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Mercedes: Red Bull F1 sidepod test showed “substantial” loss of downforce

Mercedes says early experiments it did with a Red Bull Formula 1 sidepod copy showed a "substantial" loss of downforce compared to its baseline design.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The huge leap forward that McLaren has made with its Austrian and British GP package, which was inspired by both Red Bull and Aston Martin sidepod ideas, has left rivals pondering if they too need to make a dramatic change of direction. 

And while Mercedes has long insisted that sidepod and bodywork tweaks are not a key performance differentiator, rivals are clearly seeing good gains coming from changes in this area. 

Mercedes did move towards a more Red Bull-style downwash sidepod solution at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix but has not yet gone as far down the route as some other squads. 

And, according to team principal Toto Wolff, that is because when it tried out a Red Bull design in its wind tunnel early on it did not find any benefit – and in fact made its car worse. 

However, he thinks that the way that McLaren has so obviously exploited the idea and put it to good use could well prompt a bit of a rethink and trigger another attempt to look at it. 

Asked by Autosport why Mercedes has not followed the Red Bull idea while others believe it delivers good gains, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “We had the sidepod concept and the bodywork in the tunnel very early on already, to see which avenues you could open up and how much it would add to performance.  

“And the relative loss of downforce, the way we measure it, was substantial. So, it's not something that we wanted to follow up early in the year.  

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

“Will we change our design direction? I think we have a great group of aerodynamicists led by James [Allison] and I'm sure that it will be a consideration seeing the step they [McLaren] made.” 

Wolff still believes the key to Mercedes making a jump forward is in unlocking more performance from its floor and underside, rather than the visible bodywork. 

“The sidepods and the bodywork are just one part of the chassis, and it clearly looks like there are interesting solutions that it opens up,” he said. 

“But most of the performance comes from the floor and the diffuser, and we haven't seen how they interpreted the regulations and how they've done it.  

“In my opinion, it's just the fact that we see that the strong cars look a little bit the same when you look from the side and from top down, and certainly that played in our minds already back in the day. Maybe that's just more an indication about where it goes.” 

Mercedes W14 new front wing comparison, British GP

Mercedes W14 new front wing comparison, British GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

 

Mercedes upgrade push 

Mercedes introduced its own upgrade at the British GP with a new front wing that was aimed at improving car balance through low-speed corners.

The endplate and flap juncture retain their core design DNA but the team has paid attention to every surface in the region to optimise its performance.

The leading edge of the mainplane has been lifted to present the underside of the wing to the oncoming flow (red line) and feed the flaps thereafter, all of which have been reprofiled in the tip section in order that they work more effectively with the winglet stack that protrudes from the endplate above them.

The endplate itself employs a curved leading edge, rather than the squared-off design that was previously utilised, with the entire surface banked away from the centreline (red line). The changes to the endplate also result in the infra-red camera pod finding a new home, further back and in a lower position than before, with the pod tilted upward as a consequence. 

Meanwhile, a design feature first seen on the Mercedes W13’s front wing but never raced and since used by Ferrari and Haas has finally returned, as the outer and uppermost slot gap separator bracket now has a winglet-like profile. 

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Changes were also clear to see when it came to the design of the upper flaps, as a design with less curvature across their span has been employed. 

The immovable section closest to the nose has also been modified, along with alterations having been made to the shape of the mainplane’s leading edge in that vicinity and a reprofiling of the nose tip section.

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