Will the stripped-back W14 return Mercedes to the entrance?

When Mercedes’ run of eight consecutive constructors titles got here to an finish final 12 months, Toto Wolff was adamant his crew was not coming into a long-term decline.

He stated his administration crew had learnt from the toppling of beforehand dominant groups, akin to Ferrari within the mid-2000s and Red Bull within the early 2010s, and the modern-day Mercedes outfit wouldn’t observe the identical trajectory. Confident that the issues that had precipitated Mercedes’ points in 2022 have been now understood, Wolff believed F1 historical past would in the end view the crew’s 2022 season as a blip reasonably than a downturn.

Over the following 9 months, the validity of that declare can be examined and the end result will largely depend on the efficiency of the smooth new Mercedes W14 launched on Wednesday.

Mercedes continues by itself path

With its naked carbon-fibre bodywork and the continuation of Mercedes’ distinctive slimline sidepod design, the W14 is an try to cling on to the child whereas pouring out the bathwater. However, as numerous midfield groups — together with Mercedes’ engine prospects McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams — have flocked within the path of design ideas pioneered by Red Bull final 12 months, Mercedes’ choice to proceed by itself path is trying more and more daring.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever been a team that copied other people,” Lewis Hamilton stated on Wednesday following the launch of the W14. “We’ve always been of our own mind and always been a team that’s incredibly creative and innovative and like to do it our way. I think that’s worked in the past.

“You see a number of the vehicles are converging to what Red Bull, maybe, will appear like, aside from Ferrari. Last 12 months we arrived and have been like ‘rattling our automotive appears fast’, after which it wasn’t with all the problems we had.

“Now we are coming into another season with a car that’s kind of similar looking in many respects, because a lot of the elements are difficult to change… but you’ve got to have confidence in the engineers, and I do.

“We’re sticking with it, we’re going with it, and I hope after we get in it has the traits that we have requested for.”

Mercedes is confident it has understood last year’s issues and has long been in a process to methodically rectify them. At the core of the problems was a significant variation between the downforce levels its simulations were showing and the often brutal reality of running the car on track.

In theory, last year’s W13 might have been a match for Red Bull, but in order to access the downforce promised by simulations at the factory, Mercedes had to run the car at an impossibly low ride height in the real world. Attempting to do so caused the car to bottom out against the track surface and triggered the bouncing — commonly known in F1 as porpoising — that plagued the opening rounds of Mercedes’ 2022 season.

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Being unable to run the car at the ride height it was designed for meant the team had to compensate for the lost downforce from the floor of the car by fitting larger wings at the front and rear. That in turn increased the car’s drag level and curbed top speed, giving its two drivers a near insurmountable handicap in races.

It took multiple rounds for Mercedes to understand the porpoising issue, and when it did it was left with a car that required significant setup compromises to extract sub-optimal performance. Addressing the core of the issue during the season was such a vast task that it simply wasn’t affordable under F1’s budget cap, and so the focus switched to baking a more permanent fix in to the nascent W14.

The launch photos make clear that the team hasn’t completely abandoned some of the bodywork concepts of the W13, but the images only show the upper aerodynamic surfaces and not the floor of the car, which is where the vast majority of the team’s attention has been focused.

“When you take a look at the training we had from final 12 months and the instruments we put collectively, hopefully we obtained all of the metrics in the best place to grasp what we have to do the automotive so it would not bounce [this year],” technical director Mike Elliott said at the unveiling of the car.

“At instances final 12 months we have been questioning ourselves and saying, ‘Have we made a significant mistake and do we have to change what we’re essentially doing?’

“But I think we knew that if we tear it all up and start again we are going to make a step backwards, so it’s about making those right decisions.

“Although we had issues with the automotive final 12 months there was nonetheless a variety of goodness within the automotive and a variety of issues that did work for us. So it’s a must to watch out to not throw all of it away and begin once more.”

