How Mercedes has turned the corner on its knife-edge W12

Mercedes arrived at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after a bruising pre-season Formula 1 test and some warning signs about Red Bull’s potential in the Bahrain race.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

It had to face up to the reality that new regulations had appeared to hamper the low rake runners more than their high rake counterparts.

However, while fellow low rake runner Aston Martin has continued to struggle to maximise its package in response to this, Mercedes has made clear progress with its car.

For although the W12 has still been labelled a bit ‘knife edge’ by Lewis Hamilton, the car has noticeably got more stable as time has progressed – and that has drawn it closer to Red Bull.

The team's development and setup focus has clearly been at the rear of the car, with the team evaluating two rear wing options during Imola’s Friday free practice sessions.

Both had slightly different downforce levels but perhaps more importantly they sported different support pillar designs. 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

This is not a new tactic for Mercedes, as it spent a good chunk of last season conducting similar tests in an effort to understand which trade off would suit their requirements for qualifying and the race, with the effect on DRS one of the factors.

Another area where the team looked to improve its stability issues was with a revised strake design for its diffuser.

The layout of the strakes had largely been carried over from last year's design, albeit with the lower 50mm cut off to comply with the new regulations.

However, for Imola a change was made to the secondary line of strakes, with the L-Shaped design used in Bahrain exchanged for a full length version (highlighted in green, below).

Mercedes W12 diffuser comparison

Mercedes W12 diffuser comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Meanwhile, it would appear that the surface coating of the diffuser transition has also been modified for the second race of the season, perhaps in an effort to keep the flow attached and stabilise the performance of the central section of the diffuser.

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Red Bull 2021 nose tweak

Red Bull spent a significant amount of its time fighting a correlation issue in the early part of last season, as it discovered that its real world performance didn’t match with the information provided by its simulation tools.

One of the major changes the team had undergone during this phase was a shift in nose design philosophy, with the team switching to the almost universally adopted cape solution.

The team switched back and forth between a narrow and wide pillar mounting position during this period but the rest of the assembly remained relatively unchanged.


Having spent its development tokens on the rear of the RB16B, you’d be mistaken for thinking that the nose hasn’t seen any action, but a sizeable section of bodywork has been placed on the cape behind the nose box.

Once placed on the car, this section of the cape slides in to meet the chassis, with the new bodywork filling in some of the void that you’d have previously found the airflow rushing to fill.

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