Mercedes’ F1 car got a new lease on life at the Spanish Grand Prix thanks to some key upgrades. (Steve Wobser/Getty Images)
TECHNOLOGY

Mercedes’ F1 Car Upgrades Explained

Have Mercedes finally figured out their F1 car? What changed under the hood? Are Lewis Hamilton and George Russell championship contenders? You have questions, we have answers.

Lewis Hamilton is one of the greatest auto racing drivers ever, and arguably the best Formula 1 has ever seen — but he’s had a surprisingly rough go of it this year. The seven-time world champion is off to his worst start to an F1 campaign in more than a decade, but not because he’s magically lost his touch. Rather, his Mercedes team just hasn’t been able to troubleshoot the car he and teammate George Russell are tasked with getting the very most out of on the track.

The car — officially known as the Mercedes-AMG F1 W13 E Performance, or simply W13 if you’re into the whole brevity thing — hasn’t suffered from any out-and-out mechanical failures, but has seen its top speed limited over the first several races of the year.

Fortunately, some key upgrades that had been teased in previous weeks made their debut on May 22 at the Spanish Grand Prix, following some smaller improvements in Miami. Those tweaks could make an already exciting run for the 2022 world championship even more intriguing.

So, what has the team actually done here, and perhaps more importantly, what was wrong in the first place? You have questions about Mercedes F1 upgrades, Boardroom has answers.

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What was wrong with Mercedes’ F1 car?

The short answer? Their car wasn’t fast enough. The more specific answer? Hamilton and Russell were dogged by “porpoising,” a phenomenon that emerges when a vehicle is unable to generate downforce as consistently as intended.

What is porpoising in Formula 1?

To achieve higher speeds, Formula 1 cars make use of specially-designed wind tunnels built into their underbodies. Often called “Venturi tunnels,” their effectiveness depends on keeping a consistent flow of air without interruption. When these airflows are interrupted — in motorsports, this happens off and on at a rapid pace — the car and its driver will bob up and down like a porpoise diving in and out of the sea.

Click here to read Boardroom’s in-depth explainer on porpoising in F1.

Why has Russell outperformed Hamilton? Aren’t they driving the same car?

The structural elements of both Mercedes drivers’ cars are the same, but as the porpoising issue revealed itself, an iterative scramble to solve it reportedly included testing out different sets of tweaks and adjustments between the two cars to see what contributed to the biggest improvement. The effects of this kind of process shouldn’t be ignored in a sport that comes down to tenths or hundredths of a second.

Russell floated a separate theory to GPFans earlier this month, harkening back to his days with struggling Williams Racing, which routinely brought up the rear in F1 in terms of race pace.

“Perhaps with my struggles at Williams driving very difficult cars, maybe that has helped in some small regard,” he said.

What did Mercedes do to upgrade its F1 car?

While the front wing and rear corner received adjustments, the key to these Mercedes F1 upgrades was redesigning the W13’s floor body and floor edge. Venturi tunnel airflows are now as consistent as they’ve been all year for the Silver Arrows.

How have Mercedes’ upgrades performed?

It’s admittedly a one-race sample size, but Hamilton finished an impressive fifth in Barcelona despite falling all the way into last place early on. Meanwhile, Russell captured his second podium of 2022, tying his best finish of the year.

How does the team feel about the upgrades?

Here’s what Mercedes-AMG Petronas Team Principal Toto Wolff had to say following May 22’s Spanish Grand Prix:

“I have seen a car that reminded me of the race cars of previous seasons, where you are 30-plus seconds behind the whole field and you come all the way to the front and near the podium. That is very encouraging and shows we have made another step.”

Added Lewis Hamilton:

“We’re not the quickest yet, but I think we’re on our way. it’s the first time we’ve driven down the straight without bouncing. We still have some bouncing, but it’s way better. So yeah, starting to eke into a bit of the potential in our car… There’s a lot more to this car. It’s a little more comfortable to drive now than before.”

Is the porpoising issue fixed?

It’s plainly visible to the naked eye that Mercedes’ porpoising problems have significantly decreased on straightaways, but Russell noted to members of the media in Spain that it’s still an issue while cornering.

For what it’s worth, Hamilton battling back to make up 15 places in Barcelona is pretty eye-popping, while Russell kept his streak going as the only driver all season with a top-five finish in every race.

Be honest — can Mercedes win the F1 Constructors’ Championship?

Toto Wolff again:

“Can we fight for another world championship? Well, we bet we can. We just need to have a car able to finish first and second. We have reasons to believe we can get there. If you look at the odds, they are against us, but motor racing is a different ball game. We saw on Sunday that Ferrari did not score a lot of points although they should have, so we are absolutely pushing flat out to bring us back into the game.”

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