Mark Hughes: The hints about Mercedes’ upgrade and 2024 F1 car
Mercedes’ returning technical director James Allison has confirmed that the key to developing the team’s W14 2023 Formula 1 car will be improving the stability of its aerodynamic platform.
“We’ll be trying to improve the balance of the car,” he said in Baku.
“I think probably there isn’t a car out there with a perfect balance and ours is very much less than perfect and we’ll be trying to work on that, aerodynamically and in terms of platform control, with the suspension.”
Coupled with predecessor Mike Elliott’s earlier comments that although the updated car expected to be seen in Imola in two races’ time will feature revised sidepods, but that they will not look like those seen on other cars, it suggests that the W14 will not be converted to the more conventional Red Bull bodywork philosophy of heavily undercut sidepod.
The heart of Red Bull’s advantage in aerodynamic control appears to be the level of anti-dive front and anti-squat rear geometry built into its suspension.
With less pitch and dive to be accommodated, it can be run lower, dramatically enhancing the effectiveness of the underbody as the tunnel venturis can run more heavily in ground effect.
But combining such extreme geometry with a car that does not too readily lock its brakes is a big challenge – and it’s Red Bull’s solving of that difficulty which would seem to be a very important factor in its current level of aerodynamic superiority.
Even if Mercedes cracked that code, the W14, as currently configured, would need to be totally re-engineered to achieve that suspension as it would impact upon suspension pick-up points of the chassis.
Furthermore, converting to the Red Bull’s bodywork layout would also involve completely different radiator placement, gearbox length and even cockpit placement. That would be totally unfeasible within the season, especially in the cost cap era.
Essentially we can expect the aerodynamic layout of the W14 to remain for the balance of the season, with developments based around controlling the platform of the car within the existing basic layout of the suspension.
“I don’t think any of us would ever consider a wholesale clean sheet revamp to be a good or prosperous approach,” Allison added.
“If the rules change, you have to change with them. But engineering is about iteration and in all likelihood if you tear things up you are… I’m going to mix metaphors horrifically here, but you are going to just throw away an awful lot of baby along with a small amount of bath water.”
But it poses some interesting questions about what the 2024 Mercedes will look like.
Adopting a more Red Bull-like aerodynamic layout would involve long lead decisions on gearbox length, monocoque shape, suspension pick-up points and cockpit placement which would all have to be decided very soon.
Review: Understanding the F1 tech war
No other sport plays so heavily on the technological developments taking place from race to race and year to year. The tech war between manufacturers is as old as F1 itself and remains as fascinating and integral as ever.
However, explaining the complex developments of the cars is no easy feat, and for new fans of the sport can often appear daunting. In Formula 1 Technology The Engineering Explained, Steve Rendle sets out to demystify these dark arts, and supported by the ever-informative drawings of Giorgio Piola he does a good job of breaking down the various components of the cars, detailing the historical evolution of that technology over the years and explaining the rulebook rationale behind changes that have been enforced on the designers.
It’s presented in a way that shouldn’t deter anyone without a degree in aerodynamics but there is easily enough depth to it to ensure even the most well-versed fans learn something new. – Andrew van de Burgt
Formula 1 Technology The Engineering Explained. £55.00. www.evropublishing.com
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