‘Cheeky’ Mercedes W15 ‘3.1 front wing’ tipped to attract FIA attention

Jamie Woodhouse

Mercedes launch the W15

While F1 technical analyst Craig Scarborough believes the Mercedes W15 front wing is “cheeky” but “legal”, he nonetheless expects discussions between F1, the teams and the FIA over whether it is defeating the purpose of the regulations.

There was great intrigue surrounding Mercedes heading into F1 2024 launch season with the team expected to follow a new path for the W15, after picking up just the one victory since the new ground-effect regulations were introduced for 2022. And they have done just that.

In unveiling the W15, Mercedes showed that they have gone down a more conventional route with this latest challenger, though Scarborough sees plenty of innovation going on with a deeper look, the front wing in particular catching his eye.

‘Cheeky’ Mercedes front wing to set alarm bells ringing at FIA?

While appearing on former Ferrari and Williams team manager Peter Windsor’s YouTube channel, Scarborough took a deep, technical look at the W15, homing in on what he has decided to call the Mercedes ‘3.1’ front wing, due to the fourth required element having been significantly narrowed.

And though he believes this innovation is “legal” and “isn’t a big performance differentiator”, he said the goal of this front wing is to generate outwash, which the new regulations were designed to fight against and so promote easier following for cars, therefore boosting overtaking opportunities.

So, Scarborough can envisage the FIA reaching out to Mercedes for some discussions regarding this front wing.

“I think of all the teams, you can see that Mercedes have made some progress with the car,” Scarborough began.

“They’ve been very open about the problems that they’ve had, so it looks as though, now back under [technical director] James Allison’s full control, they seem to be making the right sort of noises and the right steps. So fingers crossed for them that we get a more competitive year.

“The problems with the car last year were that it had a very weak rear axle, a very hard to control car. The suspension wasn’t very well matched to the underfloor and [Lewis] Hamilton didn’t like the seating position.

“So kind of the big thing that I notice about the car or I know about the car from what they’ve been saying, is they’ve changed the layout of the car. And this includes the ‘zero-pods’, we’ll talk about the sidepods a bit later, but they’ve changed the layout.

“So they’ve moved the cockpit further backwards along the wheelbase. They’ve changed the rear suspension set-up and no doubt they’ve done a huge amount of work on the springs and the dampers and getting the suspension to match the performance of the floor, which has kind of been their biggest flaw completely overall of the past two years ignoring every other little design detail. Fundamentally, that’s what they’ve struggled with.

“And James Allison has said: ‘We’ve addressed those areas. We’ve put a big amount of development, a lot of our money and aero resources into those areas’.

“When I first looked at the car, I think the first post I put on social media is Mercedes have gone conventional, the car looks, from a top-down view, very conventional in its layout. There’s no weird sidepods, there’s no other sort of weird, unique sort of elements to it.

“So at first maybe my heart sank a bit that we’ve seen McLaren and Ferrari both with very generative cars, rather than something that’s a lot more radical.

“But actually, when you start to look at some of the detail on the W15, it does start to get quite interesting and shows that they’re not just kind of copying what Red Bull and Alpine and Aston Martin, everyone else has kind of done over the past couple of years. They’ve really got some unique ideas.

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“Probably the first one is yeah, we’ll talk about the sidepods, because everybody looks at that straight away.

“Again, as I say, the floor is more important, but they’re not showing us photos of that! So the sidepods, they’ve now got rid of that very strange, detached front section and the ‘zero-pod’ section at the back. That’s allowed them to kind of repackage the car and that’s what’s allowed the cockpit to move backwards.

“And while it looks like a fairly conventional undercut sidepod, it’s quite radical. You’ve got kind of a P-shaped inlet, creating a really big undercut, really working the front edge of the floor. And then you have the usual sort of downwash and gulleys, but a very, very deep undercut under the sidepod all the way down.

“The frontal view really shows you the amount of space they’ve got under the radiators on the sidepods and this is all about floor performance. You’re kind of giving up volumes and shapes of radiators and things in order to get the floor edge and the diffuser exits working so much better.

“No doubt they’re going to add lots of bits to the floor on the floor edge as we get through testing, but that’s what we’ve seen so far.

“Because the ‘zero-pod’ had such an effect on particularly the size and shape of the fuel tank, that kind of pushed the fuel up and pushed everything outwards. I think they’re going back to a much less compromised design. So I think they’ve kind of done the right thing in that respect.

“They’ve said that…we know from the Aston Martin that they’ve changed the rear gearbox carrier, both in length and it’s gone to a pushrod rear suspension now, which just frees up more space for the tunnel. So that’s all kind of quite good and obvious. Big investment in the area. And of course, because we’re in a budget cap, and an aero resource cap, they’ve kept the front pushrod suspension. So it’s pushrod front and rear.

“Now some people seem to think you’ve got to have a different one at each end. But that’s just rubbish. It doesn’t matter. But they had to make compromises at some point and I don’t think it’s a particularly big compromise on the front end to go either pushrod or pullrod. They’ve changed the suspension layout slightly a little bit in that area as well, so that’s all kind of really common sense stuff.

“Then the other thing that stood out on the real car that we saw in the garage is the front wing. So if we think back to the regulation changes back in 2022, the new front wings of these cars had to have four elements and the four elements have to come from the nose out to the endplate. And you couldn’t stop one of the elements short, you couldn’t have a three-element wing in some areas and the four-element wings.

“But when you actually look at it, and you see that middle section of front wing that’s got a slightly spoon shape, [it] goes back to the sort of 2000s. Again, little dip to the front. They’re actually working that middle section of the nose and the front wing quite differently to anybody else, they’re actually working it quite hard.

“But when you count the elements next to the wing, at first you only count three and not four. So it’s like, ‘Well, what’s going on here?’. What they’ve actually done is they’ve narrowed that fourth element, that last flap that runs along the trailing edge of the wing and it’s just shrunk down to like sort of 10 millimetre, 20 millimetres, just to meet the legal requirements of getting the nose working.

“And this is helping in two areas. First of all, it means that you’re getting less losses from that middle section of wing that’s so aggressively upwashed, and that’s all working to kind of rotate the airflow going into the tunnels.

“But what it also does is it exposes a real sharp edge to that last element. And this goes back to sort of the pre-2022s when we had the Y250 vortex and they were trying to shape the front wing to create an airflow that went in between the body of the car on the front wheel, to push airflow outwards. Outwash, which was what the 2022 regulations were all about trying to get rid of.

“Now, Merc seem to have found a way of re-energising that vortex by having this, I call it the 3.1 wing, because it’s not a three-element wing and it’s not a four-element wing. So if you’ve got about point one of a wing there somewhere, and as I can read the regulations, it’s legal.

“I’m sure the other teams will have looked at these ideas previously and have discounted them, but I think there will be some discussion about this amongst the FIA, F1 and the teams saying: ‘If this is introducing outwash, is this something we want in the sport again? Haven’t we worked so hard to kind of get rid of the problems of cars following each other?’

“So I think that while it isn’t a big performance differentiator for the W15, I think it is something that will just kind of capture people’s imagination and start to get [them] talking. I’m sure there’ll be some conspiracy theories and bits and pieces with people saying that it’s illegal, but as far as I can see, it’s a cheeky, but permissible way of playing with the front wing.”

Mercedes will very much be hoping that the W15 can fire them back into title contention, as seven-time World Champion Hamilton enters his final season with the team before moving to Ferrari.

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