The statement says one way or another. Mercedes finished the second training session in Miami with first and fourth places. The gap between Red Bull and Ferrari, which was close to one second per lap, suddenly disappeared. Although the drivers in the cockpit did not notice a noticeable difference. “The car is like me, but it looks like we’re faster,” said Lewis Hamilton. “We have clearly improved in some areas.”
The Miami International Autodrome allowed engineers to run a lower group because the recoil was not evident on Friday practice. And immediately it was Mercedes with music. After a day, the silver arrow got closer to the ground. In the third training session, the jumping blow reappeared. So go back to the old setting. You think the speed will return. But nothing has changed. The Mercedes jumped like a kangaroo. Red Bull and Ferrari were in a league of their own. Hamilton lost eight tenths of a second in qualifying.
More key points to jump
His teammate George Russell sailed off Q2 because the rebound hit him so hard and all of a sudden in one of the fastest corners. How can a car jump more on one day than another – despite the same setup? Mercedes engineers would like to know, too. On Friday you thought you were closer to the edge of the forest, but on Saturday you were pushed back into the middle. After all, there are some key points to better understand your vehicle. Grip level, temperature, road speed, wind speed and direction: these can all be factors influencing rebound.
Team boss Toto Wolff describes it as follows: “We take the positives with us. If we find the right place for the car, we can be fast. We are close to understanding where that point is.” There was no improvement in racing trim. Before the safety car, Hamilton lost 46.9 seconds to Max Verstappen in 39 laps. So, more than a second per lap. It was 39.4 seconds for Charles Leclerc at Ferrari. Silver Arrows didn’t have a chance. Even Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo was a little faster.
Only one thing is certain. Finding a setup for the W13 where the aerodynamics work is like solving a puzzle. One cannot talk about a window in which the car runs, but rather about a hole in the door. What makes the task complicated is that riders cannot set up a live wire. Silver Arrow lacks feedback.
W13 with very few notes
Example: If Mercedes drives with less tuning, the downforce increases. But drivers don’t feel that much as the data shows. Team boss Wolff explains: “We don’t get that in recent years, that the drivers’ statements don’t match the data. The data doesn’t show the huge fluctuations that the drivers feel.”
Mercedes is not alone with a lack of feedback from the car to the driver. Aston Martin drivers suffered from that, too. Until the steering adjustment in Imola led to an improvement. Since then, things have been looking up for Mercedes customers. The potential is somewhere deep within the silver arrow, but no one can release it. Because you’re standing in the woods, or, as Wolf says, “flying in the mist from the start.” Drivers ride a razor: “Our car is very, very difficult to drive,” says Wolf.
The slight weight reduction and updates from Miami (front wing, rear wing, rear wing) worked, but they faded into the rebound. There are more new developments in the pipeline for Barcelona. But everything stands and falls with the specific subject. Straight-line jumps and fast cornering should be significantly reduced. “There are some updates coming, but that’s not the reason, it’s the general understanding.”
Mercedes should recognize the naughty. It is somewhere on the lower body. A sustainable solution is needed here. To do this, engineers slice the newly acquired data with a scalpel. Aerodynamics is examined through a microscope. The exposed bottom on top of the small side rails may be part of the problem. “This creates more leeway for potential instability,” says the team leader.
Mercedes is weak in slow corners
In Miami, the Silver Arrow was more in tune with fast corners than slow corners—as long as the rebound didn’t knock you off the perfect streak. Carlos Sainz was in a league of his own in qualifying in Sector One, where four of the eight corners were faster than 200 km/h. The Spaniard completed the first part in 29.278 seconds. Hamilton managed to keep up with Leclerc and Verstappen.
- Leclerc: 29.441 seconds
- Verstappen: 29.546 seconds
- Hamilton: 29.591 seconds
Lap times show the W13 can be right there with the music in the fast corners if you’re not too bouncy. Mercedes had a particularly difficult time in the second sector. In the top speed division between curves 8 and 11, Red Bull leaves everyone behind with its incredible top speed. In the corners of Mickey Mouse between the ages of 11 and 16, Ferrari dominated qualifying.
Hamilton lost several tenths to Leclerc there in Q3 and about twenty to Verstappen. The fact that McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Alfa Torri were faster in the second sector says a lot about Mercedes.
- Leclerc: 33.831 seconds
- Verstappen: 33.955 seconds
- Perez: 34.012 seconds
- Sainz: 34.017 seconds
- Norris: 34.057 seconds
- Bottas: 34.074 seconds
- Gazelle: 34.201s
- Tsunoda: 34.286 seconds
- Hamilton: 34.290 seconds
a little bit of traction
Mercedes justifies the poor performance in the second sector by saying that the tires were too hot in the slow corners. This also has to do with jumping. By jumping in the first section, the rubber moves more and gets higher as a result. That wasn’t enough for a full-throttle section of over a kilometer to bring the temperatures down sufficiently. The W13 weakens when it comes to traction.
This may also be a reason to run on the straights in the first races. Because a lot of speed was lost in the first part. Excess air resistance has been reduced somewhat by upgrades. Indeed, Mercedes has come straight ahead on par with Ferrari. No one can deny that the red car has not only greater downforce but also greater engine power. It’s hard to say how much Mercedes lost there. Everything from a few to more than twenty could be heard.
In Barcelona, Mercedes is hoping to make a decisive move. Towards a much better competitive advantage compared to Ferrari and Red Bull. “We have a full data memory of the test drives,” says Wolf. “This allows us to compare the old and new concept.” In this way, one wants to learn to better understand rebound — and at best reduce it.
No return to the “first W13”
During the first winter tests in Barcelona, the W13 jumped noticeably lower. At the time it still had slightly larger and shaped sidewalls. Some people may wonder why Mercedes didn’t upgrade to the old standard and try to get back to the front. On the other hand, don’t do it because you don’t have enough parts from the first spec. This is where the budget cap comes in. On the other hand, it’s not because this version produced much less downforce. “On paper, Barcelona’s car is much slower.”
Barcelona becomes the great destiny race for Mercedes. “We still believe in our way,” says Wolf. “We’re not looking at the lady next door yet.” There is still hope that the individual concept will be better in the long run than Ferrari and Red Bull. But: “After Barcelona we have to look in the mirror and answer the question whether we are on the right track or on the wrong track.”
But before you can even turn around and head in a different direction for 2023, you’ll first have to do all your homework. “We first have to understand exactly what is good in our concept and what is bad.” It does not mean that the dog was buried elsewhere and was seized without his knowledge.
And what if Mercedes could achieve the miracle of transformation? In the world championship they are 62 points behind Ferrari and 56 behind Red Bull, nothing is irreplaceable in 18 races. Even the Drivers’ Championship is unbeaten by 45 points (Russell) and 68 (Hamilton). Team optimists say: “Ferrari is making sporting mistakes and Red Bull is not in the saddle when it comes to technology. They take points from each other.”