Why Mercedes' F1 sidepod changes are still only a makeshift solution

Mercedes introduced another sizeable update to its W14 Formula 1 car at the Belgian Grand Prix as it continues to try to close the gap to Red Bull.

Mercedes W14 sidepods detail, Belgian GP

The centrepiece to those changes was made to its sidepods, and builds on the conceptual shift taken at the Monaco Grand Prix when it opted to abandon the 'zeropod' concept used since the start of the current ground effect era.

Mercedes had switched to a wider, downwash ramp-style solution in a similar vein to its rivals, but it appears it cannot go as aggressive with the bodywork shaping as it would like, so only really has a makeshift solution.

That is because the team has to be sympathetic to the position of its upper SIS (Side Impact Structure) and the fairing that envelopes it.

Mercedes is unable to alter this area of the car, as it would require a new chassis to be homologated, which is something that’s unattainable during the course of the season due to the cost cap.

While dramatic changes to the SIS fairing might be off the table, Mercedes has made changes to the aerodynamic furniture housed around it, with the mirror slat from above the housing removed in Spain (above, blue arrow, inset), while the row of vortex generators mounted on the upper corner of the fairing (above, red arrow, inset) were reduced from four to three in Canada and have been deleted entirely as part of this update.

Like Red Bull, which made changes to its sidepods in Hungary, Mercedes listed the taller sidepod inlet being used this weekend as a reliability update, rather than being purely aerodynamic. This suggests there’s work that has been undertaken to the internal ducting, as well as the external bodywork.

The shape of the inlet has also changed, with a more cylindrical scoop favoured when compared with the boxy layout used since its update in Monaco.

This clearly has implications in regard to its cooling capacity and it also results in a revised undercut layout, in order to deliver a better flow regime downstream.

There’s changes at the rear of the sidepod bodywork to take advantage of this too, with much more concavity down the flank of the ramped section to help push flow laterally around the rear tyre.

The ramp section is also more abrupt than before, with the bodywork dropping down to meet with the floor and better engage the flow across and through the gulley-like upper surface of the sidepod.

And, as a means to work in conjunction with the changes to the rear portion of the sidepod, the camber of the engine cover has also been modified.

On the topic of updates working in unison, there’s also been some changes made to the W14’s floor, with Mercedes noting in its car presentation document that it has altered the volume distribution of the underfloor.

This, according to the team, should help to extract more local load from the forward floor vortex system, which in-turn improves flow to the diffuser.

This is characterised externally by the reduction in strakes on the scroll section of the floor in the forward corner, with their number reduced from three (above, inset) to two.

Mercedes W14 rear wing comparison

Mercedes W14 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

The new, lower downforce rear wing that Mercedes had at its disposal in Belgium only made it onto Lewis Hamilton’s car.

However, based on the speed trap figures during both qualifying sessions, the sprint and the race, there wasn’t a great deal of difference between it and the higher downforce solution used by George Russell. This could be because the "barn door" solution used by Russell offered more balance and a better corner exit.

Nonetheless, as you can see, the new wing takes up much less of the available box region for the mainplane and upper flap, with a much shallower spoon-shaped mainplane, and the trailing edge of the upper flap is cut back too.

Notably the conjoined single mounting pillar and DRS pod also have a different makeup and a rear quarter cutout can be found on the newer rear wing endplate, whereas the infill panel was used on Russell’s car.

Other wing tweaks

Ferrari SF-23 rear wing detail, Belgian GP

Ferrari SF-23 rear wing detail, Belgian GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari also had a new rear wing assembly for the Belgian Grand Prix, as it looked to improve its top speed without compromising its performance through the trickier second sector.

Like Mercedes, there’s a difference in the design of the DRS pod and how that connects with the single pillar.

Meanwhile, Ferrari followed the example set by Red Bull and a design feature teams used under the previous regulations, with a V-shaped groove present in the trailing edge of the upper flap, albeit Ferrari’s has a much more gradual curvature.

Ferrari also became the latest to implement an offset flap junction for the upper portion of the endplate, following in the footsteps of Alpine, Aston Martin, AlphaTauri and Mercedes, all of which have their own take on how to best use the feature.

Compared with its regular design (inset), you’ll note how this alters the shape of the tip section and has a significant bearing on the rear quarter cutout.

Notably, Ferrari also opted for just a single element beam wing in Belgium in an effort to boost its straightline speed in sectors two and three.

Alpine A523 front wing detail
Alpine A523 front wing detail, Hungaroring GP

In order to balance its car front-to-rear, Alpine utilised a front wing specification at the Belgian GP with an upper flap that had been cut back to the extreme.

Not only did it feature the inboard notch that we’ve seen it employ already this season, but the rest of the flap had also been trimmed across its span too.

This follows the introduction of its high downforce variant at the Hungarian GP (right), which has a deeper chord length across its span but also features a wave-like trailing edge. This not only generates more load but also directs the airflow across and around the front tyre to help influence the wake.

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