The last time we saw a Mercedes with conventional sides was a year and a half ago during testing in Barcelona in February 2022. Ground effect F1s had yet to be discovered, Toto Wolff’s team had promised to revolutionize schemes with the concept «zero bellies». After a year, Brackley engineers had to rethink long-term development. Sticking to the W13 concept didn’t work and Hamilton’s words after the tests in Bahrain (“the technicians had to listen to me”), they partly took shape with the massive upgrade initially planned for Imola and then moved to Monte Carlo.
Finally, the designers had to rethink the aerodynamic platform to produce more stability. This is only a first step and if we focus on the general dimensions, we see that they remain limited compared to the edge of the bottom. It was certainly not conceivable to redo the chassis during the current season, showing how the low level was still considered valid this winter. After all, completely overturning the development path without a profession can lead to regrets about the “zero bellies” philosophy. It was worth leaving an open door to change. Change that has arrived, as promised by Toto Wolff, in some very visible areas. However, it should be remembered that if a car is not working or is not very competitive, the bottom is the element on which most resources can be poured, but not the most noticeable.
Mercedes had weight problems, not the dimensions but the distribution of mass. It should be remembered that the W13 of early 2022 was very overweight, the zero-pods concept partially solved that problem. Going back would have forced the engineers to slow down a bit before turning around and changing designs. The bellies have moved on to the wider concept, in some ways modeling more Ferrari than Red Bull, but it’s not an overly extreme twist. Streams are now forced under the cooling vents, but with limited undercut passage. Although the anti-burglary cone is low, the area is not cleared. However, it is more accentuated than the current SF-23.
However, the rear slope of the bonnet is now significantly downwashed, ie to increase the load to the diffuser duct. Following the most widespread fashion, where – it is said – Ferrari from Barcelona will also join. The highest part has remained the same with a large, practically vertical surface. The W14’s front suspension is the other updated element and arguably the one the other teams will be looking at the most. It is a very intelligent and inexpensive modification, which can be replicated. Only the front arm of the wishbone is raised. You can also see the old mount in the frame, now screwed down. This shift changes the geometry of the front wishbone, increasing (as expected) the anti-dive effect while retaining the pushrod, in the vein of the Aston Martin.
This is an interesting trick that could be adopted by other teams. Ferrari could theoretically implement it. The problem is the immediacy of understanding. A stiffer front end and less subject to slope changes under braking and acceleration poses an adjustment problem, both in terms of tuning and handling sensitivity. Obviously Monaco is not ideal, on the other hand the chassis was modified for Imola, so the real test will be in Barcelona.
The news from the other teams
We also have other news to report. On the SF-23, there is the new single pylon rear wing for maximum downforce and some other minor innovations, confirmed by Vasseur. Most of the pack will be released in Spain next week. Maranello is said to be very visible. Aston Martin is also expected to see some minor changes and Haas has introduced new specifications for the front and rear wings. In Monte Carlo, at lower speeds, all teams are called upon to lift as much cargo as possible above the bottom.
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