, even though the amount only has to be presented to the other 9 teams, and a public appeal is still an option.
Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren together demand a severe penalty. Incidentally, there is also some concern about the timing, namely that Christian Horner’s team might argue with the FIA that the team has already spent all of the budget in the current season and prepare in advance to a development (and/or budget) deficit in 2023.
Talking again about the Silver Arrows, the final and maybe most important element for next season’s preparations is a redesign in their technical hierarchies. The team from Bracket needs “its own Newey” in the optimal position. At the moment, after a long period of external support, James Allison is slowly becoming a very influential figure in the technical office. However, we will still have to wait a few more weeks for this change in the technical organization to be made official.
Authors: Giuliano Duchessa – Daniel Bialy
Co-authors: Piergiuseppe Donadoni – Andrea Vergani