Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted the team first noticed issues with their car when it first ran, at their pre-season shakedown at Silverstone in February.
The team broke cover on the W13 for a filming day prior to pre-season testing in Barcelona and Bahrain, with drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell able to circulate around Silverstone in their new car for the first time.
The switch to ground effect aerodynamics hit Mercedes hardest, arguably literally as well as metaphorically, with both drivers struggling to get on top of the ‘porpoising’ phenomenon which plagued them early on in the year, as the car ‘bounced’ from the surface of the track as the downforce was dragging the floor towards the asphalt.
It took Mercedes a significant portion of the year to rectify the issue, with team principal Toto Wolff having admitted on several occasions that the team took the wrong direction in the way they tried to run the car so close to the ground.
Now that the season has ended, the team were able to reflect on how they developed as the year progressed – and they acknowledged they got off to a bumpy start.
“To be honest, the signs were there from the very, very early running, even on the filming day that we did at Silverstone, it was obvious that you get this mechanism in the cars,” Shovlin revealed in Mercedes’ post-season debrief, responding to a fan question about when the team knew they might struggle with their car.
“We then went for three days in Barcelona and the car was not that competitive, but we were expecting a big update that we were going to bring to Bahrain, and that was the point that we realised we had a serious issue at that Bahrain test, where we put the update kit on and it simply didn’t make the car go quicker.
“Now, it’s been an interesting year from there on, but there’s been a lot of work to do to try and get on top of those problems.”
Mercedes were able to gradually reel in the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari as the season progressed, pulling themselves away from the midfield to challenge for podiums more regularly, and get into contention for wins before the end of the year.
Russell was able to lead home a Mercedes one-two at Interlagos for the team’s only win of the year at a standout weekend in Brazil, as a culmination of the work that had gone in behind the scenes at Brackley and Brixworth to iron out the issues with the W13.
When asked for one particular weekend for when real progress began to be made with the car, however, Shovlin pointed to the beginning of the European season as the barometer for when they began to find answers.
“Well, probably the one that will stick in the minds of the engineers is Barcelona, and Barcelona was the one where we made the biggest step in getting on top of the aero bouncing phenomenon,” Shovlin explained.
“We were able to have pretty good performance, but also it allowed us to see that once we’d solved that issue, there were still other issues to solve with the ride of the car.
“It wasn’t very good over the bumps, and it gave us the clarity to work on those next steps. So whilst it was only a small step in the right direction, from a learning point of view, it was a really important update.”