Closing the Gap: How Mercedes Plans to Match Red Bull’s Winning Formula
Mercedes is taking a different approach to improving the performance of its underperforming W14 car, according to team principal Toto Wolff. Rather than just focusing on increasing downforce, the team is prioritizing improving ride control, particularly given the 2022 regulation changes that prohibit hydraulic systems in the suspension and inerters.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has stated that the long-term development strategy for the underperforming W14 is primarily focused on improving ride control rather than simply increasing downforce. This comes ahead of the highly anticipated Formula 1 upgrade package set to be introduced at Imola later this month.
The Imola package is merely one phase in the car’s evolution, and Wolff believes it is designed to provide a solid foundation rather than drastically altering its performance. The package will feature an updated sidepod design, modified front suspension, and a new floor.
Red Bull’s suspension design and its impact on the mechanical platform has been a major topic of discussion this year. The team has developed a car that retains last year’s anti-dive setup at the front while enhancing it with anti-squat and anti-lift features in the rear suspension, helping to maintain the car’s platform within the optimal range.
Significantly, Red Bull manages to run the car relatively low without causing any porpoising or bouncing issues while maintaining the necessary suspension compliance.
Wolff explained, “For our car, the focus is more on ride control than pure downforce. We could add a significant amount of downforce, but the car would be too low and too rigid.”
He noted that Red Bull’s car appears almost motionless on the onboard cameras – slightly moving over bumps on straights and displaying a smooth corner balance. In contrast, other cars seem more challenging to handle. Wolff added, “In general, ground effect cars are difficult to manage; it’s just a matter of who has the least problematic one leading the pack.”
While Wolff’s remark may seem casual, it highlights the challenge of ground effect cars. Running them lower to the ground generates more downforce, but this must be controllable and consistent. As a result, enhancing ride control effectively translates to more downforce – or, more accurately, usable downforce.
All teams recognize the advantages of a well-controlled platform. The challenge lies in achieving this in a manageable way, given the 2022 regulation changes that prohibited hydraulic systems in the suspension and inerters. As a result, this must be accomplished mechanically, which involves not only the visible suspension geometry but also the internal components of the suspension.
It remains uncertain whether the modified front suspension will contribute to this improvement, as James Allison hinted earlier this year that there were planned suspension components designed to enhance the car’s balance and drivability.
Mercedes, like all other teams, faces constraints not only from the cost cap but also from other limitations, such as the requirement for season-long gearbox homologation. This makes significant changes to the rear suspension geometry challenging, as the inboard pickup points cannot be altered.
Wolff suggested that before the cost cap was implemented in 2021, Mercedes might have considered introducing a new chassis. While this would be a drastic measure, it would also allow for adjustments to the cockpit position, which Hamilton has criticized about the car.
Wolff explained that the team is more restricted than before, saying, “If we were completely free, we would bring a different chassis.” Thus, careful decisions must be made regarding which upgrades to implement.
For Imola, Mercedes plans to introduce a new front suspension, an accompanying aerodynamic upgrade, and a floor. However, if unrestricted, the team would likely introduce twice as many upgrades, as would other teams. In this relative game, Wolff emphasizes the importance of making smart decisions to maximize performance gains.
This implies that Mercedes’ potential improvements this year are limited, and more fundamental changes will have to wait until next year.
As Allison, the returning technical director, mentioned in Baku, there is no reason for the car to be a completely fresh design even next year. However, this will permit significant changes that the team hopes will allow it to match or surpass Red Bull’s performance level.
Attaining a usable mechanical platform is crucial to this goal, and progress can be made with the W14 as it evolves throughout the year. Wolff is optimistic about closing the gap to Red Bull, stating, “I think we can close it if we get the platform right.”
Wolff emphasizes that it’s more about providing the driver with a car that feels stable in corners rather than simply adding downforce. He believes that Mercedes can catch up, as they did last year, and suggests it’s better not to change the regulations again on their own initiative only to lose ground once more.
Wolff’s final remark, made partially in jest, refers to Mercedes’ strong push for regulation changes to address the bouncing and porpoising issues. This led to a 15mm increase in floor-edge height and a higher diffuser throat.
Red Bull’s adaptation to these changes has surprised everyone. Now that Mercedes, Ferrari, and other teams know it’s possible, the question remains whether they can follow suit and possibly even surpass Red Bull’s success.
This is a long-term consideration, but for now, Mercedes is focused on enhancing its current car’s performance. Wolff is cautious about raising expectations too high, stating, “We’re not going to put [the upgrade] down on the track and then drive circles around Red Bull.” He believes the upgrade will serve as a solid foundation for future improvements.
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