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Formula 1 Bahrain GP

Why new rear wing hints at change of F1 approach for Mercedes

After years of domination during which Mercedes enjoyed a straightline speed advantage over the rest of the grid, it has been a different story during Formula 1's new rules era.

Mercedes W14 technical detail

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Giorgio Piola is the preeminent Formula 1 technical journalist. Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio has covered the F1 World Championship since 1969, producing thousands of illustrations that have been reproduced in the world’s most prestigious motor racing publications.

As well as last year's W13 suffering from porpoising and a lack of useable downforce, it also left Lewis Hamilton and George Russell facing a deficit on the straights.

The team was keen to address its aero efficiency for this year, but one of the notable factors in last week's Bahrain test was that it appeared to have not made dramatic progress on that front.

Part of the explanation seemed obviously though, as the squad conducted its entire test programme with what looked like a high-downforce rear wing. This was in contrast to competitors who ran some of their laps with very different arrangements.

Mercedes clearly had a plan in place, though, as the W14 was spotted in the Sakhir pitlane on Thursday with a lower downforce specification wing.

Mercedes W13 rear
Mercedes W13 rear wing

Hamilton himself explained that the new rear wing was being brought as an experiment, and played down talk of it being a game-changer.

"We hope it will be more suited to this circuit, but I don't think that's going to change everything," he said. "Hopefully it will push us in the right direction.

"We have definitely a much better understanding of where we need to put the car, where the weak points of the car are. Those won't be fixed right now, but the men and women back in the factory are focusing on getting there as soon as possible."

Bringing such a low-downforce solution so early in the campaign marks a change of tact for Mercedes.

Last year, the W13 didn't receive this treatment until Miami, with the upper flap's trailing edge cut down in the interim to help reduce drag.

This time, not only has action been taken earlier but it's an entirely new rear wing assembly.

Whilst this design language might be familiar to Mercedes under the guise of the pre-2022 regulations, it didn't favour the spoon-shaped mainplane design at all last season.

This put it at odds with most of the field, with rivals more than happy to leverage the aerodynamic advantages that can be gained from the design architecture.

The spoon-shaped mainplane design has long been used by teams as a means to have their cake and eat it, with the central, deeper portion of the wing expected to generate more downforce, whilst the outer, shorter chord portion of the wing blends with the endplate to reduce the drag generated.

Their new design, much like what is seen on the Red Bull, bears its underbelly to the oncoming flow.

This is similar to how the central section of its higher downforce wing would work, whereas the leading edge of the upper flap also has a thicker surface until it meets with the tip section.

The cut-out in the upper rear corner of the endplate also returns, as a means to help control the tip vortex.

Like how Mercedes built its wings during 2022, it does have an interchangeable panel section here, meaning that it could make quick changes to adjust how the wing performs.

It may also be able to run something with even less downforce if required at some venues.

Ferrari SF-23, old rear wing
Ferrari SF-23, new rear wing

Ferrari closed out the final day of pre-season testing with back-to-back comparisons on two rear wing specifications too.

The new specification wing featured numerous changes, not only to the shape of the mainplane and upper flap but also to the endplate's tip section.

However, the most notable change was the switch from a double-mounting pillar arrangement to a single pillar.

Once again this is all about the trade-offs of one solution over another. The single pillar is bulkier, in order to counter the loads it sustains, whilst also requiring a crescent-shaped mounting that enables it to wrap around the exhaust.

The single-element pillar also meets with the DRS pod in a swan-neck arrangement, whereas the twin pillars intersect with the underside of the mainplane.

These changes not only have physical ramifications in regards to how the loads are transferred but also aerodynamic consequences too, as the central portion of the wing will see different effects depending on the wing in use.

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