Mercedes trio have a long discussion looking back at the 2022 F1 season and forward to 2023 with power unit as center point and tackling issues.
In second part of a round table discussion involving Toto Wolff, Mike Elliott and Hywel Thomas, the Mercedes trio have a long discussion looking back at the 2022 F1 season and how they are using that to be better and be ready for the competition in 2023.
The center topic of discussion was how the power unit shortcomings were handled by Thomas and his team. While the Mercedes W13 had its own chassis problems especially with porpoising, the power unit too wasn’t performing to its best like previously.
As Thomas and Wolff discussed, the power unit side did have its own shortcomings but there was a co-relation trouble on the chassis side which did not harmonise the car effectively and thus they felt short on power and performance overall.
As the season progressed, Thomas and his team managed to eradicate some of the issues on the power unit side with the chassis team also improving on porpoising. But there was still frustration within the camp because of the updates not being consistent enough.
The first half saw the Mercedes car work well in pockets which confused them and only the update in Austin brought a balanced performance which allowed them to be a bit more competitive in the last few rounds where they even secured their sole win in Brazil.
It was a hard learning for the Mercedes trio after a successful run this far in the hybrid era. When a team so used to winning, losing them becomes a tough pill to swallow but they eventually had to, to make 2023 a better one which they are hoping to be.
Engine situation at the start –
Hywel Thomas: “At the beginning of the season the two big things that we had was firstly the PU was going to get frozen, and it was going to be a hardware freeze, and that’s what we were going to be using for the next three years, so we had a really big development programme over the whole of last year and through that winter. And just trying to make sure we landed that was a real big effort, a really, really big effort. The second thing we had was the change in the fuel regulations which we knew was going to be a hit for us and we expected to be a hit for others, but the same as the chassis world, with those two quite large changes we just didn’t know where we were going to end up. When we hit the track, I think there was a bit of disappointment and some things that we could certainly put right.
“And we knew we couldn’t do it through hardware, which had been our way of developing things for the past however many years so we had to really go back and reconsider how were we going to develop ourselves out of that position and after the first race or so going back and saying look, our part of this is to get some more performance and get some better driveability and we need to add that at the same time the car is being developed and that’s how we will get out of this position. We all said: How do we do that in this new world? And that then became the excitement of the season was seeing how we could change the way that we could develop this PU even though the hardware is frozen to get more performance from it.”
Toto Wolff: “When the hardware is frozen it becomes so much more complex to fine-tune the Power Unit and every driver also wants a different way of interacting with the power units but honestly how you have been able to just progress throughout the season has been a really important cornerstone in the work of all the team together and you have supported the chassis guys who came under a lot of pressure with the obvious behaviour of the car and you just continue to deliver a solid job and push the car’s performance up.”
Thomas: “And what’s becoming clearer and clearer as we have gone through that is the link between the Power Unit and the chassis is that you can’t develop them separately, especially if you want to get the performance from it from this development of non-hardware and the PU, you have to match the PU even more beautifully to the chassis. That’s where I would say, especially the second half of the season, is where some of the gains have been coming and that’s a great thing for the future as well.”
Porpoising and tackling it as the season progressed –
Wolff: “We put the car on the ground in winter testing and that thing bounced like a rabbit. We came to Bahrain and in pure lap time, considering that the ride was nowhere, we were still not far off.”
Mike Elliott: “Bahrain performance-wise we looked okay. A big chunk of that early activity was about trying to model those things, trying to understand those things in the wind tunnel and CFD, bring experiments to the track to make sure our understanding was correct before we could make progress. The result of that was a step in Barcelona, a step where we gave up a big chunk of raw wind tunnel performance to try and massively reduce the bouncing and I think what we saw in Barcelona was a car that we could now run where we wanted to run it in terms of ride height, but we had given up a lot of aero performance to get there.”
Wolff: “Barcelona came along, and we had a solid weekend. I think race pace we were pretty good and for me it seemed that the rest of the races until Budapest was really trial and error, it was trying to correlate what we didn’t see in the data with what was happening on track and then obviously we finished the first part of the season before the summer break really strong with the pole position of George and if I remember correctly, also a good race.”
Elliott: “We got through Barcelona, had the sort of high of Barcelona feeling that we got good performance, we then saw over the next few races that other issues were coming in the car, issues with the way we were trying to run the car close to the ground and it took us a while to get on top of that. Not because we couldn’t understand it, but it takes quite a long time to change these cars around that understanding and deliver the performance.
“Each of the packages we brought moved us a small step in the right direction and then another small step in the right direction. By Austin we’d got to a car that, for me, wasn’t beating Red Bull but it at least put us in a sensible position and in a position where we could say that our development had moved us in the right direction and give us some confidence with what we are doing for the future.”
Managing expectations and power unit performance –
Wolff: “I guess then for me it was difficult, and will be the same for the two of you, to manage your expectations because we went to Budapest and we were really good, we knew that the car and the power unit fell into the sweet-spot more in the range of the low-speed high-performance that we had. Then we went to Spa well refreshed after the summer and Monza and we knew that this was very difficult, our car was too draggy.
“Even the engine couldn’t pull us through the invisible aerodynamic wall and then we literally were nowhere at the beginning and it looked like a major setback but I guess it was all part of our understanding where the car performed well and how the interaction between drag and PU performance lay and also for you I guess a good step to saying: Okay, this is where we belief we perform well, this is where we can help the chassis guys also in terms of increasing speed at the end of the straight when the draggy car was probably shedding too much.
Thomas: “We have described from the PU side how we were trying to add performance throughout the season by small gains at pretty much every event. When we came back from Bahrain and said how are we going to do this? How are we going to put the performance on the car from our side? And it was really: We are going to have to do small gains, every weekend, just every weekend, just keep picking off a little gain and a little gain and a little gain and at the same time don’t compromise the reliability and that’s what we were seeing.
