Lewis Hamilton played down the significance of Mercedes’ new upgrades yesterday, saying he “did not anticipate much change” to the pecking order this weekend. Why talk up something when you do not yet know it will work?
ut the Brackley team do appear to have rolled the dice with what have been described as “significant” changes to both their front and rear wings in Miami as they seek to alleviate the issues that have bedevilled them this season.
Mercedes’ major headache is with “porpoising”, the phenomenon that occurs when the airflow beneath the car causes it to bounce up and down at high speed. Porpoising is affecting all teams to some degree as they scrabble to get to grips with the new technical regulations introduced this year, the biggest changes in a generation.
Mercedes’ problems are so severe they have been forced to run the W13 much higher than they would wish in an effort to stop it constantly bottoming out. That, in turn, has meant they have missed out on what Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff describes as all the “aerodynamic goodness” they ought to be enjoying from the car’s design.
Other teams have found different solutions to the issue. Red Bull’s floor, for instance, features what has been described as an “ice skate” strake – a metal strip with holes in it – which sits in the rear outer corner of the floor.
Ultimately, though, all of these issues are not fully understood, even by the brainy boffins within the teams, so those of us watching on are scrabbling in the dark to try to understand them.
What is clear is that without any in-season testing, teams are being forced to trial different things in practice to see what works.
It is still unclear whether the changes Mercedes have made to their car for this weekend’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix have allowed them to run it at a lower ride height.
Trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin did say in Imola that the engineers in Brackley were hoping to have something ready for Miami that, if nothing else, would help them better comprehend the phenomenon.
“Is there an aerodynamic solution that we can apply to the car that will make this problem go away?” he mused.
“Being realistic, we think this will be something we approach in steps rather than one big moment where the whole thing vanishes. But we are seeing encouraging signs.”
But the new wings at the very least should help Mercedes’ relative lack of straight-line speed this year. Engine performance has played a part in that, with Ferrari’s power unit now clearly the pick of the field where once the Mercedes engine reigned supreme.
But Mercedes are also aware that the high downforce specification wing package they elected to run at the start of the campaign has a high drag consequence.
“This rear-wing configuration provides reduced downforce and reduced drag based on circuit simulations,” said the team yesterday.
While Hamilton was cautious in his press conference prior to first practice, team-mate George Russell sounded slightly more optimistic.
“I think we’re finally getting to a point where we feel confident that in races to come we might be able to solve it. But we’ll see.”
Initial results seemed reasonably encouraging with Russell and Hamilton second and seventh fastest in first practice yesterday – Russell less than a tenth off the pace of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Mercedes have publicly written off their chances of competing for either championship this year. In theory, if they can resolve their porpoising issues, there is still plenty of time for them to catch up, especially with both Red Bull and Ferrari having dropped points.
Russell heads into the weekend just 37 points behind Ferrari’s Leclerc in the standings, having finished in the top five at every race this year, the only driver on the grid to do so.
Hamilton is a further 21 points back, but there are still at least 18 races remaining this season and the seven-time world champion will certainly not be short of motivation to turn things around.
Hamilton said in his press conference that he had noted the “disrespectful” comments of many pundits following his last outing in Imola where he finished a lowly 13th.
“It has been interesting to see,” Hamilton said. “[But] it is to be expected. I just keep my head down. I know who I am. I know what I do. I love what I do.
“We’re going through a tough time. We didn’t come out the starting blocks as we wanted but we are fighters. And if you don’t know that about me then you just don’t know me.”
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