Mercedes explain delay in dropping the zeropods for a downwash sidepod concept

Michelle Foster
Upgraded Mercedes W14 side view. Belgium, July 2023.

A look at the side of the upgraded Mercedes W14.

Going into this season with the zeropods despite 2022’s troubles, Mike Elliott says that’s because Mercedes “didn’t find a solution” over the winter that was better than what they had.

Last season Mercedes shocked the paddock when they arrived at the second of the two pre-season outings with a car sporting minimal sidepods.

Dubbed the zeropods, pundits questioned Mercedes’ design as the team suffered from extreme bouncing that cost them downforce and pace, leaving the Brackley squad with just one win at the end of the championship.

Mercedes ‘didn’t find a solution that was better than the one we had’

And yet Mercedes returned to the grid at this year’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix with the zeropods still on the car.

But notably off the pace of the Red Bull, and also losing ground to Aston Martin, Mercedes eventually made the call to drop the zeropods in favour of the more Red Bull-esque downwash concept.

Elliott, the team’s chief technical officer, says Mercedes took their time making the change as they didn’t believe the downwash concept was “better” than what they already had on the car.

“Over the winter we looked at various different concepts of bodywork and didn’t find a solution that was better than the one we had,” Elliott told media, including PlanetF1.com, at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Having made the call to axe the zeropods in favour of the downwash concept, Mercedes didn’t achieve the gains many looking in from the outside expected.

But what it did was open more doors in the W14’s development path with the team introducing an updated version of their new-look sidepods at the Belgian Grand Prix.

“I think with what we’ve done now, we’ve clearly not jumped completely to where they are or to where anybody else is,” Elliott said. “What we’ve tried to do is to take what we’ve got and adapt it.

“Therefore, you don’t sort of take the same hit. And hopefully with time it evolves and we’ll end up in a better place.

“I think when we brought the first version, it was pretty much a level change. It wasn’t something that brought lots of extra performance but there were opportunities to look at something different. We’ve sort of moved forward.

“We’re always evolving, constantly trying to bring more performance. So, this is a little bit more. The next version will bring us a little bit more and hopefully we’ll keep developing over the winter.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

Five great F1 career moves: Hamilton to Mercedes, Schumacher to Ferrari and more

F1 points all-time rankings: Where do Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso feature?

Mercedes’ upgrades, from the sidepods to the suspension, did swing the pendulum in their favour in the battle with Aston Martin for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship with the Brackley squad now 51 points ahead.

“You question everything,” Elliott added. “You question whether you have got the right fundamental philosophies, you question whether you’ve got the right processes in the way you’re looking at the data.

“You’d like to think there’s some silver bullet you could find or something that’s wrong that you can fix. But I think, generally speaking, it’s all about hard work.

“If you look at where we were last year, with a car and the issues that we faced, we took quite a few big steps backwards to get ourselves out of some of the positions we were in. Then, once you’re there, it is just catch up.

“I think if you look at where we are performance-wise, I think Aston made a good step over the winter but we’ve got ourselves into a decent position. Unfortunately, we’ve seen McLaren also make a big step.

“I think you have to sort of look at that and say, on the one hand, it’s disappointing for us, but on the other hand, it shows us there are opportunities to make good steps.”

Read next: Revealed: The top 10 F1 2023 performers so far this season