Meet the Mercedes W14, the car designed to revive Formula 1 glory

Lewis Hamilton may still be chasing a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 world title, but his tone going into the new season is noticeably weaker than in previous years.

After a controversial end to the 2021 season that saw mercedes’ Hamilton loses the championship to red balls Max Verstappen On the last lap of the final race, Hamilton came back hungry to regain his crown.

Instead, he quietly finished 2022 in sixth place, marking his first winless season. As the new technical regulations forced extensive car redesigns and a reset of the competitive standings, the Mercedes W13 lagged behind those of the Red Bull and Ferrari. Mercedes only had one win, courtesy of George Russell in Brazil.

At the launch of Mercedes’ new F1 car, the W14, earlier this month, Hamilton acknowledged his change of mind. “I wouldn’t say I’m as optimistic as I was last year,” he said. “Just be more careful.”

It’s an approach that resonates across Mercedes. The team learned the hard way last year how hard it is to get back down to earth, going from a record eight constructors’ championships (from 2014 to 2021) to being content with podiums. She also knew how important it was to correct the problems with the W13, which, in Hamilton’s words, “didn’t behave as a racing car should.”

Instead of hiding the car away, the plan is to put it in the lobby of Mercedes’ headquarters in Brackley, England. Despite the W13’s shortcomings, team boss Toto Wolff said it would be a “symbol of daring”, and a reminder of just how bad things got before its successor, the W14, launched Mercedes’ climb to the top.

What went wrong with the Mercedes W13?

It might be easier to say what went right with the Mercedes W13. With F1 shaking up its technical regulations, and returning to ground effect designs – where tunnels under the car help create downforce, effectively absorbing it to the surface – a new buzzword has entered the series’ lexicon: porpoises.

The bobbing behavior hurt Mercedes more than most teams. Hamilton and Russell have been vocal about the issue throughout the year, with safety concerns resulting, leading to an amendment to the flooring design rules for this year.

When the team made its first major changes to the 2022 car, six races into the season at the Spanish Grand Prix, it thought it had made a breakthrough and overhauled the Porpoise. Then other problems arose, such as problems with the balance of the car and the difficulty of the tires reaching the optimum temperature. Wolff compared it to peeling the layers off an onion, discovering more problems with each wave of analysis, while drivers lost confidence behind the wheel.

It wasn’t until a late-season upgrade package at the United States Grand Prix – round 19 of 22 – that Mercedes became a real threat up front again. Her 1-2 finish in Brazil avoided a winless campaign, but she knew big changes were still needed with the W14.

“The main thing we want is definitely more consistency and a more predictable car,” said Russell at the launch of the W14. “If you can pick a balance you don’t want to have, the W13 probably has it.” Hamilton added that he wanted changes to be made to “almost everything”, covering “every component from back end to front end”.

Save the good

Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott was cautious about going back to square one. “We know if we tear it all apart and start over, it’s going to start even further back,” he said at the launch of the 2023 car. “It’s about making those right decisions. Although we had a lot of problems last year, I think there was a lot of good in the car.”

This is why the W14 did not offer a radical design shift compared to its predecessor. Mercedes even kept the ultra-slim side “zeropod” design that helps air flow to the rear of the car, though Wolff suggested the car’s engineering DNA and design would change. Mercedes remains the only team pursuing a slim design concept, which is radically different from the approach of Red Bull and Ferrari.

Wolff did not consider the side design to be the reason Mercedes did not perform last year, but admitted that it could change with developments over the course of the season. The team made some modifications to the W14’s chassis at launch, particularly around the hood, with deeper gully to help airflow to the rear of the car in place of the traditional side-rollers. But it was not far from the overhaul that many thought would come in light of the challenges of the past year.

In fact, the most noticeable change to the W14 was the paint job. To help save weight, the team switched from the traditional silver and back to black—used in 2020 and 2021 as part of anti-racism messaging—with the W14. That means it can run bare carbon on most cars and shave a few hundred grams without affecting the overall look. “There’s not a lot of weight you can save on paint,” said Wolf. “But it shows the intent of what we do.”

An encouraging baseline

After getting a little taste of the new Mercedes in a shakedown at Silverstone after the launch, Hamilton and Russell’s first long race in the car came this week in Bahrain. At this point last year, alarm bells were beginning to ring with the W13, making it an important moment to see if the changes paid off.

First impressions were encouraging. And Wolfe was quick to report on Thursday that there was “no bounce,” noting his progress on the porpoise-hunting front. Both drivers completed a trouble-free first day of testing in Bahrain, and reported feeling better behind the wheel than last year. A more difficult second day followed, highlighted by a hydraulic failure for Russell in the evening. Hamilton said there are still some “basic things we’re working through” especially with the car setup.

But the team is much happier in its position than it was last pre-season. “It feels like a step in the right direction,” said Russell. “Compared to this time 12 months ago, things are running much smoother.” And he admitted there were still things to improve, like the car’s mid-corner balance.

But the drivers’ impressions are that it is a car that Mercedes could properly develop and improve without problems last season. Wolff described it as a “very solid base”, while Mercedes’ director of track engineering Andrew Shovlin described it as a “much quieter and more stable platform” to work with.

Does this mean that the W14 will put Mercedes back on top? not yet. On Friday in Bahrain, Russell said he thought so “Stretch” to take the fight to Red Bull From the opening race of the season, especially since Verstappen’s outfit looked great in testing. But with the underlying issues seemingly under control, there is renewed hope that the car will steer Mercedes in the right direction.

“There’s no reason we can’t eventually get there sometime this year,” Russell said. “We’ve always seen Mercedes’ strength and rate of development. So for sure, the faith is there.”

(Photo illustration: Eamon Dalton/The Athlete; Photos: Qian Jun/MB Media, Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto, Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images)

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