RACING

How Storm Eunice delayed Mercedes’ F1 porpoising alarm

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Mercedes gave its W13 car a first run-out at Silverstone in February when the UK was hit by Storm Eunice which had gusts of wind reaching over 120mph, shutting down a number of travel networks.

George Russell described the wind of the day as “absolutely crazy”, but it also had the effect of meaning that Mercedes did not get a full picture of the severity of the porpoising problem until the first test in Barcelona.

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Mercedes’ director of ground engineering, Andrew Shovlin, said that while the team had discussed potential issues with returning ground effect, they hadn’t “planned for the type of mechanism that we really disturbed”.

“When we were at Silverstone it was in the middle of a storm, we were in 70 mph winds,” Shovlin told Motorsport.com in an interview looking back at Mercedes’ season so far. here.

“You often start with a car that’s high enough for shakedowns and such, just to avoid damaging it and dropping it later. And during that day we ran the car at a normal pace and started to see the problem.

“But it wasn’t until we got to Barcelona that you could actually watch it properly on a reasonable circuit and start to understand what was going on.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Picture by: Mercedes AMG

Even though Mercedes made updates to the car for the second test in Bahrain, the team continued to struggle with their bouncing car which continued for much of the season and hampered their chances. to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari at the front of the pack.

Shovlin considered pre-season testing and the search for answers a “special moment” for Mercedes, calling the porpoising “perhaps the most complicated thing we’ve ever had to put our teeth into”.

“But that progress was pretty incremental and pretty encouraging, everything we were doing made more and more sense,” Shovlin said.

“What we didn’t really appreciate was that the problem looked a lot like the layers of an onion. You peel that one, you still look the same no matter how many layers you peel off. And we realized there were a few mechanics at play.

“The problem is that taking on this challenge in the race is much more emotional, much more difficult, much more stressful than taking it on in the factory when we can explore things at our own pace.

“It’s been a tough start to the year, coming from being a team that will go to almost every race over the last few years thinking we can be on pole and win it, knowing that at best we were heading towards the end of it. front of the midfield, was quite a challenge.

“But the reality is that there is a big disconnect between the factory understanding and the actual speed of the race car. And Barcelona was the first time we could really put all that learning into practice on the track.

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The problems forced Mercedes to reset some of their technical thinking. Shovlin said that if he had only focused on the season opener in Bahrain or the early races he would “probably have taken a much more experimental route”, but the team instead focused on looking for a long-term solution to the problem.

“At that time, we as engineers were looking at the situation on the assumption that we have these regulations for four years. And what will really hurt the team is not if we win in Bahrain, but whether or not we can evolve in this regulation in the next seasons.

“That’s what scared us: if we can’t develop things in the factory, make them, get them to the track, see them work, then the very currency that we’re dealing with, in terms of performance, becomes without value.

“That, at times, was quite terrifying.”

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