Mercedes believed they would arrive for the Bahrain test in pretty decent shape, but had a nasty surprise.
The Silver Arrows warned that their W13 was struggling for pace, and indeed the unofficial pre-season shakedown in Barcelona served to suggest that this was a challenger which would struggle to yield a ninth Constructors’ title in succession.
Porpoising was a particular issue, though having discovered that this was so at the filming day and then in Barcelona, Mercedes believed that their Bahrain package, which brought the W13 closer to race setup with the zero-pod solution, would prove to be a significant step.
But as it turned out, that merely made the porpoising even more problematic.
“At Silverstone [for the shakedown], we were in the middle of a storm – it was about the worst conditions we’ve ever run a car in,” Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin told Autosport.
“That certainly doesn’t allow for very clear and sensible shakedown running for the filming day.
“But that car – so the car that we then took to Barcelona – yes, you could get porpoising and we were running the car very high anyway on ride heights given the weather and given that it was the first running of the car.
“We did lower the ride heights to more normal levels at Silverstone and saw that you could get this phenomenon. But, we didn’t really know much about it and what was causing it.
“So, going to Barcelona was therefore a case of understanding: ‘How can we run the car? What are the problems? How can you mitigate what was happening with the porpoising?’
“At the time about the best thing you could do was just lift the car off the ground, give up performance and manage it that way.
“That car was defined much, much earlier in the development programme than the race one package.
“But the issue… at the time in Barcelona, we thought: ‘We’re not the quickest, but we don’t think we we’re in a bad place’, because we were expecting to add good performance with that Bahrain package.
“The issue was that when we fitted it, the porpoising was a whole other level. Most of the performance that we intended to add didn’t materialise because we had to lift the car even further and at that point you couldn’t get rid of the bouncing.”
The progress from here was promising for Mercedes
Considering the unexpected hammer blow which Mercedes receieved, it was very impressive to see how the Silver Arrows bounced back from there.
While the initial struggles meant a title challenge was not going to be possible, the latter stages of the campaign were far more promising after the false starts of the Spanish and Hungarian GPs.
The undoubted highlight was the team’s one-two finish in Brazil, their only victory of the season. The continued issue was consistency, but such a performance peak would have seemed very unlikely after what Mercedes experienced in the Bahrain test.
Mercedes certainly ended with a much stronger base for 2023’s W14 than the W13 which they started off with.