Mercedes technical director James Allison admitted that when the team snubbed a performance-gains approach to the F1 2023 rule changes to combat porpoising, they went too far the other way with the W14.
As Formula 1 unveiled a new generation of challengers relying on ground effect aerodynamics for the 2022 campaign, an initial problem to arise for several teams was the bouncing phenomenon known as porpoising.
Mercedes were the team arguably most troubled by its impacts, the team starting the season off the pace and required to understand the problem before they could start chasing outright performance.
Mercedes went too cautious with W14
That season’s Azerbaijan GP was a key turning point in the porpoising debate, with the visit to the Baku City Circuit a rough ride more widely across the grid, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton meanwhile seemingly struggling with back pain such was the severity.
The FIA would subsequently impose changes for F1 2023, including raising the floor edges and diffuser throat height, in order to combat porpoising.
And speaking alongside Mercedes chief technical officer Mike Elliott in a mid-season Q&A, Allison said these changes gave Mercedes the choice to either go on the attack and pursue performance, or air on the side of caution to avoid the spectre of their past returning to haunt them again.
They went for the latter, but were too cautious, the team once more finding themselves out of title contention in F1 2023 and instead battling Aston Martin, McLaren and Ferrari to be recognised a distant ‘best of the rest’ behind runaway leaders Red Bull.
“Although we made great strides last year, 2023 presented all the teams with a rule change that offered some protection against bouncing,” said Allison.
“Over the winter we faced a choice. Go aggressive and trade the bouncing protection in the rule change for performance, or take a more cautions route and steer clear of the sort of porpoising that wrecked our season last year.
“We chose the cautious path, knowing that it would be less painful to correct if we were wrong. The story of our year so far has been mostly about finding out that we had been too cautious and making the changes to correct that.”
After coming into the F1 2023 campaign set on returning to the title picture, Allison admitted it “took some getting used to” as they saw the gulf in pace to Red Bull, who have gone on to account for all 12 grand prix wins so far as the season reaches the summer shutdown. Aston Martin meanwhile started out as the second-fastest force.
Elliott went a bit stronger in his assessment though, saying it was a “kick in the teeth” for Mercedes to see that they were essentially back to square one, having built up some optimism of an improved campaign to come.
He does believe the team are back on the right path now though, having seemingly cleared Aston Martin and Ferrari for performance in recent rounds, with McLaren now their biggest threat.
“Last year we made gradual progress through the season,” said Elliott. “We got ourselves into a position where we had some confidence over the winter, hoping to start the season in a better place. To find out we weren’t was a kick in the teeth.
“But it’s been good to see the recovery path. If you look where we started and where we are now, compared to Aston and Ferrari, we have made good progress.”
Mercedes hold P2 in the Constructors’ Championship with 10 rounds of the season remaining, 51 points ahead of Aston Martin but a huge 256 adrift of Red Bull.