Why Mercedes' F1 test struggles are different this time

The difficult test that Mercedes had in Bahrain last week prompted many of its Formula 1 rivals to suspect the German manufacturer is playing games.

Why Mercedes' F1 test struggles are different this time

After all, the Brackley-based squad has had many low-key winters in the past only to then turn up at the first race and blitz the opposition.

Even last year, when Mercedes appeared to be fully on the backfoot as it couldn’t get on top of its car in the test, it still managed to overhaul Red Bull to win the season opener.

But despite the scepticism about Mercedes hiding its real pace, and the obvious fear it could find something in its factory this week to unlock what it needs, the team does appear to be going in to the season behind.

The feeling is what prompted Lewis Hamilton to declare that, with the car as it is at the moment, he will not be in a position to win races.

Primarily, whereas last year Mercedes just could not find the right balance with the W12 in the test, this time around the drivers and team are struggling a lot with extracting consistent pace.

PLUS: Why Red Bull and Ferrari really start as F1’s early 2022 ‘favourites’

The car is suffering from much worse porpoising than key rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, and Mercedes has not yet found a way to dial the problem out.

This is not just a problem at the end of straights, because the car is also suffering the phenomenon of the floor touching the ground in some corners too when on the limit – which doesn’t make things particularly good in terms of delivering consistent downforce.

George Russell, Mercedes W13

George Russell, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

As George Russell said: “There's a lot of potential in the W13 and I believe our guys are going to get to the bottom of it, we just need to find a way to unlock our performance.

“The bouncing is affecting our ability to put the car in the right window and the team are working incredibly hard to find solutions for this. This is a long game and I do believe our performance is there, we've just got to find it.”

If Mercedes raises the rideheight to prevent the bottoming out, then it takes the W13 out of its best performance window. It ends up sacrificing downforce and a whole chunk of lap time.

In fact, the team has found itself facing a bit of a conundrum in that the more downforce it has added to the car – like with the Bahrain test update – then the more that pushes the car down, the worse the porpoising gets and then there is no improvement in lap time.

As an interim solution, Mercedes could well find that it needs to actually slash some downforce to reduce the car being pushed down at high speed, to help improve its lap time.

The team focused a lot in Bahrain on experimenting with suspension settings and rideheights to try to find the answer, before finally opting at the end of the test to hack away some of its floor and lift the rear of the car a little to see if that would help matters.

Trackside engineer director Andrew Shovlin suggested the team had some positive feedback from its late test experiments.

“We've made a bit of progress with the bouncing which in turn has made the car less of a handful on the limit and it also feels like we've made a step in the right direction with set-up today. There's still a lot of pace to come if we can make further gains on the bouncing and get the car more settled.”

Ron Meadows, Sporting Director, Mercedes AMG, Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, Mercedes AMG

Ron Meadows, Sporting Director, Mercedes AMG, Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But it’s not just the porpoising that is the problem. Car weight has become a big issue for teams this year, with few teams getting anywhere near the minimum weight limit.

The variation across the grid is believed to be quite a lot, with Alfa Romeo understood to be the lightest car out there.

The word in the pitlane is that there could even be some major differences between the top three teams too – with Ferrari said to be quite a bit lighter than the heavy Mercedes.

With it generally accepted in F1 that 10kg of weight is the equivalent of 0.3 seconds of lap time, then any difference in mass of a few kilos could have a pretty important role to play.

Read Also:

But despite the difficulty Mercedes is in right now, the reality of its situation is one where it is not that it is stuck with an uncompetitive car and has no possibility of catching up.

It knows the W13 has promise, and the downforce needed to take on the very best at the front. It just needs to find a way to unleash its strengths and be able to run a lap without being compromised by the porpoising.

As Hamilton was quite clear about at the end of the test: “There is a potential within our car to get us there. We have just got to be able to extract it and fix some of the problems, which is what we're working on.”

The key is just how long it takes for it to find the answers it needs.

shares
comments

Related video

Porsche 917 ace Vic Elford dies aged 86
Previous article

Porsche 917 ace Vic Elford dies aged 86

Next article

F1 teams set to discuss rule tweaks to avert "mirror war"

F1 teams set to discuss rule tweaks to avert "mirror war"
The pioneering F1 car that preceded Lotus’s terminal decline Plus

The pioneering F1 car that preceded Lotus’s terminal decline

In the hands of Ayrton Senna the actively suspended 99T would be the last F1 race-winning Lotus but, as STUART CODLING reveals, it was a complicated machine that caused more problems than it solved

How Tyrrell became a racing Rubik’s cube as it faded out of F1 Plus

How Tyrrell became a racing Rubik’s cube as it faded out of F1

Formula 1’s transformation into a global sport meant the gradual extinction for a small team determined to stay true to its low-budget roots. But Tyrrell would eventually be reborn as a world-beating outfit again, explains MAURICE HAMILTON, albeit in different colours…

Formula 1
Feb 4, 2023
Assessing Hamilton's remarkable decade as a Mercedes F1 driver Plus

Assessing Hamilton's remarkable decade as a Mercedes F1 driver

Many doubted Lewis Hamilton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes for the 2013 Formula 1 season. But the journey he’s been on since has taken the Briton to new heights - and to a further six world championship titles

Formula 1
Feb 2, 2023
Why new look Haas is a litmus test for Formula 1’s new era Plus

Why new look Haas is a litmus test for Formula 1’s new era

OPINION: With teams outside the top three having struggled in Formula 1 in recent seasons, the rules changes introduced in 2022 should have more of an impact this season. How well Haas does, as the poster child for the kind of team that F1 wanted to be able to challenge at the front, is crucial

Formula 1
Feb 2, 2023
The Mercedes F1 pressure changes under 10 years of Toto Wolff Plus

The Mercedes F1 pressure changes under 10 years of Toto Wolff

OPINION: Although the central building blocks for Mercedes’ recent, long-lasting Formula 1 success were installed before he joined the team, Toto Wolff has been instrumental in ensuring it maximised its finally-realised potential after years of underachievement. The 10-year anniversary of Wolff joining Mercedes marks the perfect time to assess his work

Formula 1
Feb 1, 2023
The all-French F1 partnership that Ocon and Gasly hope to emulate Plus

The all-French F1 partnership that Ocon and Gasly hope to emulate

Alpine’s signing of Pierre Gasly alongside Esteban Ocon revives memories of a famous all-French line-up, albeit in the red of Ferrari, for BEN EDWARDS. Can the former AlphaTauri man's arrival help the French team on its path back to winning ways in a tribute act to the Prancing Horse's title-winning 1983?

Formula 1
Jan 31, 2023
How do the best races of F1 2022 stack up to 2021? Plus

How do the best races of F1 2022 stack up to 2021?

OPINION: A system to score all the grands prix from the past two seasons produces some interesting results and sets a standard that 2023 should surely exceed

Formula 1
Jan 31, 2023
Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022? Plus

Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022?

Who was the fastest driver in 2022? Everyone has an opinion, but what does the stopwatch say? Obviously, differing car performance has an effect on ultimate laptime – but it’s the relative speed of each car/driver package that’s fascinating and enlightening says ALEX KALINAUCKAS

Formula 1
Jan 30, 2023