Why F1 shakedown sent Mercedes’ 2022 season into a tailspin

Much of the remainder of the season would be a firefighting exercise for Mercedes, with the porpoise problem sucking up resources that would normally have been solely focused on performance upgrades.

The team eventually got to the point where the car was able to take a pole and a race win, but it was still far from expectations, as Russell remarked: “How long it took to untie porpoises, probably a good eight or nine races in itself and then understanding the problems we had afterwards with the driving problems we faced in our car that we didn’t spot in those opening races – we were just completely in the wrong window.”

From the outside it looked like a painful season for a team that has been so victorious and at times dominating over the past eight years, although team boss Toto Wolff saw things differently.

“For me, the word painful is not the word I would use in a racing context,” he said Motorsports. “The word that would be appropriate is a feeling of irritation. We started off the blocks with what was an undriveable car.

“And we solved the problems layer by layer. And then we had a nice couple of weekends. And it seemed like we were on the right track. You’re on pole at Budapest and 1.8 seconds down at Spa and it’s quite difficult to deal with those swings, even though you know the problem is more in the car’s DNA.”

George Russell 2022 Brazil Wins Up

The victory in Brazil showed how Mercedes had developed during the season

Technical Director Mike Elliott admitted in late 2022 that a particular decision early in the W13 design process had proved expensive, although when asked whether it was an aerodynamic or mechanical decision, Wolff would not elaborate.

“It’s both,” said the Austrian. “It’s a mechanical issue related to aerodynamics. But it’s much more complex than pointing to a single area, it’s more intertwined.

“The things we talk about are fundamental to car design. So this is more of a long-term problem, but consider that we’ve lost many months trying to figure out what it is and there remain question marks: ‘Have you really uncovered every weakness in the car?’”

“You just don’t have the opportunity to develop from there anymore”

With a single three-day test in Bahrain and just a five-day rest before initial practice for the race itself, it’s clear why even those initial shakedowns are so important for all teams. You don’t have much time to solve problems that arise.

The process is complicated by a perfect storm of rules, with the cost cap and sliding scale of tunnel and CFD usage hitting the top teams as per FIA Aero Testing Regulations – which was exactly the intention.

This combination also helps explain why Mercedes struggled to make big strides last year. As master constructors, the team had less time in the wind tunnel than anyone else in 2021 when the new era cars were being designed and in the first half of 2022 when the porpoise problem was being pursued.

“I think there’s never an explanation,” says Wolff. “I think the [aero testing] Limitations hit us, because basically it was a total of three and a half years.

“In terms of car development in 2022, it was the first six months of early ’21, the second six months of ’21, and then the first six months of 2022. And you accumulate all of that.

“That explains why all the other teams had a lot more. And on top of that we had to restructure because of the cost cap. And because we misunderstood the physics.”

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