SportF1What has gone wrong for Mercedes since its rebirth...

What has gone wrong for Mercedes since its rebirth in Barcelona?

Just three races ago, a package of changes introduced for the Spanish GP seemed to have transformed the pace of the W13 .

The Mercedes had shown its best performance of the season, and Lewis Hamilton’s comeback from the back to fifth saw director Toto Wolff ensure they had the fastest car on the grid that day.

But all hopes that Barcelona would be a turning point in Barcelona’s complicated 2022 season have quickly faded.

Both the Monaco GP and the Azerbaijan GP have proven to be incredibly difficult for their drivers, with the return of excessive porpoising that has condemned them since the beginning of the course and which is now not only affecting performance, but also Hamilton’s health and his back.

So was the Spanish GP a false rebirth for Mercedes in which circumstances favored their car? Or simply the last two races have not played in favor of the team?

The answer is actually a bit of both.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, in Parc Ferme

Mercedes’ commitment to engineering

Mercedes’ battle this year has been to make its car work with height and suspension settings that allow it to be as close to the ground as possible, but without suffering from the porpoising and rebounding that annoy the drivers and affect their pace.

If the car goes high and soft enough to alleviate the bounce, it’s not fast enough, but if it goes too low and stiff, porpoising kicks in with a vengeance.

As Track Chief Engineer Andrew Shovlin has explained, balancing these two conflicting demands has been a perennial headache.

“We are aware that this is a very, very complicated problem,” he said. “It’s not something you can apply a resolution to and it will go away and you can forget about it. It’s always going to be there – you have to work around it.”

“It may have taken longer than we thought, but I think the problem is that as the layers of the onion are removed, you discover more layers of the onion that you have to remove. It’s like the more you learn , the more you realize that you don’t know”.

George Russell, Mercedes W13

The factors of the Monaco and Baku circuits for Mercedes

The crux of Mercedes’ problems is that its W13 produces its maximum downforce output when rolling very low.

Likewise, its ability to do so is favored when the asphalt is smooth and uniform, such as that of Circuit de Barcelona.

When track surfaces are more uneven and bumpy, as was the case on the Monte Carlo and Baku street circuits, the W13 is no longer able to perform at its highest level.

What Mercedes doesn’t know yet is how much of the porpoising it suffers from is due to aerodynamic reasons, and how much is due to its mechanical setup.

“It’s been a challenge,” admitted Shovlin. “And what we’ve faced here [in Baku] has very much been a repeat of Monaco.”

“We made progress in Barcelona, because we were going down the straights and everything was very nice, calm and comfortable for the drivers. But it seems that on the bumpy circuits, driving has become a problem.”

“You cannot check exactly what is due to aerodynamics and what is due to mechanical driving and the relationship with suspension compliance and damping. But the most important thing is that we have to work more.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

The lessons of the Spanish GP in Barcelona for Mercedes

While Monaco and Baku have been difficult, the lessons from the weekend have served to clarify why the Spanish GP weekend was such a good one.

And it goes beyond the fact that Barcelona is a circuit with far fewer potholes than the last two urban tracks.

What the GPS data from Barcelona showed is that when the W13 is comfortable and working in the window where porpoising doesn’t slow it down, then it is capable of doing things that can even outperform Red Bull and Ferrari.

Comparing the qualifying laps of George Russell, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen from the Spanish GP , the Mercedes was quicker overall in various areas of the track.

He was quickest in the speed trap at the end of the main straight and on the descent of Turn 10, but more interestingly he was ahead in the high speed Turn 3 and to the right, a point that shows the aerodynamic strengths of modern F1 cars.

All of that points to Mercedes performing better in high-speed corners (when the car isn’t bouncing) than in low-speed corners, which are more common in Monaco and Baku.

As Shovlin explains: “If you look at the performance we had in Spain, we were by a small margin quickest on the straight. By a small margin we were quickest in the two fast corners. speed”.

“The picture we got from there was that we needed to work on the slow corners. And then you get to Monaco, and then to Baku, where there’s a lot of that. Then along with that there are the driving issues.

“There will be circuits that suit us better than these. But for us, it’s not about waiting for those circuits and worrying about the others. It’s a case of understanding the problem, working on how to improve it, because it’s clear that other teams have made a best job.”

George Russell, Mercedes W13

Mercedes performance, like riding a roller coaster

What the lessons from Barcelona, Monaco and Baku underscore is that Mercedes is unlikely to find a level of consistency in its performance just yet.

Bumpy circuits like Montreal’s Gilles Villeneuve this weekend are going to continue to be a headache until they find answers, while they should fare better on smooth, high-speed circuits like Silverstone and Paul Ricard.

But Shovlin believes it would be a mistake for the team to simply pin its hopes on the schedule taking it to the right places. He is aware that Mercedes needs a car that works everywhere.

“What you could say after Monaco and Baku is that the differences we have seem to grow when we go to a bumpy circuit,” he lamented.

“When you look at the data, or you look at the on-board images and what the drivers are going through, you can see why that is.”

“The car is not settled. It doesn’t absorb bumps well. It doesn’t sit still on the straights, it moves a lot. So that image will evolve.”

“Montreal is not a smooth circuit, but maybe in places like [Paul] Ricard and Silverstone, this car would work better. But even if we go into a smooth track, we are aware that the base performance is not there at the moment either. We have to increase it.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Mercedes and a possible change of car concept

The scale of the Monaco and Baku problems has also reignited debate over Mercedes’ concept – and whether it perhaps needs to revisit things for 2023.

Team principal Toto Wolff said after the Baku race that there were no “sacred cows” in the car that they could not put aside if the team believed it could do better things for 2023.

But for now, Shovlin says the focus is on engineering answers, downplaying the idea that a change in the shape of pontoons, for example, would be the solution to their problems.

“It is unlikely that the driving problems are due to the shape of the car’s body, as some of them are definitely mechanical.”

“If you have a car that is generating downforce, closer to the track, so its peak is lower, then you have less room to play with. And you have to drive it inherently stiffer.

“There are a lot of areas that we’re looking at. So I think it’s oversimplifying to think that all of a sudden we’re going to make a radically different looking car and it’s going to go well.”

“The way we look at it as engineers is we’re going to identify which areas are good enough and which aren’t. And we’ll work on those.”

“At the moment, the list of areas that are not good enough is bigger than we would like. So we have to deal with it.”

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