James Allison sets record straight on ‘B-spec’ Mercedes and ditched W14 zero pods

Thomas Maher
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton runs in FP2. Canada June 2023.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton drives a flying lap during free practice. Canada June 2023.

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison has downplayed the impact of adding sidepods to the ‘B-spec’ version of the W14.

Mercedes have taken a step forward in performance in recent races, following on from the upgrade package introduced at the Monaco Grand Prix. Having openly admitted that the original concept for the W14 was the wrong one, Mercedes set about making significant changes to their car – a drastic direction change that took a few months to act upon.

Part of the response to their poor start to the season was technical director Mike Elliott and chief technical officer James Allison swapping roles, bringing Allison back on board into the hands-on technical role he held up until 2021.

James Allison: Sidepods had nothing to do with vast upgrades

The upgrade package rolled out by Mercedes for the Monaco Grand Prix was a comprehensive one, with the biggest visual change being the introduction of sidepods on the W14 after attacking the ground-effect regulation cycle with a ‘zeropod’ concept – the only team on the grid to try such an approach.

But the introduction of the sidepods and Mercedes’ uptick in form are not linked, according to Allison, who said the shape of the sidepods haven’t played a big role in their improvement.

“Absolutely not,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Everything we changed on the car we could have done with the old sidepods. There is no secret about it. We didn’t sleep on anything.

“The shape of the sidepods, or better the engine cover, has nothing to do with what we did with the underbody or the front axle. As little as the geometry of the sidepods explains Red Bull’s success, our old sidepods were not the reason for our problems. You will soon no longer be talking about the sidepods. The old shape will then only be a distant memory.”

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What would Mercedes have done if budget cap didn’t exist?

With Mercedes attempting to close the gap to the front-running Red Bulls, their task has been made more difficult by the fact they can’t spend indiscriminately in their bid, even if the ideas on how to catch up are there.

This is due to a budget cap in F1, which was introduced to the sport in 2021 as a means of controlling team expenditure in an attempt to kerb costs and make for a more even playing field.

But the downside to that is the fact lollygagging teams can’t easily catch up by spending, as they previously could.

However, Allison said that a complete chassis change for the W14 wouldn’t have come about, even if spending was no issue.

“It’s too costly in the middle of the season,” he said.

“You can sometimes build a lighter chassis from the existing carbon moulds, but to change the geometry would be self-mutilation. It would distract from more important things.”

Despite the huge changes the W14 has gone through in recent weeks, Allison refuses to think of it as a true ‘B-spec’ version of the car. Asked what changes would be needed to justify a complete chassis name change, Allison said: “I would like to know that too. We are constantly rebuilding the car. I don’t know when it is justified to put a letter of the alphabet behind the type designation.

“[The development step was visibly bigger than normal], but engineers don’t think in those categories. We are just trying to make the car better, within the limits of what is possible. Big changes to the monocoque weren’t possible, and it’s unlikely that we’ll change the rear suspension pivot points. They are too much set in stone.”

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