The original plan for Mercedes was to introduce their major “first step” upgrades at Imola, but after extreme weather forced the Grand Prix to be cancelled these upgrades will now have to be introduced and tested in Monaco, an unideal prospect.
Monaco isn’t ideal considering that the package promises a major revamp of the W14. The street circuit has a bumpy layout, low speed corners, and a fast-changing track surface which all make gathering valuable data on aerodynamic performance extremely difficult.
There would be logic to wait for the Spanish Grand Prix simply because it’s a traditional circuit, but the team remain confident that these upgrades need to be implemented as soon as possible as they will deliver a tangible step forward in performance.
What are Mercedes’ Major Upgrades?
The major upgrades include new sidepods, a revised floor, and different suspension, according to Toto Wolff. The latter upgrade is to tackle Mercedes’ lack of confidence under braking.
During the team’s debrief on YouTube, engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, revealed that these upgrades were planned as far back as Bahrain. They aren’t so much about improving performance, although that is certainly a hope, but giving the car a new development direction.
“Well, if we go all the way back to the Bahrain test, Bahrain race, that was when we realised that we didn’t have a package that was going to allow us to fight for the a world championship,” said Shovlin.
“And we continued on that same development direction, we wouldn’t end up in a position where we felt we could challenge Red Bull. So, it was around that time that we took some decisions on how we develop the car – how the car works aerodynamically, how we shape the characteristics of the car, how it is in terms of handling.
“What we are going to bring to the track at Imola is the first step of that work. This takes quite a long time to develop in the wind tunnel, you can’t just do these things overnight. But the Imola package is the first step in that direction. We are hoping to bring other updates later in the year. We do hope it is quicker, we hope it is better in terms of qualifying and race pace.
“But, as I said, the key thing is not just looking to bring a lap time update. We are looking to head off in a different development direction, one that we think gives us a better chance in the long term of being able to challenge for race wins and world championships.”
We have been given the impression by Mike Elliott, former technical director, that the sidepod concept will be different, but it won’t replicate Red Bull’s.
“It won’t be the same as other people’s and it won’t be the same as we’ve got, it’ll be different,” said Elliott.
“We have got a very different sidepod coming – I say very different, a different sidepod that’s coming.”
It will be repeated time and again that sidepods alone will not solve performance problems, they are merely the most visible difference between the cars.
As Hamilton explained at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, “People keep talking about getting the new sidepods on the car but it’s not as simple as that.
“You put the Red Bull sidepods on our car and it won’t change a thing, it literally won’t change a thing, it might even go slower.
“It’s about aero characteristics, it’s how the car is balanced through the corners. There’s so many different elements that people of course would not know because they’re not aerodynamicists and you can’t see it – there’s a lot more to it.”
Will These Upgrades Bring the Fight to Red Bull?
It is highly unlikely that these upgrades will see Mercedes challenging Red Bull at the front immediately. These upgrades are merely the beginning of a new development path that will (hopefully) see major results some time in the future. As Toto Wolff said, there is no silver bullet.
“We need to manage our own expectations,” Wolff said. “Because we are bringing an update package that is going to consist of new suspension parts and bodywork and some other things but I have never in my 15 years in Formula 1 seen a silver bullet being introduced where suddenly you unlock half a second of performance.
“I very much doubt this is going to happen here.
“What I’m looking for is that we take certain variables off the table where we believe we could have introduced something that we don’t understand in the car and to have a stable platform. We shall see what our baseline is and what we can do from there.”
The aim isn’t so much to take wins away from Red Bull, but to get ahead of Aston Martin and Ferrari. The issue is that those teams are not remaining stagnant either. Ferrari were also set to introduce a significant upgrade at Imola and it remains to be seen which team has gotten it right.