The first time that Mercedes put its new single-seater for 2022, the W13, on the track was back in February, when storm Eunice hit the United Kingdom, with gusts of wind that exceeded 190 km / h and that caused the closure of several transportation networks.
George Russell , its new driver, described that wind as “absolutely crazy”, but it also had an effect that could not be predicted at the time: Mercedes could not get an idea of the seriousness of the porpoising that its car suffered until the first pre-season test, in Barcelona.
Andrew Shovlin , the team’s director of engineering, stated that although the team had discussed the potential problems that would result from the return of ground effect, they had not “anticipated the kind of mechanism that was actually giving us problems”.
“When we were at Silverstone, we were in the middle of a storm, with 110kph winds,” Shovlin told Motorsport.com in an interview reviewing Mercedes’ season to date.
“Often you start with a car quite high for shakedowns and stuff, so you don’t damage it, and lower it afterwards. And during that day, we ran the car at a normal height, and we started to see the problem.
“But only when we arrived in Barcelona were we able to see it well on a circuit in good condition, and begin to understand what was happening.”
Mercedes introduced updates to the car for the second Bahrain test, but the team continued to struggle with these bumps in their car, which continued well into the season, as well as making it difficult for them to compete head-to-head with Red Bull and Ferrari at front of grill.
Shovlin called pre-season testing and the search for answers a “peculiar time” for Mercedes, calling porposing “perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to deal with”.
“But that progress was pretty gradual and pretty encouraging, everything we were doing was making more and more sense,” Shovlin said.
“What we hadn’t really appreciated was that the problem was very much like the layers of an onion. If you peel it, you’re always seeing the same thing, no matter how many layers you’re removing. And we realized that there are multiple mechanisms at play.” .
“The thing is, taking on that challenge while you’re racing is a lot more sentimental, a lot more difficult, a lot more stressful than doing it back at the factory, when we can explore things at our own pace.”
“The start of the year was tough, we went from being a team that has gone to almost every race for the last couple of years thinking we can take pole and win them, to knowing that at best we were towards the front of the race. middle zone, it was quite a challenge”.
“But the reality is that there is a significant delay between understanding it at the factory and the car actually going faster. And Barcelona was the first time we were able to put everything we learned on track into practice.”
The problems forced Mercedes to readjust some of its technical ideas. Shovlin said that if they had only focused on the start of the season in Bahrain or the first few races, “we would probably have gone a much more experimental way”, but the team was focused on finding a long-term solution to the problem. .
“At that time, we as engineers looked at it from the point of view that we have this regulation for four years . And what is really going to hurt the team is not if we win in Bahrain, but if we can develop within this regulation. for the next few seasons.”
“That was what scared us: if we can’t develop things in the factory, make them, take them to the track, see them run, then the very currency that we’re dealing with, in terms of performance, loses value.”
“That, at times, was quite scary.”