Where Mercedes’ ‘magic’ is coming from – and it’s not the sidepods

Henry Valantine
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in conversation with Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in conversation with Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

George Russell has said the newfound “magic” in the Mercedes W14 is not from their new sidepod configuration, but instead from what is underneath the car.

The team raised eyebrows in Monaco by departing from their long-talked-about zero-pod sidepod inlet concept with which they began the 2022 season, moving to a more conventional design after struggling to match Red Bull early on in 2023.

Team principal Toto Wolff ordered wholesale changes to the car after the early races of this season, with the first significant signs of change coming in Monte Carlo last time out.

But the first time to see the new upgrades around a more ‘conventional’ circuit came in Barcelona this weekend, and Mercedes were immediately rewarded with a double podium finish, with Lewis Hamilton finishing second and Russell taking P3 behind Max Verstappen in the Spanish Grand Prix.

There is still a long way to go for the team to catch up to Red Bull’s lofty standards, but Russell explained that the change of sidepods are not the main reason behind Mercedes’ sudden improvement in form this weekend.

“It’s not the sidepods, what makes the difference,” Russell told Sky Sports F1 when asked how he would respond to those who urged the team to switch design philosophy earlier.

“You know, it may be a factor, but the magic isn’t in the sidepods. And you know, we brought that design to the car to kind of rule it out, the sidepods, but the magic was done underneath of the car on the floor – and they’re the same for every single team.

“I’m sure Red Bull could put those sidepods on their car, and they’d still be quickest. So yeah, a little bit more complex than that.

“But nevertheless, really happy with the work all the team have done and validation that the steps we’ve made are steps in the right direction.”

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Having qualified on the sixth row for the race, Russell quickly made his way through the field in the first stint and was able to consolidate his place in the top five, before securing a place on the podium with a controlled drive to ease clear of Carlos Sainz and hold off the chasing Sergio Perez.

With that lowly qualifying performance by his standards, Russell did not believe a podium was on the cards heading into Sunday – so was happy to drive around Barcelona in a car that did what he asked it to do.

“No, to be honest, but I definitely had confident we could move forward,” he admitted when asked if a podium was on his to-do list when he woke up on Sunday morning.

“The race pace was really strong this weekend with these new updates. I was very disappointed last night with the qualifying result, but I think it’s proof that you just need to keep on believing and today was a new day, new opportunities, went out there, ticked all the boxes, the car was fast, good overtakes, and a really enjoyable race.”