Le Mans podium finisher, Ho-Pin Tung, does not believe that Mercedes came into the 2022 season with an altogether bad car, despite their struggles.
Ahead of the second test in Bahrain, the Silver Arrows introduced a new chassis design that was intended to take advantage of the ground effect aerodynamics under the new technical regulations.
The concept featured a near complete lack of sidepods, leaving large parts of the floor exposed and causing lots of intrigue in the paddock.
More than most, Mercedes have been victims of the “porpoising” and bouncing phenomenon that stems from the aerodynamic philosophy, and this has been costing them performance.
Between them, Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell managed three podiums in the opening seven rounds of the season and, for only the second time in nine years, the seven-time champion finished outside the top 10 in Imola.
However, they had begun to get a grip of their car in Spain and, by the end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, figured out how they can run the car relatively low without the floor smashing into the track surface – although Hamilton needed to go through some back pain to achieve that.
Russell’s P3 in Baku started a run of six consecutive podium finishes for the Silver Arrows, with Hamilton claiming five, and Russell two.
They both stood on the rostrum in France and Hungary, but it seemed that they took another step back in Belgium.
In cool conditions, Hamilton qualified seventh, 1.8 seconds off the pace of Max Verstappen, with Russell a further three tenths back in eighth.
Grid penalties for Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon bumped the Mercedes pair up, but the 37-year-old retired from the race on lap one after contact with Fernando Alonso.
Promisingly for the German side, on a warmer day on Sunday, Russell began to press Sainz for the final spot on the podium, but he ultimately had to settle for fourth.
Tung theorises that, because Mercedes were having to focus so much on eradicating “porpoising” at the start of the year, they could not develop it from a performance standpoint.
Since they have got to grips with the bottoming though, their pace has improved, so it is more a problem of “porpoising” than raw performance in the eyes of the Chinese-Dutch racer.
“I think Mercedes is definitely making progress,” Tung told Motorsport.com.
“Basically, the car isn’t that bad, I’ve been saying that since the beginning of this season.
“They have had a huge problem with porpoising, from the moment they got that out, they were immediately competitive.
“It is very disturbing for the driver while driving, but also for engineers.”
Tung suggests that “porpoising” is very difficult to simulate in the wind tunnel, and teams cannot simulate it fully on track, as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff often suggests that the numbers from the car are often different from the drivers’ feedback.
“If you look at the data, you have a moving car in the curves, the airflows are changing, they’re trying to simulate all that in the wind tunnel,” explained the 39-year-old.
“You have to imagine making a turn, it’s so tight that a team knows exactly what ride height they know in a particular corner because they know it will give them the best balance for that particular corner.
“With porpoising you’re just trying to keep that car on the track and you don’t get to the details.
“It makes a lot of sense that they took a big step when they got it out.”
Mercedes are third in the Constructors’ Standings heading into the final eight rounds of the season, 159 points behind Red Bull.