Mercedes has confessed that its W14 car has failed to live up to expectations and the team is now changing its development program to recover lost performance. However, it has also been discovered that the car has some fundamental design issues, such as the cockpit position, which cannot be rectified during the season and require a significant overhaul for the team’s next challenger. Hamilton has criticised the approach the team has taken with the new regulations, stating that the cockpit is too close to the front and that the feeling of sitting on the front wheels while driving is one of the worst feelings to experience while driving.
The decision on the cockpit’s location has a knock-on effect on the rest of the car, including weight distribution, suspension, and aerodynamics, which would have all been affected in various ways. The upper side impact protection structures, which have been housed within a mid-wing on both the W13 and W14, have a 50mm window for placement but are also dictated by the cockpit’s position. Thus, the structures would have to be placed further towards the rear if Mercedes had opted for a cockpit shift. This would also result in changes to the sidepod design, and it might have led to the total abandonment of Mercedes‘ current scheme. Instead, concessions were made regarding the sidepod inlet, which has been narrowed, increased in height, and pushed back relative to the W13.
The position of the front axle is also a factor in the corresponding feeling that Hamilton gets from the W14. The regulations require the axle to be within a 100mm longitudinal window behind the front bulkhead, but Red Bull‘s more rearward cockpit position places its drivers further from the front axle, creating more space for electronics and other ancillaries under the chassis. This has the benefit of opening up more design options for the sidepod, such as Red Bull‘s ability to increase the size of its undercut compared to some of its rivals.
Red Bull has made changes for 2023, while Mercedes has not. Red Bull has a new front suspension arrangement that places the front axle further forward than it was on the RB18. It is unclear if this represents a countermeasure to the tyre changes made by Pirelli, which aimed to reduce understeer in 2022 or a general improvement compared to last year’s challenger. However, this change will have a bearing on the car’s behavior and alter the aerodynamic relationship that the wake turbulence generated by the front wheel assembly has with the front wing, floor, and sidepods.
The team will have to put in significant work to fix these faults in their next challenger, which is set to be released in 2024. The position of the cockpit will be one of many areas the team will have to address, along with weight distribution, suspension, and aerodynamics. The upcoming Grand Prix events will give Mercedes a chance to evaluate the car’s performance and development requirements to ensure they are competitive in the upcoming seasons.