At the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season, the main reason for Mercedes’ lack of performance was a specific problem: porpoising.
This significant hurdle has been overcome, but Mercedes’ 2022 car still has other limitations that must be addressed if Lewis Hamilton or George Russell has any real hope of winning races this season.
After overcoming their porpoising problem in Spain, it was a big setback for Mercedes to be instantly hampered by another kind of rebound in Monaco.
The low-speed, bumpy nature of Monaco emphasizes several key areas: ride quality, aerodynamic loading and mechanical grip.
After Mercedes performed so well in the high-speed sections of the Barcelona track, Monaco was a great test for the car’s other characteristics. And the W13 failed (at least in terms of Mercedes’ high expectations for itself).
The car was bottoming at the start of the weekend and at ride height the car had to roll to avoid the worst, it just wasn’t producing enough downforce.
Its ride quality is still poor, which seems to be a legacy of the car’s inherent stiffness.
This is something that was reported by the drivers from the first pre-season test in Spain. And the first real improvements Mercedes has made since solving the porpoising problem should include attempts to improve the car’s ride quality.
While this problem didn’t come as a total surprise to Mercedes at Monaco, as they knew their car still had inherent weaknesses, the scale of the problem was worse than expected.
Mercedes wasn’t able to make much progress in addressing his weaknesses as all of his time and attention had been devoted to curing the porpoise. Russell summed up the areas he still needs to improve as follows: “We just need to find a bit more downforce, we haven’t been terribly competitive in the low speed corners.
“In Barcelona we were the fastest at high speed and on the straights. Quite the opposite of what Monaco offers.
“We need to find a bit more pace in qualifying, we can’t afford to have an Alpine or a McLaren in front of us.”
Simply put, Mercedes now needs to create a better mechanical and aerodynamic platform. If that sounds obvious, that’s because it kind of is – unlike its rivals, Mercedes haven’t really developed their car far beyond what showed up in testing.
More load and a more stable car will allow drivers to attack more and should also help address the chronic tire overheating issues that have plagued Mercedes on several occasions this year.
It’s a big factor in qualifying, as noted by Russell. Despite clearly having the third fastest car, particularly in races, Mercedes have found another team between their lead car and Ferrari and Red Bull in five of the seven Grands Prix so far.
And the gap with the two best teams remains severe on the pace of qualifying, regardless of the circuit favoring the W13 or not.
The fact is, whether it’s a good weekend like Spain or a tough weekend like Monaco, Mercedes are so far behind Red Bull and Ferrari that they’re not going to challenge. in any event.
Team boss Toto Wolff called Mercedes’ current pace deficit a “huge annoyance”, which is probably an understatement.
At best, he reckons Mercedes are half a second away from qualifying with their current car. In the worst case, it is eight tenths. Either way, Wolff says it’s “not acceptable.”
The caveat here is that Mercedes should close that gap as it adds performance to its car, and it should have some fruit on its hands with its initial development.
But there’s still a question mark over the car’s ultimate potential, especially in light of underlying issues, such as its stiffness.
It should be noted that for 2022, clever hydraulic suspension trickery has been banned. It was an area where Mercedes had previously excelled, such as the inertia dampers it ran front and rear on last year’s car, essentially doing the job of controlling any rebound while the springs themselves had very little travel.
Other teams seem to have been more honed in finding new solutions, with Russell particularly envious of the way the Ferrari seems to roll over kerbs and bumps on all tracks.
So how much progress Mercedes can make with the 2022 car depends on exactly how much it needs to be modified. And Mercedes are still being asked questions about the current concept or whether the focus should be on preparing a different design for 2023.
Mercedes’ answer is always that it will only be valid if the conclusion is that it has to make an architectural or aerodynamic change that cannot be implemented on the current car. Wolff says that point has still not been reached.
What is clear is that the W13 still needs a lot of work. As Hamilton said when asked if he would prefer Mercedes to switch resources and focus on 2023: “We need to figure out what’s wrong with this car before we can make another one!”
“If we started making another car, we could easily go wrong.
“To fully master this one, which we haven’t done yet, will give us a guideline.
“There are definitely a lot of things I wouldn’t want from this car for next year’s car.