The statement is somehow telling. Mercedes finished the second training session in Miami in first and fourth place. The distance to Red Bull and Ferrari, which had previously been around one second per. turn, suddenly disappeared. Although the drivers in the cockpit did not notice a noticeable difference. “The car feels like me, but we seem to be faster,” Lewis Hamilton reported. “We have obviously improved in some areas.”
The Miami International Autodrome allowed engineers to run a lower set-up because the jump was not so pronounced on training Friday. And immediately Mercedes was in the music. A day later, the Silver Arrow approached the earth even further. In the third workout, the bounce reappeared. Then command back to the old setup. One would think that the speed would come back. But nothing changed. The Mercedes jumped on like a kangaroo. Red Bull and Ferrari were in a league of their own. Hamilton was missing eight-tenths of a second in qualifying.
More key points to jump
Teammate George Russell sailed out of Q2 because the jump hit him too hard and suddenly in one of the fastest turns. How can it be that a car jumps more in one day than in another – despite the same setup? Mercedes engineers also want to know that. On Friday it was thought that you were closer to the forest edge, but on Saturday you were thrown back into the middle. After all, there are a few important points to better understand your own car. Grip level, temperature, route speed, wind speed and direction: These can be influencing factors for the mare.
Team manager Toto Wolff describes it this way: “We take the positive with us. If we find the sweet spot for the car, we can be fast. We have come closer to understanding where this point is.” There was no improvement in racing trim. Before the safety car, Hamilton lost 46.9 seconds to Max Verstappen in 39 laps. So more than one second per. lap. It was 39.4 seconds to Charles Leclerc in Ferrari. The silver arrows had no chance. Even Valtteri Bottas in Alfa Romeo was a bit faster.
Only one thing is certain. Finding a setup for W13 where aerodynamics works is like solving a puzzle. One can not talk about a window in which the car works, but rather about a peephole. What makes the task complicated is that the riders cannot set up a direct wire. The silver arrow lacks feedback.
W13 with too little feedback
An example: If Mercedes drives with a lower tuning, the downforce increases. But motorists do not notice it to the extent that data shows. “We have not had in recent years that the drivers’ statements do not agree with the data. The data do not show the large fluctuations that the drivers notice,” explains team manager Wolff.
Mercedes is not alone with the lack of feedback from car to driver. The Aston Martin drivers also struggled with it. Until a change of steering in Imola brought improvements. Since then, it has gone up for Mercedes customers. The potential is somewhere deep in the Silver Arrow, but no one can release it. Because you’re standing in the woods, or as Wolff puts it, “have been flying in the fog since the beginning”. The drivers are driving on the razor blade: “Our car is very, very difficult to drive,” Wolff says.
Updates to Barcelona
The slight weight reduction and the updates from Miami (front wing, beam wing, rear wing) worked, but flowed out into the mare. There are several new developments in the pipeline for Barcelona. But everything stands and falls with the one decisive subject. Jump on straight and in fast corners must be drastically reduced. “There are a few updates coming, but that’s not the reason, it’s the overall understanding.”
Mercedes must identify the troublemaker. And it’s somewhere on the chassis. A sustainable solution is needed here. To do this, the engineers dissect the newly acquired data with a scalpel. The aerodynamics are examined through the microscope. It may well be that the exposed undercarriage on top of the mini side pods is part of the problem. “It creates more leeway for possible instability,” says the team manager.
Mercedes weak in slow turns
In Miami, Silver Arrow harmonized more with the fast corners than with the slow ones – as long as the mare did not throw you off the ideal line. Carlos Sainz was in his own league in qualifying in the first sector, where four of the eight corners are faster than 200 km / h. The Spaniard completed the first segment after 29.278 seconds. Hamilton was able to keep up with Leclerc and Verstappen.
- Leclerc: 29,441 seconds
- Steps: 29.546 seconds
- Hamilton: 29,591s
The lap times show that W13 could be right up there with the music in fast turns if it was not so bouncy. Mercedes had a particularly difficult time in the second sector. In the full throttle section between curves eight and eleven, Red Bull leaves everyone with its unparalleled top speed. In the Mickey Mouse corners between turns 11 and 16, the Ferrari dominated in qualifying.
Hamilton lost several tenths to Leclerc there in Q3 and about two tenths to Verstappen. That McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri were faster in the second sector reveals much about the Mercedes.
- Leclerc: 33.831s
- Steps: 33,955 seconds
- Perez: 34.012s
- Sainz: 34.017s
- Norris: 34.057s
- Bottas: 34.074s
- Gasly: 34.201s
- Tsunoda: 34,286s
- Hamilton: 34,290s
Too little traction
Mercedes justifies the poor performance in the second sector by saying that the tires were too hot in the slow turns. And it also had to do with jumping. By jumping in the first section, the rubber moves more and heats up as a result. It was not even enough for the more than one kilometer full throttle section to bring temperatures down sufficiently again. W13 is weakened when it comes to traction.
It can also be a reason to run backwards right in the first few races. Because there was too much speed in the first part. The excessive air resistance was reduced somewhat by the upgrades. Already Mercedes came right in front almost on par with Ferrari. No one can deny that the red car not only has more downforce but also more engine power. How much Mercedes is lost is hard to say. Everything can be heard between a little to more than two tenths.
In Barcelona, Mercedes hopes to take a decisive step. Towards a much better competitiveness compared to Red Bull and Ferrari. “We have full data memory from the test run. It allows us to compare the old and the new concept,” says Wolff. That way, you will learn to understand bouncing better – and at best limit it.
No way back to the “first W13”
During the first winter tests in Barcelona, the W13 jumped significantly less. At the time, it still had slightly larger and differently shaped side pods. Some people may wonder why Mercedes is not upgrading to the old standard and trying to get back to the front. On the one hand, you do not do it because you do not have enough parts from the first specification. This is where the budget ceiling comes into play. On the other hand not because this version generated much less downforce. “On paper, the Barcelona car is much slower.”
Barcelona will be the great fate for Mercedes. “We still believe in our path. We are not looking at the neighbor lady yet,” Wolff says. There is still hope that one’s own concept will be better in the long run than Ferrari and Red Bull. But: “After Barcelona we have to look in the mirror and answer the question of whether we are on the right path or in the wrong way. . “
But before you can even turn around and go in a different direction for 2023, you must first do all your homework. “We must first understand exactly what is good about our concept and what is bad.” Not that the dog is buried somewhere else and taken over unconsciously.
And what if Mercedes still managed the miracle with a turn? In the World Cup, they are 62 points behind Ferrari and 56 behind Red Bull. Nothing that can not be obtained in 18 races. Even the drivers’ championship is not lost with a deficit of 45 points (Russell) and 68 (Hamilton). The optimists on the team say: “Ferrari make sporting mistakes and Red Bull is not in the saddle when it comes to technology. They take points apart.”