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The key to Mercedes reversing its slow-start F1 trend

Mercedes believes a set-up sweet spot has finally been found for its 2023 Formula 1 car to reverse a slow-start trend that has hobbled its weekends throughout the season.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

For the return of ground effect in 2022, Mercedes sought to run the W13 as low to the asphalt as possible to achieve maximum theoretical downforce.

But the car was hurt by severe porpoising as the surface bumps and imperfections forced ride height concessions that meant the team could not replicate its wind tunnel simulations achieved in perfect control conditions.

However, a sprint and grand prix victory for George Russell in Brazil late last year encouraged Mercedes to stick with its unique size-zero sidepod car architecture over the winter.

But for 2023, it is believed that the team moved too far the other way to design its W14 challenger around an overly high ride height.

Having then been able to lower the set-up, the team then struggled to consistently keep the machine within its ideal operating window.

As the engineers sought to optimise the car during each weekend, this led to large swings in performance.

Often Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton were slower in the early practice sessions, could relay contrasting feedback over car handling and would significantly change the set-up heading into FP2.

Then the pair would begin to progress in qualifying and finally hit their peak performance in the later stints of the race.

The overnight turnarounds have often been credited to the remote simulator work being carried out by third driver Mick Schumacher.

Team boss Toto Wolff sought to explain the trend earlier this season, saying: "We tend to make a jump from Friday to Saturday in understanding in the overnight simulation work. And you can see that on the sprint weekends, we struggle more than a conventional weekend."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, is returned to the garage

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, is returned to the garage

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

But since the summer break, Mercedes has looked like it is breaking this habit.

This was highlighted particularly by Friday running in Qatar.

Given it is a sprint race weekend, only one practice session (rather than the usual three) takes place before the first competitive qualifying shootout.

While late track limit infringements dropped McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri out of the top three, Russell qualified second at the Losail circuit as Hamilton climbed up to third place.

Asked by Autosport to explain why Mercedes had come out of the blocks far faster than normal, Russell reckoned this reflected the team having turned a corner with its set-up consistency.

He said: "I think it's just learning and experience. I think we found ourselves off the pace at the start of this year, a long way behind where we wanted to be. We were trying many different things with the car.

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"I think now, probably these last five races, the set-up of the car has been relatively, much the same set-up every race we go to.

"So, we know what the car needs to maximise its performance. I think that helps the consistency and we build upon it.

"That's also given us good direction into next year. So I think that's a big factor in it."

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