Mercedes rolled its W13 for the first time at Silverstone last February when the UK was hit by Storm Eunice, with wind gusts reaching nearly 200mph and blocking several transport networks. George Russell described the wind that day as “absolutely insane”but it also meant that Mercedes could not get a full picture of the extent of the porpoise problem ahead of the first real test in Barcelona.
Andrew Shovlin, head of track engineering at Mercedes, explained that while the team had investigated potential issues with the forced return of ground effect, they had not done so. “expected mechanism type” what would cause him so much trouble; and a shakedown made difficult to read by the climatic conditions would not help. “When we were at Silverstone it was in the middle of a storm, we had winds of 110km/h [environ 110 km/h, ndlr]‘ Shovlin said Motorsport.com in an interview tracing the first half of Mercedes’ season.
“You often start with a car that’s high enough for shakedowns and things like that just not to damage it, and then lower it down later. That day we drove the car at normal altitude and started to see the problem. But it wasn’t until we got to Barcelona that we were able to properly examine it at a decent track and started to understand what was going on.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, at the Silverstone shakedown
Although Mercedes upgraded the car for the second test in Bahrain, the team continued to suffer from car bounces, a problem that lasted for most of the season and hurt their chances of competing with Red Bull and Ferrari at the front. Shovlin recalls preseason testing and finding answers “certain time” for Mercedes to believe they were porpoises “Perhaps the most complicated thing we’ve ever had to deal with”.
“But that progression was quite evolutionary and quite encouraging, everything we were doing just made more and more sense.”said Shovlin. “What we didn’t really see was that the problem looked a lot like the layers of an onion. When you peel it, you still look the same no matter how many layers you peel off. And we’ve found that there are multiple mechanisms to play it out.”
“The problem is that when we’re able to explore things at our own pace, it’s a lot more emotional, a lot harder and more stressful to face this challenge during the race than it is to do it at the factory a year after we’ve been a team , who has gone to almost every race in recent years and thought we could be on pole and win, c was a real challenge .”
“But the reality is that there’s a huge gap between what’s understood at the factory and a race car actually going faster on the track.”
The problems have forced Mercedes to recalibrate some of its technical thinking. Shovlin said if the team had just focused on the opening round in Bahrain or the first couple of races, they would have “probably took a much more experimental path”but the structure instead focused on finding a long-term solution to the problem.
“Back then, as engineers, we saw that this regulation was valid for four years. And what would really hurt the team is not whether we win in Bahrain, but whether or not we can play under these regulations in the coming seasons. That scared us: if we don’t design things in the factory, make things, put them on the track, see them work, then what we’re working with becomes worthless in terms of performance. . It was pretty scary at times.”
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