Heading into the third season with ground-effect aerodynamic cars, Mercedes’ tech boss James Allison believes there’s still scope for “innovation” and big gains.
And the secret to that lies in getting the car as close to the ground as legally possible.
To date Red Bull have done the best job at that, leading to back-to-back championship doubles in the Adrian Newey-designed RB F1 cars.
‘That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for innovation at all’
With the floor the key to the ground-effect aerodynamic cars, the aerodynamic philosophy in which the cars stick to the ground to improve grip and cornering speed, the closer a car is to the surface, the better it works.
But as has been stressed many a time, and most notably by Red Bull, it’s about more than just the floor. The entire package needs to work to create the downforce and grip needed to succeed.
Last season, a year in which Mercedes did not win a single race, Lewis Hamilton raved about Max Verstappen’s “insane” rear-end having watched the RB19 stick through the corners.
It has rival teams worried that Red Bull’s championship-winning streak has only just begun.
They are, however, determined to close the gap with Mercedes putting an all-new W15 on the track with the former championship winners changing almost “every component”.
Already last season they dropped the zero-pods for a more Red Bull-esque downwash concept but while the general belief is there will be more convergence toward the Red Bull look, Allison is confident there’s still scope for innovation.
“I think most people will be iterating down a similar sort of avenue,” he said as per Motorsport.com. “But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for innovation at all.
“These cars, and it is no secret, run super-near the ground and that’s where they get their best performance.
“But there is also the ground there, so it is just trying to figure out how you can reliably, precisely, and in an informed way, place the car at a point above the ground that you know will be survivable from a skid legality point of view, but will also give you every bit of downforce that the car is capable of offering.”
“There is plenty of action there still.”
And legality will be a sore spot for Mercedes as last year, at the United States Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the results as his skid block had too much wear on it.
Both the Briton and Charles Leclerc were excluded from the results, and for Hamilton that was a P2, when a physical floor and a plank wear inspection found the latter to “be not in compliance” with the rules as they were below the minimum thickness of 9mm.
Mercedes cited the Sprint format as the reason for this with the teams given just one practice session in which to find the optimum set-up, and ride-height, for the car.
Allison will spearhead this year’s W15 development path, with the Briton back in the role of Mercedes’ technical director having replaced Mike Elliott last season.