Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliott attended the British Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Mike coming to you now, significant upgrades on the W13 this weekend, how are they performing?
Mike ELLIOTT: So far, so good. I think obviously, we lost the best part of P1 with the weather, we got some running in P2. I think generally we’re happy with what we’ve seen. I think the upgrades have delivered what we wanted. They’re not a miracle that’s suddenly going to jump us to the front of the grid but I think they’re a good step in the right direction. And I think what’s pleasing for me is that we’ve been able to develop those, and bring them without making any of our problems worse, some of the bouncing problems we’ve seen early in the season. So, hopefully, our understanding there is improved and we can keep chipping away and keep moving forward from here.
Q: You say these upgrades have delivered what you wanted. What did you want from them? What areas of performance have you focused on?
ME: I think it’s quite obvious, looking at the car, we made quite a big change in Barcelona to the way we were trying to use the aerodynamics. And in doing so we made some good inroads into the bouncing. But we did that by probably compromising some of the bulk aerodynamic performance of the car. So, this was really about trying to bring that back; trying to add performance to the car and just generally move it forward in lap time. And the aim was to do that without compromising bouncing or any of the other sort of negative side effects that we could have got.
Q: Christian Horner thinks you can win the British Grand Prix this weekend. What are your expectations?
ME: I hope he’s right! We’re realistic. I think we had a decent showing in the short run pace, but I’m sure Ferrari and Red Bull have still got more to come. I think the long run looks pretty encouraging. But again, there wasn’t a huge amount of laps done and I think it’s difficult to judge from that. I think if we’ve made a decent step forward in pace, I think we’ll be happy with that, and we can keep chipping away and keep building from there. A win on Sunday would be really nice, but I think that’s probably a little bit far for us.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Keith Collantine – racefans.net) Mike, the FIA has issued details of the new restriction on porpoising it’s going to bring it in a couple of races time. Would Mercedes have been in danger of exceeding that limit in races earlier this year? I’m thinking particularly of Baku, and what’s your understanding of what the penalty for that will be if it happens again in the future?
ME: Well, it’s obviously early days, I think that’s come out as a draft TD that doesn’t come into effect until Ricard. I think, from what we’ve heard from the FIA, I think it’s something they’re going to have to sort of work on and build and work out how that’s going to work pragmatically. I think Baku – we’re going back through and looking at the races using that metric – Baku is one we wouldn’t have passed. If you looked at where we were yesterday, we wouldn’t have even triggered the metric. So, I think it’s difficult: it’s going to be interesting to see how it is applied; how it’s used through the season, because… none of us want to be bouncing, I’m sure colleagues here would say exactly the same thing, so we’re not trying to develop into that position. And then the question becomes if you are exceeding the metric, can you actually fix it during a race weekend? Because I don’t think any of us want to see cars not taking part or cars thrown out, because they’re not able to get on top of those issues. So, I think time will tell whether that metric can be done in the right way, whether that can push teams in the right way without ending up damaging the show, but we’ll see what happens. I’m sure the FIA are conscious of that.
Q: Mike, with regards to bouncing, are the worst circuits behind us now?
ME: My view is that there’s a couple of different versions of bouncing: there’s an aerodynamic bouncing, which is where the aerodynamics are inputting energy; and there’s a version of bouncing, which is because these cars are really stiff. They need to be stiff to run close to the ground. And I think what we’ve seen is different circuits have different effects. And certainly, the last few circuits where we’ve seen quite a lot of bouncing, I think it’s just because the circuits are quite bumpy and with very stiff cars. And I think when you look forward, you’d say, Budapest might be challenging for teams for the same reason. But at the same time, I think we’re all getting on top of our issues. We’re understanding those issues and developing the cars. So, hopefully, we can move away from that.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) For Mike again, just on the progress you’ve made with the car this year, you’ve had lots of questions about the core concepts and whether that needs to change. Do you think the progress you’ve made on the aerodynamics side validates that initial concept? And is there still work to do on the mechanical side to address the quality of the ride, that kind of thing?
