After experiencing the ecstasy of winning multiple world championships, Mercedes is currently feeling the agony of being soundly beaten by Red Bull in 2022. This year Mercedes faces the prospect of being on the end of complete route. However, their current troubles began in 2021 as they began to put the finishing touches on the W13. The W13 debuted the zero-sidepod philosophy as the solution to address the return of ground-effect aero regulations. It was a bold and innovative divergence from rival concepts that went with tried and trusted and rather conventional side pods. It appeared Mercedes had created a significant advantage heading into the 2022 season.
Zero sidepods nearly resulted in zero wins, Mercedes went from the hare to becoming the tortoise, and the team spent 2022 being metaphorically waterboarded by arch-rivals Red Bull. For Mercedes F1 AMG, 2022 was a dramatic downturn in fortunes. But Mercedes kept their faith in the zero sidepods philosophy heading into 2023. However, just a few laps into pre-season testing it became evidently clear that a sequel to 2022 was in the making: Zero Sidepods II, The Agony & The Ecstasy.
Perhaps the zero-sidepod design would have worked pre-2022, before ground effects returned, but it was clear from the beginning that the W13 was a trawler compared to the Red Bull power boat. The W14 left Mercedes floating in the open seas with only paddles to power it past the finishing line at the Bahrain GP. For Mercedes, the 2023 Bahrain GP was the final nail in the coffin of the zero sidepod nightmare. There will be no trilogy, just an apology.
Could Mercedes follow Aston Martin in ’emulating’ the Red Bull ground effect concept? If they did, they could find themselves stepping out of the fire and into the frying pan. Following Red Bull is the equivalent of trying to decipher alien space-age technology. Or could Mercedes usher in a slew of extensive zero-sidepod upgrades? doing the latter would lead to progress that might eventually stall.
Toto Wolff recently said zero-sidepods will never yield competitive results to propel Mercedes back to the front. Maybe Mercedes might end up taking a two-pronged approach, deciphering certain parts of the space-age technology and working on extensive zero-sidepod upgrades. But it seems Mercedes is ready to jettison zero-sidepods altogether in search of fortune and glory.
One has to consider this strategy was decided by Mercedes during the winter development program. If the zero-sidepod philosophy failed in Bahrain its time to decode the alien technology.
But in the meantime Mercedes penned and published a heartfelt letter to its fans, it’s meant to be part apology, part inspirational… but it reads like the Ned Flanders’s apology letter, the one he wrote in episode 6, season 2 of The Simpsons.