Mercedes are hoping to turn around two miserable ground effect seasons with multiple upgrades which will run in anger for the first time at this weekend’s Imola Grand Prix. The upgrades are significant and will likely see Mercedes abandon the zero-sidepod philosophy that has brought one win and a handful of podiums and much too much pain. The updates pertain to suspension and aerodynamic upgrades. It is believed that Mercedes will follow a similar ground effect aero solution pioneered by Red Bull.
The upgrades have been in the planning since winter testing concluded in Bahrain. Mercedes decided that the zero-sidepod philosophy had hit a brick wall only to look up and quickly realize they had run into the base of a mountain. Mercedes is fully aware the Imola upgrades will not be the silver bullet to unlock the untapped potential of the W14.
Never in the history of Formula One has multiple upgrades achieved the breakthrough of finding a 1-second boost after just 5 races into the season. The upgrades are a shot in the dark, not a silver bullet. But Mercedes could find that the new parts give a much more stable platform from which to work.
In a race car, stability equals predictability, both are just as important as straight-line speed. For the mythical silver bullet to find its mark the whole package needs to work as one such as aero, mechanical grip, and engine performance. And computer simulation data is often not translated into real world performance.
However, the real work now begins for Mercedes. Perhaps the upgrades will counter the threat posed by Aston Martin and to a lesser extent Ferrari. They can forget about the alien space technology that is Red Bull, the Milton Keyenes squad is too far ahead in 2023 to be caught.
In the run-up to the Imola Grand Prix, Andrew Shovlin, the Mercedes F1 Engineering Director, explained in a debrief how the updates should help the team stem the flow of poor performances.
“If we go all the way back to the Bahrain test, Bahrain race, that was when we realised that we didn’t have a package that was going to allow us to fight for a world championship. It was around that time that we took some decisions on how we develop the car – how the car works aerodynamically, how we shape the characteristics of the car, how it is in terms of handling.”
“What we are going to be bringing to the track in Imola is the first step of that work. This takes quite a long time to develop in the wind tunnel, you can’t just do these things overnight.”
“But the Imola package is the first step in that direction. We are hoping to bring other updates later in the year. We do hope it is quicker, we hope it is better in terms of qualifying and race pace.”
“But, as I said, the key thing is not just looking to bring a lap time update. We are looking to head off in a different development direction, one that we think gives us a better chance in the long term of being able to challenge for race wins and world championships.”