Mercedes knew limits of W14 F1 car concept before Bahrain

Mercedes knew even before it arrived for Formula 1 testing and the first race in Bahrain that it needed to change approach with its car concept.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W14

The German manufacturer has had a difficult start to the new season, with its 2023 F1 challenger proving to be no match for the dominant Red Bull team.

Straight after qualifying for the season-opener in Bahrain, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that the squad had already thrown the towel in on its design concept and would start work on a completely new direction.

While his comments after just a single competitive session prompted some to suggest the team was acting in haste, it has since emerged that Mercedes knew many weeks before that it needed to do something different.

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin has revealed that Mercedes had reached a conclusion about the limits of the W14 in the wind tunnel when it realised improvements were not coming as easily as it hoped.

“You can look at your development rates in the wind tunnel, and before we even got to Bahrain, there were conversations about looking at bigger [concept] departures,” explained Shovlin.

“That's not looking at it in isolation for this year's car development, it’s something we've done over the course of the last 10 years.

“If you're not finding the gains you need, you make a bigger change. You explore another area and often you want to unlock that.

“That had already happened before Bahrain. But perhaps the urgency to try and bring those bits to the track has gone up following the early races.”

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

One of the biggest changes that Mercedes plans to unlock in the early phase of this season is a revision to its zeropod concept.

However, Shovlin said the team will have to overhaul other areas of the car as well if it wants to find the performance needed to beat Red Bull.

Asked to clarify what Wolff had meant by a change of concept, Shovlin said: “Perhaps we've adopted the word concept to mean sidepod.

“This car is an evolution of the car that we had last year, and a lot of that is tied around where we've got the side impact structure. So now we're looking at bigger departures because it's evident that this hasn't given us the performance that we'd like.

“Saying that, there's other areas of the car that we know we need to improve as well.

“It would be very misguided to think if we go and put a different looking sidepod on it, all of that gap is going to vanish.

“The reality is that the vast majority of that gap is going to have to come from other performance areas. We've got a lot of projects at the moment trying to bring performance over the next five races.”

As well as the work on the overall concept, Mercedes faces a challenge in trying to get Lewis Hamilton more comfortable with the car as he is struggling with the lack of rear end stability.

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Shovlin said that were many aspects of the W14 that needed to be made better for both Hamilton and George Russell.

“There's things where the car hasn't gotten entry stability, and that means they haven't really got the confidence with it,” he said. “It can be a bit tricky to bring the tyres in, and we're sliding around too much in the high speed.

“We're taking feedback from both drivers throughout every session, and that's getting fed into the development process. And, ultimately, I think if we improve the car for Lewis, we will improve it for George as well.”

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