Mercedes’ CEO and Team Principal Toto Wolff has spoken at length on Mercedes’ unpredictable sidepod concept which has led to struggles with porpoising, tyre management and overall instability.
The reigning constructor’s champions are currently in P3 in the standings, 62 points behind championship leaders Ferrari after five rounds of the season. Nevertheless the team have remained firmly behind their radical sidepod design, unlike anything else on the grid and a vastly different ideology to that displayed on the Ferrari, but calls will only continue to grow stronger to shift focus or abandon the concept.
Wolff explained how “painful” this season has been so far, and how the team still does not fully understand where their problems lie. “We’ve been straight from the beginning flying in the fog a little bit and it’s clear there’s potential in the car and she’s fast, but we just don’t understand how to unlock the potential,” he admits.
“It’s a car that is super difficult to drive and on the edge, dipping in and out of the performance window, more out than in, and dissecting the data with a scalpel is just a painful process because it takes very long. As a matter of fact the data sometimes doesn’t show what the drivers tell us, and certainly they have their hands full with a car that is not at all comfortable or nice to drive, or predictable to drive, but the data doesn’t show these swings.
“We haven’t had this situation before in any of the years that it just didn’t correlate what we see on the screens with what the driver feels, and that’s making it even more difficult,” summed up Wolff. He also adds on how the time to make crucial setting-in-stone decisions for next year’s car is on the horizon, with the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix set to play an important role in the team’s short and long term decision making.
“[Soon there comes a] moment where we have to decide what we will do for next year,” said Wolff. “But it doesn’t work to say you are writing off one season to concentrate on the next, because it’s the same regulations so I just think our understanding grows every day, we’ve already said Miami was another experimental weekend.”
Wolff was asked what exactly is the root cause of Mercedes’ troubles, having previously referred to the exposed nature of the floor that sits in lieu of their ‘zeropod’ sidepod being a potential culprit for their tyre management issues, particularly in qualifying, and the severe and unpredictable porpoising.
“If you work through the grid you can see our floor edges stick out much wider than everybody elses and that’s what of course gives it much more scope of possible instability and that is I think where our concept varies,” Wolff explains. “Clearly our Barcelona launch car is much slower on paper but we need to work out how to make the current car work predictably for the drivers.”
He does admit however that he “wouldn’t discount anything” when it comes to the idea of simply reverting back to the original-spec W13 from the Barcelona test, but says he needs to “give all our people the benefit of the doubt that have produced great race cars in the past.” Wolff shows an element of his frustration of having to consistently defend the problems to the media and undoubtedly the Mercedes board, but is of the opinion data gathering is ultimately the key to “unpick” the shortcomings and return to fighting at the front.
“We believe this [current concept] is the route to go, but Barcelona definitely is going to be a point in time where we are able to correlate what we saw in February and gather more data,” said Wolff. “I’m also annoyed [about] always saying the same thing about gathering data and making experiments but it’s physics and not mystics, and therefore you have to unpick the bones.”
Wolff says that the Mercedes team will “look ourselves in the mirror” after Barcelona, but doesn’t confirm if a decision will be made over whether to push forward with the ‘zeropod’ generation of W13, abandon the season’s development altogether or switch back to the first-gen W13 sidepod design.
“I think we are still committed to the current concept and you need to be because if you don’t believe and you give the other one a 50% chance then you better switch now,” Wolff said. “We are faithful to the current concept and we are not looking at the lady next door if we like it more or not because it’s still good.
“As a matter of fact we need to understand before you make a decision to switch onto another concept on where did this one go wrong? And what is the goodness of the concept and what is the badness of the concept?
“That is a question you can only respond to yourself but which I would be asking ourselves to get an answer on after Barcelona because that’s the real correlation here and by then we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and say did we get it wrong or not?,” summed up Wolff.
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