Gary Anderson: Mercedes’ upgrade trend shows it’s still lost

Mercedes will introduce the second part of an upgrade package for its troubled 2024 Formula 1 car during this weekend's Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, having sped up the first part so that it was available for the previous race in Miami.

But while its client team McLaren used its bigger upgrade to win in Miami, the modified Mercedes was unable to get past Q2 in qualifying for the sprint race and culminated with a sixth-place finish for Lewis Hamilton in the Grand Prix, with the Mercedes sharing the fourth row of the race. network.

From the point of view of our technical advisor Gary Anderson, what Mercedes changed for Miami was further evidence that it still does not understand what it needs to do to get performance from this generation of cars.

Here's his take on the upgrade, followed by the team's own view of its progress and direction.

Gary Anderson's point of view

Mercedes presented an upgrade package at the Miami Grand Prix that was more modest than that offered by McLaren, and much less effective, showing that even in the third year of these regulations there are still big question marks about the direction of its development.

Aspects of what Mercedes has changed on the front wing – which was one of the two main areas affected by the upgrade – will be track-specific, designed to achieve the required aerodynamic balance to match the downforce of the rear wing and the drag levels chosen. But I can also comment on what this says about Mercedes' design direction.

Since the 2024 Mercedes debuted its attention-grabbing inboard front wing section, we've seen three major changes. All of these are located on the trailing edge of the rear fender. As you can see from my red highlight line, the back edge of the main section of the plate is the focus area.

If you have a trailing lip on that back cover like a Mercedes, you are inducing cross flow. Worse still, since you have positive pressure on the upper surface and negative pressure on the lower surface, there is a very good chance that this cross flow will go in two different directions as it travels from the trailing trailing edge.

With the arrival of each new spec, Mercedes has made that trailing edge more consistent and less wavy, so perhaps it's headed in the right direction. But there is still a long way to go before the flow coming from that area of ​​the front wing becomes as uniform as the leading edge of the underfloor requires.

As for the interior, this surprises me a bit again. If you were to take a clip where I placed the vertical yellow light, the camber (angle of attack) on the wing is very aggressive, especially the second element indicated by the yellow arrow. This is the main section of airflow that you feed the diffuser.

It passes under the nose section, and ends in turn between the two internal floor dividers. From there, the diffuser pulls the flow through the subfloor, accelerating it and creating lower pressure under the car. This is what we call the subfloor compressive force.

My problem is that with this inner section of the front wing marked with the yellow vertical line and yellow arrow being as aggressive as it is, the critical flow to this area of ​​the leading edge of the underfloor has lost energy before it gets there.

Also, the opening gap between the front element and the second element marked with the green arrow remained the same throughout the season. In my opinion, it is on the large side. The minimum and maximum slot gaps are controlled in the regulations, but having the slot gap on the large side means Mercedes is trying to fix some flow stability issues in this area.

With a gap of this size, the central section of the wing's front element does little in terms of generating forward downforce. Most of the flow required by the aggressive section of the front wing camber will be drawn through that slot gap.

The outer edge of the front section of the floor is the other area for development. This seems to be based on the old axiom that “if two is good, five must be better.” The placement of these turn vanes and how they work with the dividers at the leading edge of the subfloor is critical to its overall performance.

The main problem with introducing more of these spinners is that it is very easy for them to get stuck on top of each other. Each one will form a vortex of some level and those vortexes can easily “explode” as they intertwine with each other.

So in some cases, and this is one of them, less can be more.

The big question you might be asking is who am I to comment on what Mercedes is up to? Well, sometimes you need to stand outside the forest to see the wood from the trees, and that's the perspective from which I draw my conclusions.

When you're on the edge, it can be very difficult to make rational decisions – and I've been in that situation myself. The forces demanding improvement can easily lead those with experience to make rash choices and that can quickly lead you down the garden path.

Mercedes vision

Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' director of track engineering, saw the Miami package as a step forward, but was overshadowed by broader ongoing problems with the car and the pace at which competitors were also developing.

“Did it work as expected? Yes, the whole thing seems to be performing as well as we were hoping for from the ground.”

“The problem at the moment is that everyone is developing their cars, so you've seen McLaren with a big package and they seem to have moved forward, and the handling issues that the drivers have to fight make it difficult to really see the whole performance thing as a straight kind of step forward.

He continued: “What we tend to find is that the car from one session to the next can behave very differently, and until we overcome that, we will always reduce the benefit that we can get from this type of update.

“But after the last few races, we now have a very clear idea of ​​what we need to do to the car to make the drivers handle it more easily, and make sure it goes where they want it when they want it,” he added. In those important qualifying laps.”

Team principal Toto Wolff insisted at the end of the Miami weekend that Mercedes was completely clear about how it would solve its car's issues and that it was just a matter of production time to bring in all the parts required to do it – as part of what Chauvelin described as a “good kind of series of updates for the three races.” Or the next four.”

“We understand much more what is needed to put the car in a better position because it is now clear what it does and why and where we suffer,” Wolff said.

“In Formula 1, you can speed up the development process and produce beats and we are fully prepared.

“The design office is completely ready. Production is well underway. The rest has done a good job. All the factories are already working on sixth gear in order to bring things to the car that we think could be very useful.”

He is adamant that Mercedes' understanding of its problems means it is now moving in the right direction.

“It's been a painful and painful learning curve and it's still not satisfactory, but the situation is much more encouraging now,” Wolf said.

He noted that low-speed performance is the main remaining problem.

“The car is no longer bouncing, which is a good thing,” he said when asked by The Race’s Mark Hughes about the major remaining limitations in terms of bounce, tire usage and sluggish cornering performance, which have been key issues in Mercedes’ struggles since 2022. last few years.”

“The car is very strong at high speeds. The ride is better, although not at the level of others.

“The car doesn't turn at low speed. And you don't want to have a car that's good at low speed or high speed, you need both. That's why he's pointing us in some right directions.”

But while Wolff highlighted the problem of low-speed performance, Chauvelin suggested that Montreal's low-speed track is likely to be somewhere in between at the upcoming circuits where Mercedes may do better as it can at least focus its settings on one characteristic.

“Next, we have Monaco, Montreal and then Barcelona. You have two circuits that are mostly low-speed corners, and certainly in Montreal, they are all low-speed,” said Chauvelin.

“Then we have Barcelona, ​​which with its new design, where the chicane has been removed, is a very fast circuit. Lots of medium-speed and very, very high-speed corners. So there's a lot of scope for us to deal with.

“We don't expect that we will go to Monaco and suddenly look very fast.

“But what you can find is that subtle differences in those pathways can expose those vulnerabilities a little less.

“If you go to a place like Montreal, you're only dealing with one speed range, and it might be a little easier to put the car in the window.

He continued: “We are all doing all the normal preparatory work, but fundamentally, we need to develop our way out of this problem by introducing performance updates to the car. And that is what we are working on.”


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