Mercedes share upgrade news despite embarrassment over illegal W14

Thomas Maher

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison has opened up on the success of the team’s upgrades despite being disqualified from the US GP.

Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the United States GP after the plank underneath his car was found to have excessive wear, meaning the seven-time World Champion lost his second-place finish.

Hamilton had been Max Verstappen’s nearest rival during the race, hunting down the Dutch driver in the closing stages as Verstappen struggled with his brakes.

James Allison explains how Mercedes made an error with Lewis Hamilton’s plank

Speaking in the team’s post-US Grand Prix debrief, technical director James Allison explained how the situation had unfolded.

“The skid blocks are basically little discs of metal that are put into the plank material,” he said.

“At the end of the race, there has to be a guaranteed thickness. They begin the race at 10mm thick and, by the time you get to the end of the race, they must be no less than 9 mm.

“You are allowed a certain amount of erosion of that skid block by touching the ground but no more than 1 mm, else if your car is inspected and found to be below that 9 mm then you will have been deemed to running your car too low and you’ll be disqualified. Indeed, that is what happened in our case.

With Hamilton’s car found to be in breach of the rules, it opened up the obvious question of whether his increased competitiveness was down to running too low, or whether the upgrades the team brought to the W14 – which included a new floor – had unlocked more performance.

“The weekend was a very cast-iron vote of confidence in favour of what we put on the car,” Allison said.

“That gives us great hope for the races that remain. But, the disqualification had everything to do with the setup and the bumpiness of the track, amplified by the fact that it was a sprint weekend.”

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How did Mercedes get caught out by Sprint weekend format?

With Mercedes – as well as Ferrari with the also disqualified Charles Leclerc – having openly admitted to having gotten things wrong when they met with the stewards on Sunday evening, Allison re-iterated the fact the sprint weekend format had resulted in a lack of proper data.

“Normally in a race weekend, you have three untimed sessions; Free Practice 1, 2, and 3 in which you gradually hone the setup of the car, getting it ready for qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday,” he said.

“In that period of practice, you are trying to get the car as fast, reliable, and legal as you can, making sure that you are ticking all the boxes that enable the car to get through to the end of the weekend fast and in good shape for when you go into parc ferme.

“At a sprint weekend, you are under much more pressure, you have just a solitary hour at the very front of the weekend. In Free Practice 1 you have to get the car ready for the next session, which is qualifying, the next session which is the sprint shootout, the next session which is the sprint race, and then the race itself.

“After that one hour, you have cast your die. You have chosen your setup and you have then got to run the rest of the weekend with the bets you placed in that one hour of running. That means much less time to assess things than normal and much less time to make corrective action ahead of the remaining sessions later in the weekend.

“Austin is a track with a very bumpy surface and therefore you are a bit more vulnerable to bumping the car on the ground. We just simply didn’t take enough margin at the end of Free Practice 1.

“When we had done our setup we checked the plank and everything all looked fine, untouched after the FP1 running. But the results of the race speak for themselves. We were illegal, so clearly, we should have had our car set a little bit higher up to give ourselves a little bit more margin. It’s of course a mistake, it’s an understandable sort of mistake in a sprint weekend where it’s so much harder to get that stuff right, especially on a bumpy track. But a lesson for us in the future is to make sure that we take more margin, especially at a track like that with all its bumps.”

But, despite being disqualified and losing the 18 points that came with it, Allison said the mood has shifted from annoyance and despair to confidence that more competitiveness has been unlocked from the W14.

“Of course, the disqualification is a significant blow,” he said.

“It’s a miserable feeling. It hurts and everybody here feels it. Everybody is upset, and embarrassed to a degree as well because we absolutely don’t like being on the wrong side of the rules and just lamenting the lost points.

“Give it a day or two and that will start to wane and be replaced by the much happier feeling,, which is we moved our car forward this weekend and that’s hard to do. But we did it and we did it by a decent amount. And with four races left in the championship, four races where I am sure we will stay on the right side of the skid block rules, the initial feeling of hurt, disappointment, and frustration will pass to be replaced by the sunny optimism of knowing that the car looked bright on this upgrade package and we’ve got four more races to show what we can do with it.”

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