After enjoying eight consecutive Constructors Championships from 2014 to 2021, the streak of Mercedes F1 was finally broken by Red Bull in 2022. Since then, the team has struggled to outperform its rival. As 2023 ends, the three-pointed star marque reflects on the important lessons it learned over the recently concluded season.
Mercedes F1 Not Contented With Their Performance
Recently, The Race asked Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One whether or not the wrong decisions were made in the development of the W14. Technical Director James Allision wittingly responded, “Are we world champions?”
Allison’s answer, although delivered with humor, served as a reflection of the team’s overall sentiment despite finishing as runner-up in the 2023 Constructors Championship. It’s worth noting that this was a major improvement compared to the 2022 season when they fell third place behind Red Bull and Ferrari. So, maybe, the group has set the bar too high this year that anything below first place is seen as a losing effort.
Another basis for Mercedes F1’s disappointment may also be grounded in the wide gap it had with the winner, Red Bull, in the rankings as well as the narrow advantage it had with the third-placer, Ferrari. For context, RB had more than two times the score Mercedes F1 gathered over the year at 860 compared to the latter’s 409 points. Meanwhile, the three-pointed star capped the season with only a three-point advantage against the prancing horse.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has set the stage to determine the P2 of the 2023 Constructors. The win of Mercedes over Ferrari in the race, however, was more of a stroke of luck rather than a decisive one. Thanks mainly to the failure of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to score points, which was aggravated by George Russell snatching P3 and Lewis Hamilton coming at P9, the P2 finish of Charles Leclerc was insufficient for his team to overtake Mercedes in the standings.
The worst is the thought that Mercedes F1 hadn’t won a single race throughout the season. The W14 was the first car of the Toto Wolff administration to do so. The last time that Mercedes had such a dismal form was during its 2011 run using the W02 under Ross Brawn’s leadership.
What Went Wrong?
Where do we even start with this one? As we all know, the Mercedes drivers had the most complaints in the W14.
It would make sense to begin with the zeropods concept of the W14. First seen as a revolutionary step towards better weight management and aerodynamics, the other teams quickly abandoned the idea when it didn’t work for them. However, Mercedes stuck its guns with it to no avail. So, it came as no surprise when they eventually ditched the problematic design in the Monaco upgrades.
Porpoising also hindered much of Hamilton and Russell’s performances. Attempts of the team to fix the issue with enhanced floor geometry came with a price in its downforce though. This led to inconsistent results in some tracks like Barcelona where the W14 delivered and in Monaco where it visibly struggled.
“When we were completely and utterly stuck in the bouncing hell, all we could do was fix that because that was the number one, two and three problem,” Allison commented. “They didn’t like the turn-in instability later when it wasn’t bouncing and they didn’t like the turn-in instability of the car this year whether it was bouncing or not. That has been a common thread with our car throughout.”
Lastly, there’s the grievance of Hamilton over his positioning in the cockpit. The seven-time champion said his seat was too far forward, which gave him a hard time to feel the rear of the car. But then again, Allison initially dismissed it as a rear stability issue rather than a cockpit problem.
“Possibly, if he were sitting exactly where he wanted he might be able to drive a truculent thing with slightly more precision, but the issue there is get rid of the truculent thing, not optimize the seating position to handle something that isn’t good,” stated Allison. “Our focus has been on making it less horrid and I would say the Austin upgrade was a mild step forward in that regard.
“With a bit of luck, next year’s car will bring a load more,” the Mercedes technical director optimistically added.
Moving on to the W15
Allison revealed they are now working on “pretty ambitious” upgrades for the W15, which could very well give them the ticket to the 2024 championships. His statements about them in his latest interviews were vague but industry watchers have thrown in their thoughts on the matter.
According to analysts, Mercedes may finally heed Hamilton’s recommendations on the cockpit configuration. With that, the engineers of the team may move the seating of the driver back by five to 15 centimeters for the W15.
Next is the possible overhaul of the race car’s transmission system. Sources say that Mercedes may be looking to integrate a narrow gearbox mirroring that of Red Bull cars.
Nevertheless, Mercedes F1 Principal and CEO Toto Wolff assured that the W15 will receive major revisions in weight distribution, aerodynamics, and chassis that will make their drivers happy.