Mercedes technical director James Allison said their zero-pod concept was “emblematic” of car designs that were wrong from nose to rear.
Rivals may have feared the worst back in 2022 when the Mercedes W14 rolled out of the garage minus sidepods at the start of the ground effect era, but as time would tell Mercedes took the wrong path.
With only one victory scored in 2022, an initial effort to stick with that philosophy was quickly abandoned in F1 2023, team boss Toto Wolff now saying that a “more conventional” design is coming for their F1 2024 car, the W15.
Mercedes sidepods ’emblematic’ but not ‘decisive’
Speaking as part of Sky F1’s end-of-year review, Allison was asked whether Mercedes regret continuing to stick with this ultimately “flawed concept”, after the fear struck in the pit lane from its very different look fizzled out when the performance was not there.
Allison argued that as the sidepods were the most visibly striking feature of their unique concept, they became “emblematic” of what were far wider issues with the path Mercedes took.
“Well, I don’t quite see the world the same way as you guys do, sort of looking at a sidepod and deciding that’s a concept,” said Allison.
“We definitely took a path with our car and I would say that’s from the tip of the nose to the very back of the tail which was not a competitive one.
“The most visually notable aspect of that was our sidepods, of course, but by no means the definitive factor. It was not right from front to back and that’s the thing that we’ve had to learn and have had to deal with.
“And that’s taken us longer than we would have liked, but the sidepods are maybe emblematic of a team that took a little too long to figure out which way was up, but by no means the distinguishing feature that sealed our fate.”
While Red Bull dominated F1 2023, winning 21 of the 22 grands prix, Mercedes were left battling initially Aston Martin and then increasingly McLaren and Ferrari in the bid to be recognised best of the rest.
Mercedes ultimately secured P2 in the Constructors’ Championship but Allison said all teams in that chasing pack – even the vastly-improved McLaren – were guilty of letting Red Bull off the hook.
“Chapeau to McLaren, I think that’s a notable achievement going from pretty much plum last to in the mix with the chasing group,” said Allison. “There was really very little to separate McLaren, Ferrari and us at the end of the season in terms of performance.
“I guess I see the grid as Max particularly, but Red Bull more generally, that did stand out, the best job. And then the rest of us have really underperformed and I would say that’s true of Ferrari, that’s true of McLaren, that’s true of every team on the grid but for Red Bull.
“The gap in race pace between the Red Bull and everyone else was bigger in 2023 than it was in 2022, despite the fact that the grid as a whole has been compressing up and that’s just us dropping the ball, Ferrari dropping the ball and notwithstanding McLaren’s recovery, they’re recovering to a position that was still as distant from Red Bull as we were.
“And our challenge specifically over the winter – and indeed for the last many months in making our 2024 car – is to ensure that we don’t let them off the hook like that for next year. And I’m hopeful that we learned what we need to in order to give them more of a fight.”
Mercedes went winless in F1 2023 for the first time since the 2011 campaign.