One concept that survived the transition from W13 to W14 are the distinctive narrow sidepods, which remain unique to Mercedes this year. The solution turned heads when it was unveiled during testing in Bahrain last year and its distinctive look meant it was often unfairly blamed for Mercedes’ struggles early in the season. There has been some evolution of the concept from W13 to W14, while Wolff at even bigger changes to come with an update package early in the season.

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“It is necessary to be daring on this sport and I’m nonetheless pleased with the options we put into the automotive final 12 months,” Wolff said. “The slender sidepod design just isn’t one thing we imagine was essentially the explanation that we did not carry out.

“There are no holy cows in our concept, but it’s not that we don’t want to follow anybody’s idea. We stayed with the narrow sidepod as it is, but you could well see some developments from now on which could come with upgrades.

“This is the primary iteration and after we are going by the primary few races earlier than that is going to alter somewhat bit, however like Mike stated within the launch, if you wish to change an idea utterly you aren’t aiming at one step again however most likely 2 or 3 in order that’s why we stayed the place we’re.

“I love the fact that we are bold, we stayed bold, and we are just continuing to follow what the science says for us.”

Perhaps essentially the most placing side of the brand new Mercedes is its stripped-back paintwork. While the color is a departure from Mercedes’ conventional silver, the all-black bodywork has a roundabout hyperlink to the crew’s historical past as each the silver and black colors have been arrived at by stripping again paint to hit a weight restrict.

The origin of Mercedes’ well-known silver liveries comes from the 1934 Eifel Grand Prix when the German producer stripped its W25 single-seater of its white paint to hit a 750kg most weight restrict. What was left was a naked aluminium racing automotive that went on to dominate the pre-war period of grand prix racing and in the end create the legend of the Silver Arrows.

In the W14’s case, the decrease sections of the automotive have been stripped of paint to disclose the black weave of the carbon fibre beneath. Again the answer is geared toward hitting a weight restrict — albeit a minimal weight restrict of 796kg on this case — and a few black paint has been retained on the higher facet of the monocoque and the higher a part of the engine cowl.

“We are on the weight limit what or we wanted to achieve and obviously when we looked at all the weight savings, everybody needed to make a commitment,” Wolff defined. “So it is really a performance issue”

“There is not tonnes of weight you can save on the paint but it shows the intent of what we do and the narrative is just right, not only because of the historical context of how the Silver Arrows were created but also that our attempt in painting the car back several years ago is still valid. So it all kind of made sense.”

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The lengths to which the crew has gone within the pursuit of weight discount, mixed with Wolff’s speak of early season upgrades, has raised the query of whether or not Mercedes is definitely scrabbling to hit its efficiency targets for the beginning of the season. There’s nonetheless the broader query of whether or not final 12 months’s points are actually one hundred pc solved and it appears even the crew will not know the true reply till it hits the observe in Bahrain testing subsequent week.

“There are definitely improvements that we are sure are going to make the car faster,” George Russell stated after driving the automotive for the primary time at a shakedown at Silverstone. “The car is going to be lighter than what we saw last year, that is definite lap time, we know that.

“We have labored rather well and exhausting on lowering the drag as a result of we noticed how a lot we have been shedding to Red Bull notably final 12 months, and we imagine we’ve achieved that, so we must be quicker in a straight-line as nicely.

“These are things that we know are going to be guaranteed performance, but as soon as you brake for a corner or go through a corner, the downforce needs to start working and we really don’t know how that is going to perform and tally up compared to Red Bull and Ferrari.”

Wolff insists the crew has reached its efficiency targets over the winter, however stopped in need of making daring predictions about Mercedes’ title probabilities till he sees what the W14 is up in opposition to within the opening rounds of the season.

“We are on the slope that we wanted to be in terms of our performance, but then you don’t know where the other ones are,” he stated. “I think humility is most important and we have always tried to be humble, especially after last year we need to remind ourselves we were quite a long way off for a large part of last season.

“We noticed very constructive feedback from the opposite groups that we’re going to be proper there, however we have to show that ourselves that we’re taking the best choices and I wish to have a battle within the entrance there, not solely the highest three groups however perhaps one of many others can be a part of us there. It can be good for Formula One and that is what makes it so pleasurable.”