McLaren’s recent advancements with its Austrian/British GP kit, which took inspiration from both Red Bull and Aston Martin‘s sidepod concepts, has triggered other teams to consider revamping their strategies. Traditionally, Mercedes has maintained that changes to sidepod and bodywork aren’t instrumental for performance enhancement. However, rival teams seem to be reaping worthwhile advancements from modifications in this area.
Earlier this year, Mercedes did adopt a more Red Bull-influenced downwash sidepod solution at the Monaco Grand Prix. However, they haven’t adopted this approach as thoroughly as other squads. This decision comes from Mercedes’ team principal, Toto Wolff. According to him, the Red Bull design did not contribute any benefits when tested in their wind tunnel. In fact, it seemed to deteriorate car performance.
Despite this setback, Wolff stated that McLaren‘s successful exploitation of this concept might encourage a reassessment and solicit another attempt to reconsider it. When queried by F1 Initiative on why Mercedes hasn’t embraced the Red Bull strategy while others deem it beneficial, Wolff explained, “We had the sidepod concept and the bodywork in the tunnel very early on already, to see which avenues you could open up and how much it would add to performance.” He further added, “And the relative loss of downforce, the way we measure it, was substantial. So, it’s not something that we wanted to follow up early in the year. Will we change our design direction? I think we have a great group of aerodynamicists led by James [Allison] and I’m sure that it will be a consideration seeing the step they [McLaren] made.”
Wolff remains convinced that the key for Mercedes to leap forward lies in harnessing more performance from the car’s floor and underside rather than the visible bodywork. “The sidepods and the bodywork are just one part of the chassis, and it clearly looks like there are interesting solutions it opens up,” he remarked. He emphasized however that the crux of the performance is contingent on the floor and the diffuser.
Mercedes’ determined efforts for upgrading was evident at the British Grand Prix where it introduced its new front wing aimed at enhancing car balance through low-speed corners. Every surface in this region has been meticulously refined to maximize performance. The primary changes include lifting the leading edge of the mainplane to facilitate the flaps, using a curved rather than squared-off design for the endplate, repositioning the infra-red camera pod, and incorporating a winglet-like profile for the slot gap separator bracket. The upper flaps’ design and the immovable section nearest to the nose have also been revised.