By Adrian Mann
Mercedes started off its 2022 Formula 1 season in seemingly fine form. In the first pre-season track session at Barcelona, Lewis Hamilton topped the combined timesheets, closely followed by his team-mate George Russell. Third placed Max Verstappen was more than three tenths adrift from Russell and four tenths from Hamilton. Things seemed to be going good.
This all changed at the first official 2022 test at Bahrain, when most teams revealed their true 2022 concepts. Mercedes shocked everyone by replacing its more conventional sidepod solution, with a radical ‘zero sidepod’ concept. Basically the car had minimalist sidepods, and the rumours were swirling around that the car could be a second faster than everyone else. The results in the simulator and the wind tunnel were reportedly promising, but once the car took to the track it immediately became obvious that it was suffering from heavy porpoising. Apparently the simulator and the wind tunnel had no way of predicting this effect and, unfortunately for Mercedes, their laptimes were not competitive. Ultimately, George managed to get P5 in the combined times, while Lewis got only P16.
Hopes were high that the team will be able to work something out ahead of the first race of the season in Bahrain, but it was not to be. While the race results were better than testing, there was no question that the issues were not solved and Mercedes most likely had the third-fastest car on the grid. The following races were more of the same, some better, some worse, but the crucial porpoising problem remained.
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This prompted some to call for Mercedes’ return to their old more conventional concept, the one they used during the Barcelona track session. However, there is no way of knowing how this version of the W13 would fare against the updated cars other teams introduced for the Bahrain test. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing how the “old” W13 would fare against the new ‘zero-sidepod’ one. The reason is simple, the two versions never ran on the same track. However, this will change on Friday, when the “new” W13 will take to the Barcelona track for the first time ever.
This will allow Mercedes to compare the two concepts on the same circuit, outside the simulator, for the first time. This will also give an indication if the ‘zero-sidepod’ concept was the way to go, and if a return to the old spec car would make any sense. Following the Miami Grand Prix, team boss Toto Wolff did not dismiss the possibility of returning to the old version, but he also reaffirmed the team’s belief in their current concept.
“Well, I wouldn’t discount anything,” the Austrian said.
“But we need to give all of our people who have produced great race cars in the past the benefit of the doubt, and we believe this is the route to go down.
“Barcelona is definitely going to be a point in time when we are able to correlate with what we’ve seen in February [in the Barcelona track session] and gather more data,” Wolff concluded.
Later, he further explained why the Spanish Grand Prix will be crucial for his team.
“Actually, we need to understand what went wrong before deciding to switch to another concept,” the Austrian said.
“What is the good part and what is the bad part of the concept? That’s a question you can only answer yourself.
“I would look for answers after Barcelona, because that’s the real correlation we have. Until then, let’s look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Are we wrong or not?’,” he concluded.
Belief that Barcelona might hold the key to resolving Mercedes issues was also expressed by the team’s Motorsport Strategy Director James Vowles.
“We have not been to Barcelona with this car yet. We were in Barcelona with the old specification,” Vowles explained.
“That’s the interesting learning point; we can draw a line in the sand and compare it with the aerodynamic solutions we had then,” the Briton concluded.
So, after Mercedes is able to compare the two concepts on the same track, they will be able to decide which way to go development-wise for the remainder of the year. It will also be crucial to determining if the 2022 season can be salvaged. Therefore, there’s no doubt that Barcelona this weekend holds the key to Mercedes’ future, but hopefully it also holds the key to unlocking the W13’s potential.
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