Mercedes expected to be alone with their unique zero-pod design for the W13, but not in finding the loophole that led to it.
The 2022 Technical Regulations presented all the teams with a blank sheet of paper when it came to designing their challengers for the start of this new era, and Mercedes, on a run of eight Constructors’ titles in succession, went off the beaten path with their solution.
Largely eliminating the traditional sidepod area and leaving only narrow inlets, Mercedes’ innovative design for their W13 was termed the ‘zero-pod’ concept, a design which certainly sent early shockwaves through the paddock.
And while Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott was not surprised that only they went with his design, he had expected other teams to sniff out this loophole in the regulations that led to it.
Asked by Auto Motor und Sport if he was surprised that Mercedes were the only ones to choose this concept, Elliott replied: “Not really. We were surprised that no one else found this loophole. When you’ve gone down this path, it’s very hard to copy anything else.”
It was a risk though that in 2022 at least, did not pay off for the Silver Arrows, the W13 beginning the season off the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, and finishing it in similar fashion in Abu Dhabi.
There were highlights though like their one-two finish in Brazil, Mercedes’ only win of the season, but overall it was a story of inconsistency.
Still, Mercedes driver George Russell has denied that the sidepods were to blame for Mercedes’ struggles, and Elliott backed up that claim.
A major issue to come from this concept was porpoising, a bouncing phenomenon which initially held the team back and stopped them from being able to focus on performance-specific upgrades for the W13.
“We only have a partial view of things,” Elliott responded when asked to what extent the concept contributed to their issues. “We only see what our car does. It’s difficult to judge how the other concepts react.
“We’ve been trying to understand the issues and get into a position to predict the performance variations 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 our goals were.”
Elliott did have positive news to offer though, explaining that Mercedes have now gained a strong understanding of why the severity of their issues and therefore performance level was fluctuating from track and to track, and believe they can translate this into greater consistency in 2023.
“At the beginning of the season we had to deal with aerodynamically generated bouncing like everyone else,” said Elliott. “That masked the real problems of the car.
“With our upgrade in Barcelona, we got rid of most of the aero bounce. The bouncing that was still there at the end was caused by bumps. It’s inherent in these cars that are just above 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 pretty accurate indication of which track would be good or bad for us.
“We now also have a good theory of what we need to do so that this doesn’t happen to us again next season. That gives us confidence over the winter. But in Formula 1, unfortunately, you never know everything.”
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Mercedes remain confident and committed to the belief that there is a great deal of performance to unlock from their challenger using this concept, and while it would seem like the more obvious route for the W14 to follow a more traditional design, all the indications are that this will not be the case.
Having dominated much of this turbo-hybrid era, it is understandable why Mercedes have the confidence to back themselves, and indeed they are widely expected to return for 2023 a far stronger outfit once more and resume their title-challenging ways.
But, if Mercedes still cannot unlock title-worthy performance from the W14, then it feels like a change of approach for 2024 would be a necessity.
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