ME: I think the reality is that people look at the car and they look at the differences and think well, that’s massive. That’s got to be the big difference there. I think an aerodynamicist will tell you the really important bits are what’s underneath the floor, the wings and the key aerodynamic structures. And while the bodywork contributes to that it’s not the sort of big defining feature. I think it’s been sort of well publicised, I think the difficulty of what we’ve done with the narrow sidepod means you’ve got a big cantilevered floor, and managing that, and managing the stiffness of that is a challenge. And I think we, like probably all of the teams, will evaluate what we’ve got, we’ll look at what others have done, work out what we think are the right ways forward. And I think for us, so far during the season, the aim has been to try and generate as much understanding as quickly as we can, and then work out what are the right things to do from there. And hopefully, we’re making good ground. So, have we got the right concept? I think it’s almost impossible to say because you only play your cards, you never play everybody else’s cards. As for the mechanical aspects of the car, we’re learning, like everybody’s learning, and I’m sure there’s more to gain in that area. But I think we just need to keep chipping away at it. I think we’re pretty honest with ourselves: we’ve not started on the front foot, and we just need to look at where our weakness is, look at how we improve and then just keep bringing those upgrades as fast as we can and within the cost cap as well.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) To Mike, part of the TD was a bit of a clampdown about floor flexibility, to make it fair and equitable going forwards. Do you think it was fair and equitable beforehand? Or do you think there was scope for other teams to perhaps allow a bit more flexing in the floor to manage porpoising better?
ME: There’s two interesting aspects there. The first one is how much of it is to manage porpoising. And how much of that is just to get the cars lower? Formula 1 cars have always been ride height sensitive, but these ones are designed that way. So if you can get the car lower there is performance to be found. As to whether it’s been fair and equitable? Unfortunately, we don’t get to measure everybody’s car so I don’t know what anybody else has got. And I think we have to just trust in the FIA that they do that job. That they’ve been around, that they’re happy, that there isn’t a massive difference. They’re obviously unhappy enough to introduce a rule that changes that. And we’ll need to see what happens in Ricard as a result of that. As to whether there has been a significant advantage or not, I can’t really answer the question any more than that.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Another question for you,. about George Russell and his development this season. From a technical side… I know he’s worked with the team for a number of years as a junior driver, but working with him closely on the development of this car, how have you found him? Has he impressed you as much as you thought he would from working with him in his junior career? And have you seen him come on leaps and bounds even in this sort of first half season working with you?
ME: Well, firstly, we’ve got two fantastic drivers and I couldn’t be happier with the combination we’ve got. I think they’re working really well together. I think that’s a major plus for us, that while we’ve been struggling with the car, both drivers are contributing and helping us move forward with it. I think what’s been interesting working with George is just to see the development of his understanding of the car and being able to work with the engineers, explain what his issues are, pick up on the small differences. Not only is he quick, but he’s also bright as well. But I would say that’s true for both our drivers and we’re very lucky.
Q: (Josh Suttil – The Race) Another question for Mike. You mentioned the upgrades coming later in the season. Can we expect another major upgrade like Barcelona or Silverstone? Are you expecting to produce spring kind of minor upgrades for the rest of the year?
ME: I think as Andreas explained earlier, the cost cap is a challenge for everybody and we’ll have to sort of look at what we can afford to do for the rest of the season. We’ll keep developing. I think in a normal year, your focus is on how to get the best out of this year, and what we need to put into next year. And at the moment I think you’ve just got to get on top of the understanding, because you need to know what you’re going to do for next year as well. So we’ll definitely be bringing experiments forward, making sure that we’re on the right route for next year’s car. Whether they turn into a big upgrade will be dependent on what we find and what we can afford.
Q: Mike, how far down the road are you with next year’s car?
