The Silver Arrows are set to bring a major upgrade package to the 2022 British Grand Prix, but what issues are they looking to tackle and why their home race could be a crucial turning point this campaign? Mark Hughes discusses what Mercedes is aiming to achieve this weekend.
Mercedes is hopeful that the smooth surface and fast corners of Silverstone can give its troublesome W13 access to the performance levels of Barcelona. In the Spanish race, a redesigned floor left the car relatively unconcerned about the aerodynamic wear it had suffered so far and it was quite competitive in the race, with George Russell taking the podium on his own merits after battling the Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton showing a great pace as he recovered from his lap 1 incident with Kevin Magnussen.
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Since then, however, the following tracks (Monaco, Baku and Montreal) have exposed a separate but connected problem: mechanical bounce. This trait is an issue related to the car’s combined tire and chassis stiffness and how its rear suspension seems unable to cope. The rougher the track, the worse the problem.
Thus, the last four races have revealed a Mercedes that can be genuinely fast in smooth, fast and aerodynamically charged corners, but with bumpy track performance severely compromised due to loss of downforce by driving the car long enough. high enough to reduce bouncing at higher altitudes. speeds, when the car will repeatedly hit the ground, bottoming out its suspension at high frequency.
It may not be a coincidence that Mercedes’ years of driving a car with a lower lean angle than almost everyone else led it to develop a limited travel rigid rear suspension to keep the car within that limited range of lean angle. inclination.
High-rake cars needed a softer, longer-travel rear suspension. The new generation of cars have an even lower rake than Mercedes used to use to maximize the effectiveness of the underbody venturi tunnels, but they need more suspension travel, not least because the 2022 tires have a significantly shallower sidewall. and therefore do not contribute. both to suspension. The unsprung mass of the car, i.e. the mass (such as the wheels) that is not sprung, is also significantly higher due to the larger and heavier tires, wheels and brakes.
Mercedes continues to attack the problem, as technical director Mike Elliott recently explained. “We will bring new bits to Silverstone; We will try to push the car forward, trying to get some pace with the car that we have, as well as with the new parts that we will add to it.
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“I think at the same time we have to be honest with ourselves and say that at the moment we are a little bit behind the leaders in Ferrari and Red Bull. And in a normal race I think it’s going to be tough.
“I think Silverstone will be a circuit that suits us a bit better, like Barcelona did, but maybe it will be a bit difficult. Whatever happens, we will push as hard as we can.”
The soft nature of the track can make it difficult to assess how well new parts address the underlying problem. What we will also see at Silverstone is the second phase of the FIA technical directive, announced in Canada, regarding the control of the strength of vertical oscillations of all cars.
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Following the data-gathering exercise in Montreal, this weekend should see the governing body’s first attempt to put a limit on the severity of those forces, using data from sensors already in the cars.
Rather than bring everyone to a prescribed ride height, the FIA technical directive will insist that the force of the rebound be within prescribed limits, and that the team must run whatever settings make it easier. Which could possibly mean the smooth-riding Red Bull can continue to run at its optimum ride height, while those suffering from rebound issues will have to compromise performance more than before.
Once again, Silverstone might not be the track where we see the full implications of this decision due to its relatively soft surface. But in the ongoing history of Mercedes’ struggle with this car, the British Grand Prix will be an important milestone.