Mercedes presented its W03 to the press this morning in Barcelona - and in doing so became the tenth team to reveal its 2012 challenger. Ross Brawn explained during the launch that the team 'must move forwards' and that two seasons finishing fourth in the championship 'is not good enough', so the new car is a departure from the last two Mercedes cars.
The W03 was described by Norbert Haug as 'quite different' and it clearly sets out to rectify the faults of the past two cars by being 'aerodynamically stronger'.
Since acquiring the Brawn GP team, the fortunes of Mercedes's F1 team have wavered. In its sole year as Brawn, the team benefited from a car developed over a long period in the preceding year. This new car has benefited from a similar early switch in resources.
Perhaps due to the livery and general shape of the car, the W03 does at a glance look like a simple evolution of the W02. However in every area the car appears to be different from both its predecessor and many other 2012 F1 cars. From the all new front wing to the dramatic stepped nose and the sculpted sidepods with their top exit exhausts.
What is not immediately apparent is the first change to the car - its wheelbase. Last year's car had a short wheelbase in order to create a shorter sidepod to emphasise a less sensitive exhaust blown diffuser. This concept failed, partly due to the centre of gravity being too high. Having more length in the wheelbase has allowed the team to package these components in a lower and more efficient way.
However the lessons learned from packaging the radiators into the short sidepods of the 2011 car, paid dividends in creating a tiny sidepod volume for 2012. It is this packaging that sets the car apart from its rivals. The sidepods are tiny, they are deeply undercut and their volume appears to be both high and forward. Even the leading edges of the sidepods angle inwards to meet the airflow separating around the front of the chassis. How the coolers are packaged inside the bodywork has yet to become clear. To the rear of the sidepods the exhausts exit over the top surface and appear to blow over the rear bodywork and through the rear suspension. From spy pictures taken during testing, it's clear that the exhaust and cooling outlets seen on the launch car are only for the initial tests. Different pipework and bodywork will replace them before Melbourne.
One major step forward with this car is the new front wing. The 2011 car's wing was derived from that of the 2009 Brawn. The new wing is far more contemporary however and the three elements curve down to form the endplate and the wing is tipped with a pair of curved vanes.
The wing also conforms to current thinking with the cascade elements. Mounted near the endplates are a large winglet and a very narrow aerofoil placed next to it. Then further inboard, near the neutral centre section, there are a pair of 'R' shaped flaps. All of these cascade elements are there primarily to divert flow around the wheels, rather than purely to create downforce.
It's been rumoured Mercedes have an F-duct solution developed for their front wing. Hints that the F-duct is to be used can be seen in the large wing mounting pylons and the way these join to the front wing. As a passive system, the F-duct set up would be legal, but as yet the benefits are not clearly understood.
In order to meet the 2012 nose regulations, Mercedes were able to use its 2011 experience to create a distinctive package. Its W02 used a very shallow rounded nose cone, only widening to meet the rectangular interface with the chassis. This nose shape has been carried over, the near oval section nose tip creates a large step with the curved top of the chassis.
Elsewhere on the car, Mercedes continues to sport the reinforcing struts below the inlet and an auxiliary cooling inlet behind the roll hoop.
Naturally the car carries the Mercedes AMG Power Train Engine and KERS developed in Brixworth, although the gearbox package is developed by the race team in Brackley.
Last year the car sported a rear suspension that used hydraulically linked elements, potentially with the front and rear systems interlinked to provide a means to prevent the car diving under braking. Mercedes was also one of the teams linked to exploiting a similar front ride height compensating solution to Lotus (nee Renault). With the latter system now banned, there is still likely to be a clever suspension system.
Like Ferrari, Mercedes has gone with a very different car concept this year. With this comes risks, but the late unveiling of the Mercedes has given the team an extended design period and the private testing before the launch means it is close to rivals on track time. It now remains to see if these design changes also bring quicker lap times.