Mercedes chief couldn’t believe nobody else spotted loophole

Red Bull designer Newey admits 2023 looks 'tough' amid testing restrictions

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A Mercedes chief claimed he was surprised rival F1 teams such as Red Bull and Ferrari did not notice the ‘no sidepods’ concept. The Silver Arrows adopted the design for their 2022 W13 car. It did not work in their favour though, as they managed just one win throughout the entirety of last year’s campaign and finished third in the constructor’s standings.

According to Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott, it is still not entirely clear to what extent the car’s concept contributed. Mercedes were not so much surprised that rival teams had not opted for the same concept, but rather that the idea had not occurred to anyone else.

“We were surprised that nobody else found this loophole,” Elliot said in conversation with Auto, Motor und Sport. “When you have gone in a certain direction, it is very difficult to copy something else. We only have a partial picture of things, we only see what our car does. It’s hard to judge how the other concepts react. We tried to understand the issues and to get in a position to predict the variation in performance from track to track.

“It has nothing to do with the shape of the sidepods, but more to do with how we designed the car and what goals we set.” Elliot believes it is not so much down to the shape of the sidepods, but more to the design of the car as a whole. Although the entire season was very disappointing compared to the lofty standards Mercedes have set over the better part of the last decade, improvements were made in the second half of the campaign, some of which Elliot went on to explain.

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“Earlier in the season we were dealing with aerodynamically generated bouncing like everyone else,” he said. “That masked the real problems of the car. With our upgrade in Barcelona we got rid of most of the aero bouncing. The bouncing that was still there at the end was caused by bumps. That’s inherent in these cars that sit just over the road. At first we couldn’t explain why it always looked different from track to track. Later, our predictions became more accurate.

“Our simulations gave us a fairly accurate indication of which track is good or bad for us. We now have a good theory as to what we need to do to ensure that this doesn’t happen to us again next season. That gives us confidence over the winter. But unfortunately in Formula 1 you never know everything.”

Mercedes’ most difficult issue was excessive bouncing which caused them to lose pace in a straight line and caused physical discomfort to drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. It hit breaking point when the seven-time world champion emerged from his car at the Azerbaijan GP with back pain and described the event as the “most painful race I’ve experienced.”

Elliot commented on the problem and whether he was surprised by its impact on Mercedes’ season. “We knew that the ground effect cars of the past had this phenomenon and we talked about it at the design stage as well,” he added.

“We didn’t expect there to be no problems at all, but none of the simulations gave any indication of how serious the problem would be. I think everyone has had that experience. It is very difficult to replicate the problem in the wind tunnel and it would be very expensive to model it in CFD simulation. That’s why we didn’t use the resources allowed by the regulations in the CFD to simulate bouncing.”

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