ME: Like all the teams, we will have started. And we’re looking at what it is we want to do. I think the big architectural bits, you need to be getting on with now. The more detail of the outside shape, the aerodynamic shape of the car, will come later. And I think what we’re trying to do is to say, ‘have we got the right path at the moment? Do we need to carry on developing that? Do we need to shift to something new?’ But making sure that we’ve got our understanding right, that our tools are now delivering what they need to deliver. So we’ve got good correlation to the track is probably the most important thing.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) As part of the TD, Nicholas talks about potential changes for next year and asking you guys to run things through CFD. Is there some frustration there that having put all this effort into these rules that the goal posts might move, or is it a positive thing? Do you know there are floor shapes that could improve the cars that you can’t use now that perhaps could be allowed next year?
ME: I don’t think it’s frustration. I think when you look at the position we’re in, I think the drivers are saying it’s uncomfortable. It’s not safe for them driving the cars, when there’s heavy bouncing. And I think the sport has to deal with that and the sport has to adapt and change as a result of that. I think the difficulty is these cars were designed around a ground effect set of rules, they were designed to try and improve overtaking. And the question is, can you maintain some of that and move away from the bouncing. And the devil is in the detail and I think it will come down to the aerodynamicists in the various teams to try and work out, along with the FIA, how do we change the rules in the right sense, but getting the teams to agree to that’s also going to be a challenge.
Q: (Ed Spencer – Motorlat.com) What race weekend will you decide to run a young driver in FP1, and particularly for Andreas, will you use Mercedes’ talent pool for the mandatory FP1 session?
Andreas SEIDL: As I said before, first of all we want to go through this evolution at the moment with the different talents that we are seeing before then making up our mind whom to give the chance to run a free practice one and at which race weekend. It will definitely happen, most likely in the, let’s say, after the shutdown period, towards the end of the season. And yeah, until then we stay pretty open minded of who’s actually getting the chance.
ME: I guess a similar answer really, which is, I think internally, we probably know roughly which races we would use but we’ll wait and see how things pan out and then make the final decision then.
Q: Any drivers in your mind?
ME: Probably can’t say just yet.
Q; (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Mike, when new rules arrive, invariably teams settle on a preferred concept and go down that route. We’ve seen a number of teams adopt the Red Bull concept of sidepod and floor, you’ve got a very different solution. Are you still 100% committed to your solution, that it can work in the end or is there a possibility to go and do something different and go down a Red Bull route for next year?
ME: In some ways, I kind of answered the question earlier, which is I think that the bodywork bit, the bit that’s visibly different, that you’re referring to is probably not the key differentiator if you like. It’s a detail in the floor design. We’ve evaluated some concepts in that direction. I’m not going to say which way we’re going to go, but we will look at that. I think you’d be silly not to have a level of humility that you think you potentially got it wrong and go and look at what everybody else has done. And that’s not just the Red Bull concept, that’s looking at all the concepts up and down the grid and saying what looks interesting and why. And I think, I guess as an ex-aerodynamicist, I would say that what you try to do is understand what you think is happening in the flow field, work out what you want to do with the flow field, and then develop the bodywork shapes from there. So, you know, we’ll go and look and say, ‘what we think the Red Bull body work does and why does it do that?’ Same for all the other colours up and down the grid, and then see what we can learn from that, see what we can apply. And then maybe you’ll see changes this year, maybe you’ll see changes next year. And we’ll maybe we’ll stick with where we are. I think that they’re the questions we’re trying to answer.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Mike, just to follow up your answer from earlier, just on the cars ride quality. When George Lewis talks about having one of maybe the equal worst on the grid in terms of just the harshness of it, is that something that requires bigger mechanical developments, you know, changes for future cars, rather than something you can sort of chip away at? It didn’t seem like a set-up thing. It seems a bit more fundamental than that.
ME: It’s difficult to answer that without explaining the detail and that’s probably not something I want to do here. I think fundamentally it all comes down to how you are developing your aero platform and how you’re using it and it’s that that we need to change. And whether there’s mechanical bits that go with that? The answer is probably yes. But in terms of the detail of what that is, that’s probably beyond the scope of what I would want to discuss here.