The 2022 race weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard proved another false dawn for Mercedes. The team made another round of improvements for the car, similar in quantity to the number of components at Barcelona and Silverstone. The team was dynamic and had persuaded Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz that even a win was possible. Friday’s reality couldn’t have been further from expectations.
The dejected Lewis Hamilton was asked if a podium was possible after the second practice session.
“Today we’re fourth and fifth so that’s the area we’ll be fighting for,” Lewis replied.
“I don’t mean we can’t be on the podium, I think we can still be there. We’re still not as quick as those leading guys – we’re a bit further than we were in the last race.
The redesign of the 2022 Mercedes car, when it was revealed, drew applause from industry experts. The “sidepodless” iteration revealed just before the Bahrain test was seen as a design that would steal a step from the field.
The new car featured tall, narrow cooling inlets instead of the square air intakes that featured on the design and previous launch tests in Barcelona. By reducing the car’s width with “zero pontoons”, the theory was that this would force the front tires to air wash over a wider ground surface, creating downforce.
However, the car failed to deliver this season and halfway through the year in the pole position shootout in Austria, the leading Mercedes was no closer to the top of the timesheets than it was not in Bahrain.
After Friday’s training at Paul Ricard, a visibly stunned George Russell noticed that the team had “A lot to pass. I think our high fuel pace was better than our low fuel pace, so we need to make sure we optimize tomorrow to make sure there are no mid-pack cars between us. and the first four.
“I think the Ferraris are probably stronger than us and Max was fast as usual, so there’s work to be done.”
Russell’s racing simulation was the better of the two Mercedes drivers but was almost a second a lap slower than Verstappen who was third. Hamilton was just 0.3 seconds ahead of Vettel who was the best of the pack in his simulation race times.
George Russell admitted he had noticed improvements from the upgrades, but admitted “our rivals also find time”.
Yet the reality was a huge disappointment in the Mercedes team. “We’re probably a bit off the pace today than we would have hoped. Work to do tonight at the factory, but never say never” joked Russell.
Mattia Binotto observed that Mercedes spent a lot of money on their Barcelona, Silverstone and now Paul Ricard upgrades, so the question is how long can they throw money at a design concept that has failed.
The reluctance to go back to the drawing board is clear as it then puts Brackley’s team even further behind with an experience “on track” than the rest of the grid. Also, to deliver a new car for next year, they would have to stop this year’s development now.
It’s a big call, but seems inevitable.
McLaren have made big changes to their car design for the French GP and Matt Sommerfield writes for motorsport.com observes “Aston Martin was originally at one extreme in opting for the high-waisted sidepod solution, while Williams and Mercedes opted (at least initially) for a very short, quickly tapered arrangement.”
“Having seen Aston Martin and Williams turn their backs on their respective concepts, McLaren have become the latest to do so as well.”
“All that’s left is for Mercedes to continue with their more compact pontoon design.”
Obviously, given the huge change in car design regulations, the teams starting from scratch have all come up with varying innovations in relation to the area around the side pods. Yet the teams that got Mercedes’ interpretation wrong all moved the other way.
The stubbornness to change cars will surely not last long at Mercedes.
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