key areas where Mercedes F1 2023 need to improve
For Mercedes to contend for Formula 1 championships once more, the 2023 car must be a substantial advancement over its predecessor, regardless of its appearance.
While the W13 did not perform poorly, it did not achieve great success. It managed to secure one victory, one pole position, 17 top-three finishes and was in contention for the runner-up spot in the constructors’ championship.
Despite its moderate success, there were several issues with the W13 that prompted Lewis Hamilton to express a strong desire to not drive the car again. As a result, Mercedes was aware that it would have to wait until 2023 to address the inherent issues with the car’s design.
As George Russell stated prior to the final race in Abu Dhabi, after having secured a victory in Brazil just a week prior: “There are many areas that require improvement.”
According to George Russell, ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the characteristics of the car are not much different from what they were at the beginning of the year. He highlighted the need for significant improvements still to be made.
“This is why, despite the win in Brazil, George Russell remains confident that there are still many aspects that need to be improved, which gives them a lot of room for progress.”
Mercedes invested a significant amount of effort in identifying the reasons for its poor performance under the new regulations in 2022 and addressing the root causes of its problems. They methodically delved deeper into the issues, using the resources available to them, in order to understand and improve upon the underlying problems, as stated by multiple team members.
If Mercedes’ efforts have been successful, the following areas are where the 2023 car should see improvements.
The porpoising phenomenon
After Mercedes was able to mitigate the severe porpoising issue early on in the season, other shortcomings of the car quickly came to light.
The consecutive street circuit races in Monaco and Azerbaijan highlighted the car’s mechanical shortcomings with ruthless efficiency.
The porpoising issue was exacerbated by the stiffness of the car. For a more in-depth explanation of this problem, it is recommended to read Edd Straw’s technical analysis of the W13. However, the main areas where the W14 needs to improve is by ‘being able to run it lower.
The W13 was forced to run at a higher ride height than ideal, due to the combination of aerodynamic stalls the car experienced at its intended ride height and the stiffness of the car that resulted in excessive bouncing against the track surface.
As a result, Mercedes was required to raise the ride height at specific tracks, however, this had a limitation as the suspension could only move so far.
This solution was only temporary as raising the ride height had other negative effects, such as a decrease in downforce but an increase in drag.
If the W14 has improved overall ride quality and effectively manages aerodynamic bouncing, it will be able to run at a lower ride height than the W13, resulting in better performance.
In summary, the car needs to be able to function in practical, real-world conditions.
It is likely that Mercedes will continue to use a narrow sidepod design on the W14 as they emphasized multiple times throughout last year that it was not the cause of the W13’s issues.
However, one of the specific issues it caused was linked to the stiffness of the floor.
“According to Elliott, managing the stiffness of the floor, which is a consequence of the design difficulties related to the narrow sidepod, is a significant challenge,” said in July of last year.
“The main difficulty with the narrow sidepod design is that it makes it hard to maintain the rigidity of the floor since more of it is exposed. Additionally, under the ground-effect rules, a less stiff floor will exacerbate porpoising issues.”
The stiffness of the floor was a major concern for Mercedes in the first half of the year, and although they were able to reinforce it, it came at the cost of added weight.
Therefore, finding a better balance between stiffness and weight will be crucial for the 2023 car.
The high level of drag
Mercedes experienced excessive drag throughout the 2022 season. In fact, Hamilton ranked it as the “second or equal first” most important issue that the team needs to address with the new car.
The high level of drag was likely a result of the trade-offs Mercedes had to make to address its main issues, such as increasing the ride height to avoid bouncing and using a larger rear wing than desired to compensate for the loss of downforce from the higher ride height.
Elliott stated that at the Mexico race, where drag had a lesser impact and all cars were running at maximum downforce, Mercedes was just as competitive as any other team, except for the low-drag Red Bull.
While there may be some degree of aerodynamic inefficiency in the car, addressing other issues should result in a significant reduction in drag for Mercedes.
The cause of the drag problem must be resolved. Toto Wolff estimated that in the worst scenarios, it cost Mercedes six-tenths of a second on straights. Furthermore, Russell stated that addressing the drag issue is critical, “It’s clear where we need to improve for next year if we want to have a car that’s stronger over the course of a season.
The weight of the car.
Similar to most teams on the grid, Mercedes struggled to keep its car at the weight limit in 2022. This was due to the weight of the cars in general and specific issues such as the need for a heavier floor to counter flexing, as a result of having a large exposed area of the floor.
Given the well-known adage that “10 kilograms is worth three-tenths” of a second, weight reduction can have a significant impact on lap times. Thus, Mercedes could have made it a priority in the season.
However, Mercedes had more pressing development objectives, particularly in the first half of the season, so as Elliott stated, “they didn’t really focus on weight reduction.”
Although there were some chances to make progress with update packages later in the year, weight reduction was primarily intended to be addressed during the off-season.
Mercedes did not reveal the weight of the W13 at the end of the season, but the W14 needs to be at or as close to the weight limit as possible this year, which is made slightly more difficult by the fact that the limit has been reduced by 2 kilograms.
The braking system
There are other areas that Mercedes could improve from 2022, but they are considered lower priorities.
One less well-known issue is what drivers often refer to as brake separation or imbalance between the temperature of the brakes on the right and left, which was a problem that Hamilton mentioned frequently during 2022.
It tends to cause lock-ups on out-laps but can be managed by using the brakes properly. However, this strategy is only effective for a qualifying run, it’s not practical during a race, especially after a pit stop or a safety car period.
According to Hamilton, “we’ve had problems with our brakes all year,” He mentioned it in the USA, where Mercedes had to make some adjustments to the brakes before the start of the race after it occurred during his practice laps.
Hamilton explained that “When you press the brake, instead of both front brakes working equally, either the left one does more or the right one does more, because one gains more temperature.”
Hamilton said that “It’s something that we’ve seen a lot throughout the year with these new bigger drums and it’s something we’re working on fixing.”
The power unit.
Mercedes also mentioned that they had a deficit in the engine performance in 2022 which was addressed during the year but will be a major focus during the off-season.
Mercedes may not have been leading the pack in terms of performance, but their deficit was only about 0.1 seconds. Even though performance updates for the engine are not allowed, it is still possible to gain a slight advantage through software adjustments and increased reliability, allowing the engine to perform at a higher level.
Mercedes High Performance Powertrains head, Hywel Thomas, suggested at the end of last year that the development work done through 2022 would have long-term advantages. He stated that the relationship between the power unit and the chassis is closely linked and that they cannot be developed separately in order to achieve optimal performance. He also emphasized that the power unit must be closely matched to the chassis in order to optimize performance.
“I believe that the second half of the season is where we saw the most progress, and this is a positive sign for the future.”
A comprehensive improvement.
Another noteworthy aspect to consider is that Mercedes encountered difficulty warming up their tires during qualifying sessions throughout the season. However, this issue ultimately resulted in stronger performance during race stints.
Elliot suggested that the design of the car (excluding the sidepods) exacerbated its problems during single lap runs. Therefore, it is likely that these issues would be improved by a more balanced car design, as it would provide a larger operating range for all components to perform effectively.
It is likely that Mercedes will primarily focus on this area, as they prioritize race performance over qualifying performance. However, as Elliot stated, there are plans to improve both by implementing various changes over the winter.
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