“We are in some ways a little bit fortunate that you can see some of those numbers on the dyno, you can do the tests on the dyno, you can see it develops a little bit more energy and you can say: okay, we are taking that to the circuit and it’s comforting to be able to watch that and see that working. The other thing by that sort of period of the season it was becoming very clear that the bottom of the engines were taking a hell of a pounding. I think when you came up to Brixworth last week you saw some of the parts that were off the race engines, and it was quite a surprise to see exactly how hard they were being hit by the ground and you know when you see Lewis and George looking a bit uncomfortable getting out of the cars the PUs were doing much the same.”
Wolff: “I think it was in a way the perfect storm because what I said that within four months you are not taking a stupid pill that suddenly you become totally incompetent when you won a championship in December and then you hit the ground in March and the car is much too slow. It’s about keeping the calm, relying on your tools and your organisation and your values and eventually I think that was a very positive factor in bringing us back to relative better performance.
“Not where we wanted to be but at least we were able to get it much better in Austin, Mexico was a positive surprise in a way and then Brazil obviously where we absolutely won on merit. We were pretty much ahead in every single session, two race victories, quickest lap, one and two – and for me as much as the learning is more important for next year than winning a race I think it was a good proof for us that there is inherent pace in the car, if the DNA of the circuit fits that car, which obviously there was not a lot to change during the season so at least the tools start to correlate I guess.”
Learning, teamwork –
Elliott: “I think as Niki used to say: You learn more from failure than you do from success. And I think for me this has been a massive learning year for us. What’s really interesting to me is to see the reaction that we had after Brazil. It was huge. It almost felt like we had won a World Championship and we had won one race! When you look at some of the seasons that we had previously you think it is just one race but I think that’s what showed me the level of passion in the organisation both at Brixworth and in Brackley and the sort of desire to get back to that, to get back to winning and I think it’s that desire and ambition that will get us there and if we can take all the learning from this year, turn that into direction for next year I think that will set us in good stead.”
Wolff: “I studied most of the successful sports teams in general that dominated an era and then eventually started to perform worse or fell apart. And there are pretty solid reasons that you can trace back why that happened. And I’ve never seen in our organisation a sense of complacency, nowhere. But it’s the analogy that you said is quite good and for me it’s like having eight Christmas evenings in a row. The eighth time is not going to be as exciting like the first time and I remember saying: Okay, this was another race victory, good, we are very happy, we performed well, we debriefed like it was our first but I think it’s in human nature that you kind of become used to it and that’s why bouncing back in Brazil and seeing the emotions of the team, I had so much pride.
“It’s interesting to look at ourselves and see okay, that is an emotion that I haven’t seen coming and it’s tremendously fulfilling in a way and although it was one race victory, we finished third in the Constructor’s Championship, we weren’t really on pace with the others, but it is another piece of the jigsaw to eventually come back and fight at the very front.”
Thomas: “What I have seen this year in both factories is when things weren’t going well nobody turned on each other, nobody was pointing fingers. Everyone was just going how do we get more performance and our part of the jigsaw; how do we get the car moving forward? And I also saw something which I think will help us an awful lot going forward which is that in both factories we trusted the process.
“We’ve got a process, we know how to develop a car, okay, we’ve learned something new, so we need to adjust that process and we need to do something a bit differently but inherently it’s the right way of doing things. And I think that is something that is very powerful from when we did have the victory in Brazil, we can look back at that and go: Okay yeah, that process, that general way of doing things is the right way.”
Looking at the future –
Elliott: “I agree. I think the interesting thing is how we move forward from here and I think we’ve got to maintain that scepticism and be honest with ourselves that we were behind at the end of the year and while I think that we’ve made good progress through the year and I am really pleased with the culture I have seen, I am really pleased with the attitude, putting every effort into moving us forward, we will only see the return on that next year.”
Wolff: “For me the perspective or the planning is not about the short-term, it’s not about a race, even a season or two or five. It’s about I would like this team to constantly develop to be chasing for race victories and championships every single year but not taking it for granted, not having any sense of entitlement and if I hear us talking it almost sounds like the complete disaster of all seasons but…”
Elliott: “It felt like it.”
Wolff: “It felt like it and I think this is the right feeling. But we finished third in the Constructors’ Championship, we were very close to Ferrari, we won a race, we had 10 plus podiums. Whatever happens at the beginning of next season it’s going to be another building block for the success of this team. We are trying to be as transparent as we can. I think it is also helpful to give our fans and followers a little bit more insight into how the season developed and panned out. Having said that I hope that next year before Christmas we are sitting down, and we have more positives to pick than this season.”
Elliott: “That would be nice.”
Wolff: “That would be nice. In any case what we can promise is that all of us here in the two factories, with the support of Germany, we are going to push flat out to have the best possible result and the same kind of scrutiny on our performance will help us going forward as human beings, as managers and also as a team.”
Here’s how the F1 2022 teams were categorised in ranking: https://formularapida.net/f1-2022-teams-categorised-in-tier-system-for-their-performances/
Here’s how the F1 2022 drivers were categorised in ranking: https://formularapida.net/f1-2022-drivers-categorised-in-tier-system-for-their-performances/
Here’s drivers’ list of Top 10 drivers
Here’s the team bosses list of Top 10 drivers
Here’s Lewis Hamilton, George Russell on their partnership
Here’s Toto Wolff on tracing issues, no fear
Here’s Lewis Hamilton having gratitude for 2022
Here’s Mercedes pair on multiple topics for 2022
Here’s Lewis Hamilton picks his races of 2022