Whether it looks radically different or not, the 2023 Mercedes needs to be a significant improvement over its predecessor for the team to be able to compete for Formula 1 titles again.
The W13 wasn’t a massive failure. It still won a race, still clinched a pole, picked up 17 podiums and fought for second place in the constructors’ championship.
But there were several reasons Lewis Hamilton was very keen not to have to drive the car anymore and Mercedes spent the second half of 2022 knowing it would have to wait until 2023 to iron out its package’s baked-in issues.
As George Russell said on the eve of the final in Abu Dhabi, having won in Brazil just a week earlier: “There is a lot (to improve).
“The overall characteristics of the car are not too dissimilar to what we experienced earlier this year. There are still many improvements we need to make.
â€œIt gives us a lot of confidence because we know we still have a lot of things to iron out.â€
Mercedes has put in a lot of work to understand why it misjudged the new rules in 2022 and to get to the heart of its problems – peeling the onion layer by layer, as various team members have often said, and improving the tools , which it had at its disposal to solve the underlying problems.
If that worked out the way Mercedes hopes, these are the key areas where the 2023 package should do better.
After Mercedes was able to contain the worst phenomenon of the porpoise in the first quarter of the season, other weaknesses were quickly exposed.
Back-to-back races at Monaco and Azerbaijan street circuits have been ruthless in highlighting its mechanical flaws.
The porpoises were overdone by the car’s stiffness. For a more detailed walkthrough of this issue, it’s worth reading Edd Straw’s technical review of the W13. But what you need to know about where the W14 needs to be better basically boils down to “being able to run it lower”.
The W13 had to run higher than ideal because of the mix of aerodynamic stalls the car suffered from at its intended ride height and the stiffness that meant it hitting the track surface was so aggressive.
Mercedes therefore had to increase the ride height on certain routes. But there was a limit to how much this could be increased, as the suspension could only go so far.
It was just a band-aid, too, because a higher ride height comes with other disadvantages – the car doesn’t generate as much downforce, but it does have more drag.
If the W14 has better overall ride quality and aerodynamic jumping stays contained, it will run lower than the W13 and its performance will be better.
Basically, it only needs to be operated under conditions that are achievable in the real world.
Mercedes will likely stick with its narrow sidepod design for the W14, having repeatedly emphasized over the past year that this was not at the root of the W13’s problems.
However, a specific problem this caused was related to the stiffness of the floor.
“The difficulty with what we did with the narrow sidepod means you have a big cantilevered floor and it’s a challenge to manage that and to manage the stiffness of that is a challenge,” Elliott said in the July last year.
Essentially, it’s difficult to maintain rigidity when more of the bottom edge is exposed. And with the ground effect rules, a less stiff ground amplifies each porpoise.
This was a bigger problem for Mercedes in the first half of the year and it was able to stiffen the bottom last year, but that came with extra weight.
Therefore, finding a better balance will be important for the car of 2023.
Mercedes suffered from too much drag in 2022. In fact, Hamilton has put it “number two or equal to number one” in the things Mercedes needs to fix for its new car.
This was most likely caused by the compromises Mercedes had to make to deal with its core issues – increasing the ride height to avoid impact and then selecting a larger rear wing than it ideally would have used to give it the increased downforce to lend ride height sacrificed.
Elliott suggested that in Mexico, where drag was less of a concern and the cars were all running at maximum downforce, Mercedes were as competitive as any team except for the particularly low-drag Red Bull.
While one element of the car might not be as aerodynamically efficient as it could be, solving the other issues should of course bring Mercedes a good amount of drag reduction.
Whatever the cause, it needs to be addressed. In the worst case, Toto Wolff expected it to cost Mercedes six tenths on the straights. And Russell said simply on drag: “It’s clear where we need to improve next year if we want to have a car that’s stronger over the course of a season.”
Like almost every team on the grid, Mercedes struggled to get their car close to the weight limit in 2022, a combination of the weight of the cars in general and specific issues like such a large area of exposed ground that it had to be heavier to complete the to resist bending.
With the cliché “10 kilos are worth three tenths” in mind, losing weight is an easy lap time if you can achieve it. So Mercedes could have prioritized it in the season.
But Mercedes had bigger development goals to pursue, especially in the first half of the season, so in Elliott’s words “it wasn’t really about the weight”.
Although later in the year there were a few opportunities to make a profit from update packages. It would always be more of a winter focus.
Mercedes wouldn’t announce the weight of the W13 until the end of the season, but the W14 needs to be on the limit or as close to the limit as possible this year – a task that’s a bit complicated as the limit is actually dropping by 2kg.
There are other points Mercedes could improve from 2022 onwards, although these are lower priorities.
Something you may be less familiar with is what motorists often refer to as brake disconnects or split brakes. This is when there is a temperature imbalance between the left and right brakes, and it was an issue Hamilton spoke about frequently in 2022.
It tends to stall on laps, but can be brought under control by applying the brakes. But while you can prepare for a qualifying run, that’s not much good when you’re fresh out of the pits in a race or after a safety car.
“We had problems with our brakes all year,” said Hamilton in the US, where Mercedes had to make some braking maneuvers on the grid following the incident on its reconnaissance laps.
“When you hit the brakes, either the left is doing more or the right is doing more, rather than both fronts doing the same amount of work because one is gaining more temperature.
“We’ve seen that a lot over the year with these new, larger drums. And something like that we are working on to fix.â€
We also heard Mercedes talk a bit about the 2022 engine deficit, which has been worked on all year but will no doubt be a focus in the winter.
Although Mercedes no longer seemed to be the benchmark, the actual gap was maybe a tenth or so. Even with engine specs frozen in terms of performance updates, it’s still possible to get a little more out of the powerplants through software tweaks and reliability improvements that allow the engines to run harder.
Hywel Thomas, head of Mercedes High Performance Powertrains, hinted late last year that the work carried out through 2022 would have longer-term benefits: “What is becoming increasingly clear over time is that the connection between the powertrain and the chassis is that you can’t develop them separately, especially if you want to get the power out of it. From this development of non-hardware and the PU, you have to match the PU to the chassis even more beautifully.
â€œI would say there have been some gains, particularly in the second half of the season, and thatâ€™sa great thing for the future as well.â€
AN ALL-ROUND WIN
One final area worth marking completes the circle. There was a trend throughout the season that the Mercedes sometimes struggled to warm up the tires in qualifying. However, this had the advantage of making Mercedes strong in racing stints.
Elliot suggested that the underlying car concept (no, not the sidepods) exaggerated his problems in a single lap. So there’s reason to believe that with a better balanced car this would generally improve as there’s a wider window for everything to work as it should.
That’s probably all Mercedes will focus on in that regard, as they’re not keen on giving up race performance for qualifying performance. But as Elliott said, “We have kind of a menu of things we want to do over the winter that will help both of them.”