Copying rivals a ‘quick fix’ for Mercedes, but goes against their philosophy

Michelle Foster
George Russell's Mercedes on medium tyres. Mexico City October 2022.

George Russell's Mercedes on medium tyres during the Mexican Grand Prix. Mexico City October 2022.

While Andrew Shovlin concedes copying a rival team’s sidepod design wold have been a “quick fix” for Mercedes, you don’t win World titles “by copying everyone else’s design”.

When the Formula 1 teams hit the track for the second of the two pre-season outings, Mercedes raised eyebrows as they debuted their zero-pod design.

While Ferrari went with baby baths, Red Bull with a sharp undercut, Mercedes all but erased their sidepods in a design that was dubbed the ‘zero-pod’.

That, though, was just one challenge Mercedes had to work at understanding during the 2022 season.

The Brackley squad’s early season form was hampered by porpoising with pundits suggesting the zero-pod wasn’t helping with that, something Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has denied.

It was only after the team got the bouncing under control that they were able to work at developing the car, Mercedes the most improved team in the second half of the championship.

However, by then it was too late to launch a title challenge, the Brackley squad winning just one grand prix, Sao Paulo, and finishing third in the Constructors’ Championship.

But while trackside engineering director Shovlin acknowledges that a large part of this year’s performance is created by what goes on with the vortexes in the car’s floor, he says they could have recovered quicker if they’d copied someone else’s sidepod design.

That, though, is not part of the Mercedes philosophy.

“Most of the engineering, certainly from the aerodynamic point of view, a lot of it are the bits you can’t see under the floor,” Shovlin said as per Autosport. “That is where a lot of that work is.

“The sidepod concept was something that we had to commit to anyway for the year realistically.

“But if we’d been more focused on just trying to find a quick fix, we may have been copying and rolling it out and seeing what it does.

“The goal for us though was always to try and understand it ourselves and learn and find our own path, because if you want to win, and you want to win races and World Championships, you don’t get there by copying everyone else’s design.

“All our other cars have had pioneering features on them, they had clever ideas. We have tried to be leading with the technology, so we’ll carry on doing that.”

It seems the zero-pods are here to stay, but so too is porpoising.

Although it seemed mid-season that Mercedes had eradicated the problem, it was back – as Hamilton said – with a “vengeance” at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Shovlin has supported the FIA’s decision to raise the floor edges ahead of next year’s championship as, like motorsport’s governing body, he agrees the teams will find more downforce over the winter.

And with more downforce comes a greater chance of porpoising.

“The more you load up the floor, the more you can trigger those problems,” he explained. “Where we have made very good progress is in the straight-line.

“So back in Imola, Jeddah, Bahrain, all those early races, the car was bouncing really badly at high speed. And we managed to get a really good handle on that.

“There were still issues we got when the car rolled in a fast corner and the floor gets to a point where it’s touching. And that can cause a bit of unsteadiness. But the rule changes for next year will help that.

“Fundamentally, though, they’re not going to make the problem go away. They’ll make it a bit easier for the teams.

“But we’re hopeful that the work we put into the learning and the understanding in the early part of the year will help us at least develop to a good baseline next year.”

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