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“You don’t see arrogance in our engineers”

“You don’t see arrogance in our engineers”

( – Mercedes’ form curve is turning upward: After 6/7th starts at the season opener in Bahrain and 3/7th in Saudi Arabia, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton started 2nd and 4th at the Australian Grand Prix third in Melbourne in the race. And even Russell began to dream of winning on his own again.

Toto Wolfe warns against swinging between emotions too quickly

Team boss Toto Wolff had already warned in Jeddah against giving up hope of the 2023 World Cup title too early: “Anything is possible in motorsport. It’s certainly wrong to write off the season too early, but at the moment the gap is big. If we do that.” If you can’t reduce the deficit in the next four or five races, the World Championship train has departed. “

After qualifying in Melbourne, Russell withdrew his prediction that Red Bull would win all 23 races. But Saturday’s strong day at Albert Park, as the engineers at Mercedes are well aware, in no way reflects a dramatic change in the standings. Because the big updates aren’t on the car yet, but only in the wind tunnel.

“I can now take it easy and say we expected it. But that wasn’t the case,” Wolff said after a shocking qualifying session in Australia. “We’re not where we want to be yet. We want to be along the way. But P2/3 is definitely more than we expected before this weekend.”

“The team has done an excellent job of getting the most out of the car. I think we handled the tires brilliantly and the drivers delivered. You can see on board that the car is still important to drive. Aston Martin and Red Bull are much better. We’re driving on a razor blade, But this time they both did it really well.”

Wolf warns: Brazil 2022 must not be repeated

Wolf warns against making the same mistake again at the end of 2022, when Russell wins in Brazil, and once again canceling the planned change of concept: “We have to be careful now not to jump back and forth between euphoria and depression. We have to stay sane.”

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“What we saw today is that there is a lot of potential in this car. That’s obvious. But we have to make the right decisions for the long term. For now, we’re going to race with the best possible package we can manage. Whether it’s the narrowness, having the sidepods or not It’s irrelevant. We just need more downforce.”

The realization that the current flying concept with airtight “zero capsules” is a dead end had already ripened at Mercedes in the summer of 2022. But then came the victory in Brazil, and there seemed to be trends in the team led by technical director Mike Elliott that were thinking the concept was a good one. In theory it is better to stick to it.

“We tried everything to make it work because the data we extracted showed it should work. But now it turns out it was wrong,” admits Wolf. “The two fastest cars generate downforce in a similar way, but they look very different from ours. At some point we realized we were wrong.”

The data from the wind tunnel and CFD simulations were misleading. But this was a collective decision rather than an isolated effort on Elliott’s part, as has been speculated in some places: “We all agreed we were going to keep going like this. […] But now we can’t afford to lose any more time.”

Hamilton doubted this in front of the engineers

Lewis Hamilton was one of the first to discover that the concept of flying might broadcast good data in theory, but not work in practice. He also expressed this when he said after winter tests in Bahrain that the team had not listened to him enough at the end of 2022.

“Lewis had a different point of view,” Wolf asserts. “But in the end we all decided to stick with this concept. Encouraged by the good results at the end of the year. Lewis said from the start that he didn’t feel comfortable in this car.”

“Now we have to completely change our philosophy, how we look at data, how we analyze data. We have to reinvent ourselves,” Wolf asks his engineers. “Because when we look at the lap times, we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

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Giving in to the impulse again, trusting the old data because of a good qualifying result in Melbourne and giving the current concept another chance, “is exactly what we have to avoid now,” explains Wolff.

“In the outpouring of emotion, one might be tempted to wonder if it was the right concept change and instead to develop this car. But then we see it differently again with the next bad outcome.”

“We’ve never had any particular dogma about what our car should look like. We realize we’re wrong. We also know there are some good things about the concept – especially when we can totally pack the pack into a race weekend to be perfectly coordinated. Then We will find out what is theoretically possible in this car.

After years of success: Blind trust for a long time?

Which begs the question: Did team management trust the engineers’ judgment for too long and ignore Hamilton’s instincts for too long? Spoiled by years of success as there was no reason not to trust the tech team?

“Sometimes you’re wrong,” Woolf dismisses. “Whether or not I was subconsciously affected by something like that? I think it’s just a human reaction. Now it’s up to us to discuss it openly: Did this happen to us wrong?” “I don’t see any arrogance among our engineers,” he explains.

When exactly the first updates will come is not yet confirmed. What this would look like is already clear. Sidepods and underbody (“massive aerodynamic surface”) will definitely be rebuilt. According to Wolff, “all aerodynamic surfaces are affected”, “from the nose to the diffuser and the ‘beam spoiler'”.

Wolf doesn’t expect a turnaround to happen overnight

However, he dares not hope that the updates will have a full impact on the first races: “I think we have to count six to twelve months. Because that’s how long it’s taken us to really understand what’s going on with this car. And that means we have to Now double our development speed.”

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Until updates are introduced, the aim is to increase the W14 to its current specification – as in qualifying in Melbourne. Because even if winning alone is not enough: in the best case scenario, the points you have accumulated now may still be important at the end of the year.

In terms of setup, Mercedes now understands the concept much better than in 2022: “Last year we developed the car in such a way that we set it too low. This year we probably have to set it a little too high. But at least we can all track those decisions.” And understand it now.”

“The way the car is now, the team is better able to find the right spot. The aerodynamics have done a great job over the past few weeks adding performance where we’ve been missing. Using our knowledge to get the most out of the car this race weekend.”

Russell: I understand W14 better and better

Sometimes it works better, sometimes worse. But rarely has W14 been a feisty singer as W13 has been with its blatant tendency to “bounce”. “We understand this car better and better,” says George Russell. “We’ve improved exactly the same car since Jeddah. So the setup has to be.”

“The car actually looks very good,” says Russell. “It’s probably the best Formula 1 car I’ve ever been in – apart from the alternate start at Mercedes 2020.” “But we simply lack downforce. We’ve made tremendous progress on the wind tunnel in the last two or three weeks. Hopefully, they’ll get to the car soon.”

“Today’s result certainly gives us confidence no matter what the race brings. Over the next four weeks we need to make the most of a car that is undoubtedly lacking in performance. Then we will be in good shape for the race, where we then bring the update.”