Mercedes’ in-house blunder scrutinised after early decision to ‘exploit’ FIA’s technical loophole backfired

Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott has accepted his share of the blame for the Silver Arrows’ failure to understand a loophole in the technical regulations that ended up being detrimental to the team.

A host of new regulations were introduced at the start of the season including the return of the ground effect aerodynamic for the first time in 40 years.

This was mainly done keeping in mind the spectators and the move was expected to make for better viewing.

With a greater emphasis placed on downforce generation to the underside of the car, a completely new chassis concept had to be developed by the teams.

While the early signs of a zeropod concept employed by Mercedes was seen as a piece of tactical genius, when the car began to compete against Ferrari and Red Bull, it was clear that Mercedes had made a grave mistake.

Porpoising has plagued the team for a large part of the season and Lewis Hamilton felt the full effects of this during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where he came out of his Mercedes W13 complaining of severe back pain.

No real solution could be found that would not impact the speed of the car in the immediate aftermath and Mercedes continued to struggle.

Although recent weeks seem to suggest better future outings in store for both Hamilton and teammate George Russell, Mercedes has been left rather distraught with its performance this season.

Did Mercedes read the rules wrong?

Mercedes W13. Credit: sportskeeda.com

Elliott reflected on one particular moment that ended up causing Mercedes all these problems.

“You look at how we developed the car, and I can point to one moment in time last year where we did something where I think we made a mistake,” he told the Beyond the Grid Podcast. 

“What you’re seeing in terms of performance and the way it swings from race to race as a consequence of that, and that’s a mistake we’ve known about for a while, and something we’ve been correcting and that’s why our performance has gradually got better.

“But it’s not something we can fully correct for a little while yet, and we will do over the winter.”

Elliott then explained how the team had been working relentlessly to make the most of a loophole in the regulations.

“With a loophole, you go through the winter and you look at and think ‘has anybody else spotted it, is someone else going to turn up with it?’,” he said.

“While it looks visually very different, as always with these things, it’s about opening up small aerodynamic advantages.

“Without going and running a development on the concept we’ve got, and running a development on a different concept, it’s hard to know what it will be worth at the end.

“But it wasn’t a huge game-changer, in the learning we’ve found this year, it’s less about the shape of the car, it’s more about the way we approach the development of the car, that’s where the difference lies.

“When you look at the sidepod, people say ‘it looks very different, that must work completely different to the rest of the cars’, and it doesn’t, it’s just a slightly different solution.

“Aerodynamically I don’t think it’s a massive departure from the other cars, it’s just something that adds a little bit of performance for us.”

Do engineers just come up with random car designs?

Mercedes W13. Credit: silverarrows.net
Mercedes W13. Credit: silverarrows.net

The engineers start off by getting a concept design in place, but it then gets scrutinised by a different set of individuals in the team to gauge whether it will be permissible.

“The aerodynamicists come up with the idea, we take another group of people, generally run by our chief designer, they will go and look for themselves and see if they can shoot it down,” Elliott said.

“Before the test, we’d shown it to FIA, we discussed it with them, their first reaction was ‘ah that’s not what we intended’ and they worked through it as well, [to] see whether they can challenge it.”

Mercedes currently sits in third spot in the Constructors’ Championship, trailing second-placed Ferrari by 66 points.

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