Toto Wolff offers latest Mercedes W15 theory on cause of unpredictable performances

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton leads George Russell in Mercedes formation

Lewis Hamilton ahead of George Russell.

Although Toto Wolff concedes the W15 is a difficult car to set up, he reckons Mercedes’ struggles have been compounded by McLaren and Ferrari’s steps forward.

Five races into this season, Mercedes’ revamped W15 has not produced the performances expected with much being said about the team’s correlation issues.

Toto Wolff explains swing in performance

Although they have found more downforce than with the W15’s predecessors, it has not translated into lap time with the team confused as to why.

That’s led to experiments in set-up, most notably ahead of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton reveals he went a “long way” in one direction with George Russell going in the other. For Hamilton, down in P18, it was the “wrong” call.

It didn’t get much better in the race as he struggled for pace in the opening stint before a midrace Safety Car helped him secure a points-finish in ninth with Russell sixth on the day.

With that coming on the back of Hamilton’s podium finish in the Sprint, Wolff explained the reasons for the huge swing in performance.

“I think the car is difficult car to set up and a difficult to drive, and that is why you have these oscillations in performances in my opinion,” he told the media.

“I think where the car is, where Lewis’s car was in the race, was certainly far away from the optimum and it is driving on a knife-edge.

“So, what is it? This is where we are.

“For Miami we are bringing some new bits, and it will be interesting to see how they are going to perform there.”

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Mercedes have fallen behind Ferrari and McLaren

Mercedes are fourth in the Constructors’ Championship on 52 points and without a Grand Prix podium. But while their gap to Red Bull is a considerable 143 points, it’s their deficit to Ferrari and McLaren that’s creating headlines given last year Mercedes beat both teams in the championship.

This season they’re 99 behind Ferrari and 44 adrift of engine customer McLaren.

Wolff says it’s not that this year’s car is more difficult than its predecessor, it’s that Ferrari and McLaren have taken strides forward.

“I think the cars were difficult all along these last two years,” he said.

“The advantage that we had is that McLaren was not racing us, let’s say, the first half of the season so they weren’t that competitive. The Ferrari wasn’t as quick and dropped the ball on several occasions.

“And that’s why we were regular podium contender, and closest to Red Bull.

“Now that these teams picked up the performance levels, this is a relative game. And suddenly what was good enough for third last year is just good enough for sixth.

“And that’s why it’s tough. The car is as difficult as it has been in the past, tricky for the drivers. George yesterday when we discussed it said it was the most tricky qualifying car that he’s had so far.

“So overall, in a way, same symptoms, same same.”

Russell suggests that the way that major set-up changes over the China weekend did not yield much difference in performance points to the fact that Mercedes may need to accept that the car is delivering all that it is capable of right now.

“We’ve had two different set-ups this weekend, both of which produced very similar lap times and performance,” said Russell.

“So, the work needs to be back at the factory and ultimately in F1, the more downforce you have, the faster you’ll go. The set-up is the cherry on the cake.”

From Russell’s perspective, Mercedes needs to move away from analysis of finding a perfect set-up and go back to the more standard approach of focusing on aggressive development and a run of upgrades.

“I think there is no silver bullet,” he explained. “We just need to keep on adding performance and focusing on the basics, which is in the wind tunnel and in the CFD: just adding downforce. Maybe sometimes it’s as simple as that.”

Russell said that so much experimentation and direction change had taken place throughout the ground effect era to settle on what the team has now that perhaps it had reached a ceiling on what is possible with its current equipment.

“I think we’ve understood enough so far that we just need to add downforce,” he explained. “We’ve changed philosophies and we’ve changed concepts quite a few times now over the last two years.

“My personal view is that no matter what concept you’re on, you just need to have as much downforce as possible, and you’ll deal with the limitations thereafter.

“So yeah, let’s see in Miami. We’ve got some upgrades coming to the car. Let’s see what we can do with that.”

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