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Why Suzuka Esses contrast has given Mercedes hope for F1 2024

Mercedes has said the transformation its upgraded W14 Formula 1 car has shown in high-speed corners has boosted belief it is on the right path for 2024.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

The Brackley-based squad introduced a floor development at the United States Grand Prix that its technical director James Allison had previewed as being a ‘bellwether’ of its long-term potential.

The change appeared to deliver a small step forward in lap time, as Lewis Hamilton challenged Max Verstappen for the win before his post-race disqualification for a worn plank.

PLUS: The possible outcomes of Hamilton and Leclerc's Austin F1 DSQ

But beyond the ultimate speed gain, Mercedes has explained how a notable change in car characteristics – especially in high-speed corners – was its biggest takeaway from the weekend.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the contrast in how the car was so strong in the opening Esses section at Austin, compared to its struggle at the similar Suzuka layout in Japan earlier this month, was something that was a particular boost. 

“When I look back at the Esses [in Japan], we were slow,” said Wolff. “Here, it was our best sector. So overall we need to be pleased.”

Mercedes chief technical officer Mike Elliott confirmed the squad had taken a degree of optimism about how the W14 had performed.

“I think, cautiously optimistic,” he said when asked by Autosport about the verdict on the car upgrades.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04

“We came here trying some bits that we were hoping we'd see sort of good signs for next year. But obviously, there's only so much you can do with this year's car, as [there are] bigger changes we'd like to make for next year's.

“But to come here to the circuit where, probably feeling some of the high speed might be hard for us, to actually go as well as we did, I think is a good sign. Cautiously optimistic is probably the right way of looking at it.”

Elliott explained that the upgraded floor was specifically targeted at addressing a weakness the W14 had in high speed, but a key challenge had been sorting it out without it making the car’s balance worse.

“I think we've seen, relatively, we've been poor in the high speed over the recent races,” he said.

“I think we struggled a bit in Suzuka. And then I think, really, what the package was aimed at doing is try to improve that high speed, but doing so in a way where we didn't sort of add any instability.”

Elliott felt that the Mercedes W14 was not lacking in one particular area, and the key to catching Red Bull in 2024 was in improving multiple aspects of the car.

“If you look at Red Bull, they're still the quickest car,” he said. “I think the gaps are closing up, and that's what we want to be doing.

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“I think what we've got to do is work out how can we get that bit more for next year. I think there are some things that we know we want to fix for next year's car, but I'm not going to explain what they are for good reason.

“I think just generally we have got to keep finding that extra bit of pace. We've got ourselves behind, and we're playing catch up.

“I think it's sort of a little bit from lots of different places. But as always, most of the performance will come from aerodynamics.”

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