Mercedes explain how 2021 rule changes hurt their performance

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

2021 Formula 1 rule changes benefited high-rake cars, like Red Bull’s, and made life difficult for teams who used a low-rake concept, like Mercedes.

It’s no secret that the Formula 1 rule changes that were made for 2021 benefited Red Bull and their high-rake concept car, while it slowed down Mercedes with their low-rake design.

In F1’s Tech Talks Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliott explained just how much the team struggled because of these rule changes.

“Well, the impact was large for us,” Elliott said.

“In terms of was it as we predicted? I think the reality is, you don’t really try and predict, you put it on the model in the tunnel, you test it in CFD, and you see where you are and you try and work around it.

“What you’re trying to do is to look at the changes it makes to the flow field and say, ‘Can I recover those same features?’. Those same positive features from before that change.

“I think the interesting question is, in terms of the effect it had relative to different teams, if I go back to that period of time and look at it in hindsight, I suspect we were more impacted than other teams and we certainly didn’t realise that at the time.”

The Briton says Mercedes did not know how much these changes would affect their car until they took to the track during pre-season testing in Bahrain.

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“I think when we first saw the impact, it came from predominantly at the ride height we were running the car.

“But that’s where you’d expect to take the hit. You take the hit where you’ve got the biggest performance.

“As we developed the car, we started finding there were gains to be had at higher ride heights. Our car this year runs slightly higher ride heights than it did in the previous year as a result of that.

“But ultimately, the rules are just a game. That’s something we have to challenge, we have to attack and deal with.”

In the end Mercedes managed to recover and win the Constructors’ Championship, but Elliott was asked if their 2021 car was a step backwards from the previous years’ dominant machines.

“It’s always really difficult to separate the balance, handling and driveability of the car from the underlying performance.

“If you’ve got a quick car, it always handles nicely. It’s just one of those things, because those fine details no longer matter.

“I don’t think that this year’s car was particularly any worse than ones we’ve seen previously, in terms of handling.

“I think it’s always difficult trying to get the tyres exactly where you want them, exactly in the window, balanced front and rear, and working in harmony with the rest of the car – both the chassis and the power unit. ”

Elliott said the biggest improvements with the car were made through setup, not through upgrades or a re-design.

“At the beginning of the season, we did have some handling issues, but it was probably about our understanding about how you get that last little bit of performance, the last little balance out of the car, and it wasn’t so much hardware changes, it was more learning.

“This game is all about learning and understanding. If you know more than the opposition does in terms of the way you develop your car, where you set up your car, you’re always going to be in a better position.

“If you look through the season, we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of understanding how we want to get the most out of the tyres and out of the car itself.

“We also did a pretty good job with the upgrades we brought, particularly the Silverstone package took us a good step forward in terms of the car’s overall performance, but also its handling,” Elliott concluded.

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