Mercedes W14 – Enhanced Version of W13 for 2023 F1 Season
The Mercedes W14 is an upgraded version of its predecessor, the W13, that is designed to compete in the 2023 F1 season.
The W13 struggled with controlling its aerodynamic platform, primarily due to the issue of porpoising. The design of the W13 was based on an inadequate range of travel, which made it challenging to adjust the suspension set-up during the season.
Despite the relative failure of last year’s car, Mercedes has been able to persuasively argue the logic of sticking with their narrow sidepod concept for this season’s Formula 1 car.
Similarly, Ferrari has presented a compelling argument for their 2023 car being only a moderately updated version of the 2022 model.
However, with Red Bull having won all but five of last season’s 22 races and with minimal changes to the technical regulations, the question remains whether this strategy will be sufficient against a Red Bull team that is currently at the top of their game.
To clarify, it is not being implied that Ferrari and Mercedes have made incorrect decisions, as their choices could potentially be seen as brilliant. Nonetheless, it is important to raise this question as we approach the 2023 season, since the competitiveness of the season could hinge on the outcome.
According to Mercedes, the issues they faced last year were not related to the unconventional and distinctive sidepod design. Mike Elliott, the technical director, acknowledges that there were moments during the season when they had doubts and wondered whether they had made a significant error, and if they needed to fundamentally alter their approach. However, he notes that starting from scratch would put them at a disadvantage and cause them to fall further behind.
He adds that it’s wiser to improve on the existing car rather than completely revamp it. Despite the challenges they faced with the car last season, there were also positive aspects to it that should not be discarded. “You have to be cautious not to abandon those strengths by starting over,” he states.
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Toto Wolff remarks that the team has conducted extensive analysis on the sidepod design, and they have concluded that it is not a crucial component for performance. He expresses admiration for their decision to remain resolute and stay true to the scientific data. “I’m pleased that we took a brave stance and continued to adhere to what the science indicated,” he says.
Indeed, it is accurate to state that the primary performance factor in this current generation of cars is the underfloor, which is not as apparent as other components. The sidepod layout is merely a secondary consideration in terms of finding the optimal way to balance the cooling requirements with the desire to increase the airflow speed through the gap between the rear wheels, which in turn further enhances the underbody performance.
The shape of the sidepods, which is determined by the radiator layout, has an effect on the location and geometry of the vital inlets to the underfloor. However, the sidepods alone do not have a significant impact on the aerodynamic performance. Everything in the design must work together to support the underfloor, which is the critical component. Unfortunately, the underfloor is not visible, and therefore, it is impossible to determine what Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes have done in that area.
The primary issue that plagued the Mercedes W13 last year was its inability to manage its aerodynamic platform effectively. The initial issue with porpoising (a vertical oscillation in ride height) required changes to the rear ride height, resulting in the loss of downforce and the requirement of a larger wing, which added drag. To maintain a ride height that would optimise downforce without inducing porpoising, the rear suspension had to be exceptionally stiff, given its limited range of travel.
The design of the Mercedes W13 had not taken into account the issue of porpoising, and as a result, the entire rear end and gearbox architecture had been based on an inadequate range of travel. This meant that the team was unable to alter the suspension setup for the duration of the season. The stiffness of the suspension required to mitigate porpoising was even greater than the stiffness of the tyres’ sidewalls. As a result, the suspension was prone to bouncing, which was a distinct phenomenon from the aero-induced porpoising motion.
The need to maintain the car’s ride height within a very narrow range resulted in unpredictable behaviour when entering slow corners, despite the car’s excellent high-speed corner performance. In fact, during the latter part of the season, the Mercedes was usually the quickest through fast corners, such as the esses at Austin, where it was untouchable. However, it continued to be unpredictable and unstable through slow corners, and its straight-line speed was not as competitive as the team would have liked.
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In a hypothetical scenario where porpoising was not an issue, the “zero pods” concept in combination with the W13’s underfloor generated impressive figures in the wind tunnel. If these figures could have been reproduced in the real world, it is likely that Red Bull and Ferrari would have been left battling for scraps, given the advantage the Mercedes would have enjoyed.
Mercedes had believed in the effectiveness of the “zero pods” concept prior to the car taking to the track. In simulation, the large area of exposed floor created by the pod layout enabled a significant volume of air to pass through the gap between the rear wheels, generating a stronger pull on the underfloor air exiting the tunnel diffusers. This increased the speed of the underfloor airflow, resulting in exceptional downforce. Additionally, the narrow pods allowed the floor inlets to be positioned in a manner that the team believed would maximise the effectiveness of the tunnels. However, once the car hit the track, the reality was different, and the issues with porpoising and suspension stiffness were revealed.
It is reasonable to understand why the Mercedes technical team has been persistent in their commitment to the “zero pods” concept. They believe that if they can improve the mechanical parts of the car, particularly the rear suspension, to better complement the aerodynamic requirements of the car, and reduce the sensitivity of the underfloor, they may be able to unlock the concept’s previously untapped potential. Essentially, this is Mercedes’ proposal to counteract Red Bull’s dominating performance in 2022.
Ferrari’s approach differs slightly from that of Mercedes, but has led to a similar decision to maintain their current concept with a few adjustments. The outwashing sidepod fronts and the depression in the sidepod tops not only improved the performance of the louvres but also directed more of the airflow towards the beam wing, generating substantial downforce without spilling over the sides. This, along with a power unit that was uniquely configured, produced outstanding acceleration off the corners, resulting in a car that was good enough to secure 11 poles last year, two more than Red Bull.
Ferrari’s car was not only fast but also unreliable and had to be operated in a detuned form for much of the season. However, the team is confident that with the engine’s reliability issues addressed and its power restored to its early-season potency, coupled with a few tweaks to the aero concept (including the ingenious S-duct around the cockpit sides), the car will be a solid foundation for a title challenge. This is Ferrari’s proposal for the upcoming season.
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While either one or both of those proposals may prove to be successful, it is important to note that Red Bull will not have remained idle during this time. The team will have undoubtedly continued to innovate and improve their car, which could result in another season of dominant performances. Therefore, it will be essential for Mercedes and Ferrari to execute their plans flawlessly if they hope to close the gap to Red Bull and compete for the championship.
It appeared that Red Bull’s underfloor was significantly more intricate in its geometry than that of any other team, and it was seemingly designed to maximise usable and consistent downforce across a wide range of speeds and operating conditions. Even the manner in which the team utilised various geometry variations in the inlet fins to adjust the aero centre of pressure based on circuit demands suggested a degree of aerodynamic sophistication that surpassed that of any other team.
Christian Horner has stated that this Red Bull team is the strongest they have ever had, and they appear to be performing exceptionally well on all fronts. Given their current form, it seems unlikely that their restricted wind tunnel time will impede their progress significantly. Thus, the season is set to be highly competitive and exciting, with each team bringing its unique strengths and strategies to the table. The first test will provide a glimpse of how each team has fared during the offseason and what we can expect from them during the upcoming campaign.
Mercedes W14 Enhanced W13 Mercedes W14 Enhanced W13 Mercedes W14 Enhanced W13 Mercedes W14 Enhanced W13 Mercedes W14 Enhanced W13
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