Mercedes‘ hopes for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix this weekend rest on the success of their upgraded W14 car. After a disappointing performance in Bahrain’s season opener, the team identified Imola as the perfect location for an upgrade. The updates, which focus on changes to the front suspension, bodywork, and the addition of a new floor, are expected to lay the groundwork for future improvements aimed at reducing the gap to Red Bull. Mercedes hopes the upgrade will open up a new, more fruitful development direction that will lead to the team challenging for championships once again.
The design issues with the W14 began to surface early, with neither driver being happy with the car’s balance this season. Despite describing the setup window as a “razor’s edge,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has criticised the car’s characteristics, stating that it is “not a nice car” and that “the performance is just really bad.” The lack of rear end stability in high-speed corners has been a complaint from the drivers, indicating that the centre of aerodynamic pressure is too far forward. Lewis Hamilton also criticised the position of the cockpit, which exacerbates the feeling of a lack of rear stability, but Mercedes cannot address this issue without a completely new chassis.
The Imola upgrade is more about finding a better balance for the drivers than adding performance. The upgrade aims to provide a more benign platform on which to add downforce where it is needed. The team hopes the upgrade will unlock significant performance if it allows them to run the car at a lower ride height with more predictable results.
The most visible upgrade on the car is a new sidepod design, but the most critical changes are likely to be more subtle. Mercedes is emphasising the importance of changes to the front suspension to improve the balance of the vehicle and create a more stable platform to extract aerodynamic performance. The new suspension, in tandem with changes to the floor, has the potential to unlock significant performance if it allows Mercedes to run the car with more predictability.
Mercedes engineers have stressed that the upgrade will be a learning process as it allows the team to test some of its theories about why the car lags behind Red Bull. The Imola upgrade represents the first steps in a new development direction that Mercedes hopes will allow the team to challenge for race wins and world championships. Although the upgrade is not expected to eliminate the gap to Red Bull this weekend, it should provide the foundations for future improvements that will help chip away at Red Bull‘s advantage.