Will Gray

Tech Talk: Can Mercedes make a late push?

Will Gray

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Mercedes introduced a significant new development to their car in Singapore but failed to shine in qualifying or the race - so what changed and could it still push them forward in the future?

Mercedes has had a bit if a rollercoaster year, starting with a struggle to overcome tyre issues then bouncing back to win the third race of the season, on a track that maximised the benefit of their innovative double-DRS solution.

But a mid-season slump has seen them lose ground to closest rivals Lotus - who are now almost 100 points ahead - and they even face the uncomfortable feeling of looking over their shoulders at Sauber, who are just 35 points behind.

There is just under a third of the season still to go, however, and for a team that may be trying to lure Lewis Hamilton away from McLaren for 2013, this is a vital period not only for this season's championship but also for their long-term future.

The tyre problems continued to persist after their victory, with rear tyre wear on the Mercedes far higher than their rivals. That created a severe compromise in races, with tyres lasting fewer laps and severely limiting strategic options. There was no quick fix, and the team chose to methodically work through the problem, introducing a series of set-up and mechanical upgrades that included changing gearbox casing and suspension. Only once happy with these solutions did they fully turn their focus back to improving raw performance.

That is what caused them to drop back, but finally they have introduced a performance development that most of their rivals have been running from the start of the year - the downwards flowing exhaust.

The design run so far has aimed the exhausts at the lower beam wing, which has some positive downforce effect but is nowhere near as good as blowing in to the diffuser area.

The new solution mirrors McLaren's set-up, with a bulge bringing the exhausts more outboard on the sidepods. The external shape of the sidepods ahead of the exhaust exit and the curvature of a deep channel cut into the bodywork behind it combine to create a downflow that steers the energised exhaust flow down towards the outer edge of the diffuser, creating an air barrier between diffuser and rear tyres.

The solution should provide more rear downforce and that should enable Mercedes to make their tyres last longer, giving them the potential to manage longer stints and opening up much more strategic opportunities.

The modifications were tried out in the young driver test after the Italian Grand Prix and deemed effective enough to introduce for last weekend's race in Singapore.

But in practice it takes time to get it right.

This is a significant change in airflow concept at the rear-end of the car and when other teams have brought in similar modifications they have taken several races to perfect it and achieve the performance figures they had expected.

Mercedes boss Ross Brawn said it had taken "a little while to sort them out" in Singapore as the set-up required modifications to work woth the new system. There are upgrades to the system already planned, and the will need to optimise the car around the new system.

So, given that this modification creates such a significant change to the balance of the car, it does beg the question why Mercedes spent so long trying to get the car right in its previous guise before introducing the new development parts.

It is, of course, better to bolt on developments to a car you understand than to try to add them to a car you don't. But you can't help feeling Mercedes have left all that a little too late.

Singapore gave a taster of the potential perofrmance - and although it was not a radical improvement, it did show promise. It's the next two races that we will show whether Mercedes' engineering team has what it takes to cope with the pace of development at the front...

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