Toto Wolff admits unique Mercedes sidepods may ‘change a little bit’ in early races

Henry Valantine
A render of the Mercedes W14. February 2023.

A front-on angle render of the Mercedes W14 in launch specification. February 2023.

Toto Wolff has said the ‘zero-pod’ design at Mercedes may not last forever in its current guise, as upgrades are applied to the new W14.

Mercedes took a unique direction when last season’s new technical regulations were brought into Formula 1, with their slimmed down sidepod philosophy, nicknamed ‘zero-pods’, raising eyebrows when they were applied to the car at the second pre-season test.

Prior to the team launching their 2023 challenger on Wednesday, there had been debate as to whether the concept would remain, or whether the former Constructors’ champions would take the more conventional path that rivals Ferrari and Red Bull have followed on that area of the car.

But even though the car’s colour scheme has swapped back to black, the ‘zero-pod’ element has been carried over to the W14 from its predecessor, with the Mercedes team principal saying that this particular area of the car had not been flagging any major performance concerns to the team.

However, once upgrades begin coming in the opening races, he admitted the way the car looks may begin to change – but added that a radical change would result in much more upheaval for the team as they took a different direction, hence why the current sidepods have stayed as they are for now.

“Throughout last season, we have analysed it back and forth, whether it was right or not and obviously you can see the sidepods are very different to any other car, but we believe that this is not the performance relative part,” Wolff explained to media including PlanetF1.com at the launch of the W14.

“Obviously, there is no such thing as a holy cow here. We are looking at everything and, on the sidepods, this is the first iteration, and when we’re going through the first few races, that’s going to change a little bit.

“But like Mike [Elliott, technical director] said in the launch, [if] you want to change your concept completely then [you’re] making not one step back, but probably two, three – and that’s why we stayed where we are.

“And I love the fact that we are bold, we stayed bold, and we are just continuing to follow what the science says for us.”

Wolff also confirmed that the car the team launched at Silverstone is likely to be their early-season specification as well, having fitted the ‘zero-pods’ at the second pre-season test in 2022 to much intrigue in a radical change of direction.

This time around however, the Mercedes team boss wants the Silver Arrows to gather as much data as possible about the car as it will line up on the grid for round one in Bahrain when it goes testing next week.

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“So last year, we learned a tough lesson because we knew that we were going to bring an upgrade package for test number two that was worth a second and a half,” Wolff revealed.

“And in a way, you are then looking at the first test and thinking ‘well, you know, that’s not really relevant, because that’s not gonna be the car’, and then we put that on the track, and it wasn’t performing at all as we expected.

“So this year, we went the other the other way around and what you’ve seen is, for large parts, the car that we’re going to test and to race.

“Because it’s fundamentally important to understand the platform and how the car behaves, rather than keeping some bits in the background that may add a tenth or two on pure aero performance.”