Mercedes’ James Vowles believes the practice sessions in Miami underlined the potential of the W13, having shown particularly strong performance early in the weekend.
The W13 has proven to be a troublesome machine ever since the beginning of the 2022 season, with the car afflicted by particularly pronounced porpoising down the straights.
This has had the effect of forcing Mercedes to raise the ride height of the car, which has resulted in a relative lack of downforce and, in turn, outright laptime. However, the sidepod-less concept Mercedes have pursued still has the backing of the team, with Toto Wolff adamant that the potential of the car is yet to be fully unlocked.
The Miami practice sessions lent some validity to Mercedes’ arguments, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton much more competitive throughout Friday’s track time. Russell ended the day with the fastest time, with Hamilton in fourth.
While the team made setup changes that resulted in a dip in performance from which they couldn’t reverse through Saturday, Mercedes believe Miami has given them a much more positive dataset to bring onwards to Barcelona.
“On Friday, it’s not that we were running low fuel – that car was quick!” Mercedes’ Chief Strategist James Vowles told the F1 Nation podcast.
“It was quick on one lap, it was quick on the long run that we did at the end of FP2. It’s fair to say [that], as we went to Saturday and from Saturday onwards, the car dropped away quite a bit.
“If we understood all of the reasons why, clearly the car would be quick in the race or quick in qualifying and we don’t yet.
“But there’s another step of learning that we made. Because we were able, for the first time, to get both cars into a sensible place. It provided a foundation to work on into Barcelona to grow. But, exactly why, we couldn’t tell you at this point in time. We don’t know specifically why it dropped the performance in the way it did.
“The positive, though, is that we have a car producing thousands of channels of data that we can now overlay to each other where it has gone a lot slower, so let’s try and understand why.”
Vowles explained that the data showed a much stronger performance from the W13 relative to Ferrari’s F1-75 and Red Bull’s RB18, with no issues to be seen. However, Russell also revealed the team weren’t fully sure where the extra speed had come from.
“The difference on Friday was, normally, through the corners, we would lose quite an amount of lap time, especially through high-speed corners,” Vowles said.
“That had gone. Through the cornering performance, we were near enough equal to Ferrari. To Red Bull, we were actually gaining on them from [Turns] 11 to 16. That’s a different pattern to what we’ve seen all year.”
With F1 moving on to a known quantity in the form of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Vowles said the ability to compare the current-spec W13 with the older spec version (with sidepods) that ran at the pre-season test could be crucial.
“When we were in Barcelona, we were with the old spec of car,” he explained.
“That’s the important learning point, because now you get another line in the sand to draw against where we went there with a previous aerodynamic solution and we can compare the two.”
As for the ongoing problems Mercedes are struggling with, Vowles confirmed that the porpoising is still the biggest headache the team are facing.
“The thing that everyone externally can see with the cars is obviously the bouncing,” he said.
“The bouncing affects near enough everything. But it’s not a unique problem to us. In fact, with the Red Bull, for the first time in a while, you saw them at the end of the race suffering from the same issue. It’s a complex aerodynamic problem.
“It’s an instability that is very difficult to resolve with one single solution. It’s not just that you cut the floor in one place, and there you go. We have not found a solution that maintains performance on the car and reduces the bouncing, which then has an impact on a number of other systems at the same time.
“There are some teams clearly in a better position than we are. It doesn’t mean their bouncing is better, the performance they’re able to extract is better.”
But there’s no intention of giving up on the concept, Vowles explained, given that the regulations remain largely unchanged for the 2023 season.
“Doing it in the right way so that you can understand, not just for this year but across this regulation set, what solutions are right is what’s tricky,” he said.
“In other words, it may well be another team potentially in the year goes backwards a little bit as a result of adding an update that negatively impacts it. That’s why it’s complex. It’s making sure we do the things that are right, not just for today or tomorrow, but for the next three years.”
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