Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
Topic

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

How Mercedes is trying to claw back its lost downforce

Lewis Hamilton may have taken victory in Formula 1’s season opener, but it is clear his Mercedes team feels it is on the backfoot because of new regulations.

How Mercedes is trying to claw back its lost downforce

These changes to the aero rules appear to have hit the low rake runners the most, but you could also argue that those teams have also made the biggest effort to recover their losses too.

So, let’s take a look at what Mercedes has done in response to the challenges thrown at it, and why it might be suffering more than its counterparts.

Aggressive floor

When Mercedes finally revealed the new floor of its W12 during pre-season testing it appeared it had some of the most mature solutions on the grid. Here are the details.

 

Mercedes AMG F1 W12 floor

Mercedes AMG F1 W12 floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

  1. Teams have rolled up the edge of the floor in this region for some time now. But, in order that some of the airflow from the upper and lower side of the floor converge at different rates, Mercedes has added a series of ever decreasing wave sections for this year. This should help to mitigate some of the losses associated with the regulation changes that prevent the use of slots and fully enclosed holes in the floor.
  2. Whilst the regulations call for the floor to taper back toward the rear tyre, Mercedes, like a number of teams, has opted to give up some of the available floor space and create an additional cutout. This creates a Z-shaped cutout whereby a section of the floor is returned to a parallel edge before tapering again ahead of the tyre. In Mercedes' case, the parallel section is quite short, if compared with the likes of Red Bull, for example.
  3. Ahead of the rear tyre, Mercedes has a number of solutions, including a collection of outwardly angled fins that have been boxed in to try and enforce an aerodynamic effect. They have three strakes of varying shapes and lengths inboard of this which look to direct the flow between the edge of the diffuser and side of the tyre. Then, quite differently to everyone else on the grid, its floor is angled upward towards the trailing edge, where a Gurney flap has been applied to the underside of the floor.
  4. Mercedes has gone to considerable effort to enlarge the size of this flow pathway into the coke bottle region, with the shape of the sidepods altered to raise the cooling outlet. Meanwhile, it has also reworked the shape of the floor in order that the floor descends beneath the gearbox and crash structure, further opening up space for the air to flow into.

Even with these extensive changes, it’s clear to see that the W12 wasn’t as stable as the drivers would like under certain conditions, meaning it still has plenty to work to do over the remainder of the season.

And, with Mercedes seeming to have worked harder than some of its competitors on recovering losses with the design details of its floor, you have to look at the impact of some of the other 2021 regulation changes to try to understand where it is losing out.

2021 brakes fins rule
Diffuser Rules 2021

The winglets mounted to the lower half of the brake duct fence are 40mm narrower in 2021. This might not seem like a big deal, as everyone suffers the same fate, but there’s a difference as to where those winglets line up relative to the floor ahead, depending on the rake angle of the car.

As such, both groups would have used them differently, and it appears their narrowing has impeded some of the work they did for the low rake runners. 

Furthermore, the strakes in the diffuser have also been cut down by 50mm, which would logically harm the high rake runners if not for them already accounting for a loss here relative to their counterparts.

However, for the low rake runners, their diffusers had been designed to operate with the benefit of those strakes being closer to the ground and the effect that proximity has. With this benefit now removed, their diffuser will likely be less effective.

Red Bull plays catch up…

The RB16B features a new rear suspension layout for 2021 that draws its inspiration from the arrangement used by Mercedes last season.

Mercedes W12 rear suspension detail
Red Bull Racing RB16B comparison rear suspension

In both cases the primary reason behind the implementation is aerodynamic, as the teams look to position each of the suspension elements in more favourable positions. 

Red Bull hasn’t been able to fully appropriate the Mercedes design, as that would have required more tokens than it had at its disposal. But it has still been able to make changes that will undoubtedly improve flow over the rear of the car.

The track rod position is the major difference for Red Bull (highlighted in blue). It has moved this to the front of its assembly and effectively flipped the wishbone over so that it can mount the rear leg as high and rearward as is possible.

Of course, it cannot be underestimated how much of a structural challenge this is. Whilst the optimum aerodynamic positions might give you extra performance, it’s only worthwhile if you’re not adding a substantial amount of weight to the car that would offset any gains.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The lower, rearmost suspension element on the Mercedes W11/12 is housed on the rear crash structure, rather than the gearbox carrier.

Red Bull was unable to go as far as Mercedes with its design as it would have needed more tokens to change the crash structure design too.

shares
comments

Related video

F1 changes Imola GP schedule to avoid Prince Philip funeral clash

Previous article

F1 changes Imola GP schedule to avoid Prince Philip funeral clash

Next article

The themes to watch in F1's Imola return

The themes to watch in F1's Imola return
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Mercedes
Author Giorgio Piola
The AlphaTauri improvements that mean Gasly’s form is no fluke Prime

The AlphaTauri improvements that mean Gasly’s form is no fluke

Pierre Gasly has driven superbly since demotion from Red Bull in 2019, but the team formerly known as Toro Rosso has come on strong too – building a car that can often challenge Ferrari and McLaren. Here Gasly reveals to ALEX KALINAUCKAS how AlphaTauri has given him the tools needed to rebuild his reputation

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Prime

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to Stuart Codling, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion.

Formula 1
May 15, 2021
How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean? Prime

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But how long will their battle remain clean? Jonathan Noble ponders that exact point

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Prime

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Prime

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button.

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Prime

How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace Prime

The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace

Lewis Hamilton led the way in Friday practice for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, but there was one major encouraging sign for Red Bull. However, making good on that gain will require Max Verstappen to avoid repeating a mistake that left him well down the FP2 order...

Formula 1
May 7, 2021