Like the German national football team, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team were not at their best this year. However, even when neither of them was at the top of their respective games, they still managed to grind out some good results.
It all started to go wrong at the Bahrain pre-season test. Earlier in Spain, they had fielded (as far as the new 2022 regulations went) a conventional car that was topping the time sheets. However, not content with this, on arriving for the second test they then wheeled out the “sidepodless” W13.
The design was a cunning interpretation of the new rules. Do away with the side pods, and you can have a very narrow and slippery chassis profile, a feature that would pay dividends in the new era of ground effect Mk2.
As expected, such an obviously creative design created consternation in the pit lane. The thinking was; Mercedes don’t fuck up and when it comes to tweaks, they dot their umlauts and cross the t’s. The subsequent protests were to be expected and revolved around the integrity of the chassis vis-a-vis driver safety.
All is fair in love and racing
Never so many protest dollars have been unnecessarily thrown down the drain. Mercedes had done their homework, and the design was upheld to be compliant by the FIA.
Ironically, for Mercedes, the failure of the protests actually played into the hands of the competition as the Silver Arrows then doubled down on making their new “wunder-auto” function competitively; unnecessarily burning their own dollars in the process.
Anyone for a tow?
The wind tunnel tests said it would work. Every scientific calculation said it would work. The rest of the grid thought it would work. Unfortunately, the W13 seemed to remain blissfully unaware of all this compelling evidence as it stubbornly refused to comply with the latest CFD software predictions. Far from being slippery, it had the aero trim of a double-decker bus and, I suspect, left a similar hole in the air for anyone wanting a free ride in its wake.
What goes down, must come up
To make matters worse, it also suffered horribly from a condition that most of the grid had to contend with – “porpoising”.
Not a new output of ground effect, but there seemed to have been an outbreak of collective amnesia in the F1 design community. The solution required a stiffer floor to try and control its flex, which meant more material and weight.
Unfortunately for Mercedes, their design required more of this solution than any other competitor. If the excessive weight and drag weren’t enough, the W13 was also unable to switch its tyres on, making it vulnerable in qualifying and, in particular, at the start of the race.
However, this did give it its one and only superpower: extended race stint length, especially on Intermediate and Hard compounds.
Mwah, it’s not fair
For a driver who had just lost a World Championship to what was to all intent and purpose, a clerical error, the new car was hardly an inspiration to get back onto the horse.
It took Lewis Hamilton the larger part of the season to put his toys back in the pram and begin to look like the racer we knew of old. Meanwhile, George Russell, the team’s number two, started to look and perform very much like a number one, out-qualifying and out-finishing his illustrious teammate repeatedly.
It wasn’t until the French Grand Prix that Hamilton started to act like a team leader, But by then it was too late for Hamilton to catch his consistently mercurial wingman in the Championship.
Do or do not, there is no try
Credit has to go to everyone in the Mercedes team, they were on the back foot from race one, but no one ever gave up. The drivers drove the car up to, and sometimes beyond, its limits; repeatedly getting podiums that they shouldn’t have.
This resulted in them almost beating a team into second place that had the potential to win the Constructors’ Title!
It wasn’t till Mexico in the later half of the season that Hamilton demonstrated Mercedes was making progress. He stated in an interview that the team now knew where the problem (with the W13) lay and how to fix it. I suspect the ‘fixing’ might involve elbowing it into a skip somewhere close to Brackley and starting again.
Whatever the case, we would do well not to write off the team in 2023. Yes, Red Bull’s car and Max Verstappen were awesome this year but as Christian Horner noted when he collected the trophy for the Constructors’ World Championship at the FIA awards ceremony – it’s sat in the Mercedes cabinet for the past nine years!
Plenty of time for Toto to have installed the spy cam Christian…