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Mercedes uncovers biggest clue on 2024 F1 struggles

Mercedes technical director James Allison says Formula 1 2024's first three races have unveiled initial trends on why it has struggled so much.

While the Mercedes W15 has been easier to handle for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, it hasn't delivered the expected performance step.

Mercedes has yet to score higher than fifth, and after a double retirement in Australia, it has fallen 29 points behind third-placed McLaren.

Even putting aside the two DNFs, the Brackley squad has struggled for performance and across the season start's vastly different circuits of Bahrain, Jeddah and Melbourne some worrying trends have come to light.

In the heat of Saudi Arabia, it already became apparent that the W15 struggles for grip in high-speed corners, aggravated by bouncing and, according to technical director Allison, a trend has now emerged the team is less competitive in warmer conditions.

The latest data point was the gap in competitiveness between Australia's free practice three and qualifying.

In FP3, which was held in the cooler morning, Hamilton and Russell were almost on the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari.

Yet in afternoon qualifying, when Ferrari and Red Bull both found chucks of lap time, Mercedes appeared to plateau, with Russell and Hamilton qualifying seventh and 11th respectively.

"We are starting to see a pattern emerge that most weekends we have a period in the weekend where we are feeling confident about the car, but then in the paying sessions, in qualifying and the race, that slips through our fingers," Allison explained.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

"If we were trying to draw that pattern together then probably the strongest correlation that we can make at the moment, is that our competitiveness drops when the track is warm, when the day is at its warmest and therefore the tyre temperatures rise with those of the track.

"That gives us some clues about what we need to do as we move forward from here. From FP3 to qualifying in Melbourne there was not a set-up change."

Allison said it is not yet clear if the W15's shortcomings can be remedied with set-up work or if more drastic changes are required.

"If you've identified correctly an accurate assessment of why our competitiveness waxes and wanes, then you can work into the weekend a programme that is dedicated towards trying to move the temperature and the temperature balance front to rear in your favour and using all the conventional set-up tools on the car," he added.

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"That work you can do back here in the factory and the simulation and so on.

"But if you conclude having exhausted the degrees of freedom that you have available to you in set-up terms that you still need to go further, well then that gets harder at that point.

"That will be that there are underlying characteristics in say the aerodynamic map that you've engineered or the suspension characteristic that is aggravating that particular feature.

"In order to make it really heal up nicely, then you would have to change those underlying features. It can be either quick and dirty, or a little more involved and a bit more complicated."

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