Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is aiming to decipher the handling troubles George Russell and Sir Lewis Hamilton are experiencing by the Spanish Grand Prix.
Russell topped FP2 on Friday in an auspicious-looking day for the Silver Arrows in Florida, but he ended FP3 down in 17th as the car’s performance took a sudden turn for the worse.
The 24-year-old was then eliminated from Q2 after he struggled to put a clean lap together on a challenging surface and with an erratic car, but Hamilton was able to climb into the top 10, qualifying sixth just behind Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
The Brackley side’s form has looked better though than last time out at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and part of that mini success can be attributed to the aerodynamic upgrades that they brought in this weekend, which includes a revised front wing, rear wing and wing beam, all of which streamlined the chassis and took an estimated 3kg off the car.
Wolff suggests that the improvements may be slightly track specific, and the fundamental issues of “porpoising,” which involves the violently bouncing off the track surface, is still there.
“The new parts reduce drag and the asphalt here helps with the bounce. But we have to be honest. It’s not like we’ve found a ground-breaking solution,” he said.
The Austrian believes that the team are beginning to gain a better comprehension of how to get the car into an ideal operating window, but maintains that the ground effect aerodynamics are still confounding them as their performance fluctuates.
“I think we’ve seen a performing car yesterday in FP2, that was real,” he told Sky Sports.
“We were able to put in in the sweet spot and today in FP3 we were completely off with the experiments we did.
“[W]e creeped a little bit back but the car is still bouncing like a kangaroo, the drivers are not happy with it, and you can see that’s the reason we are off.”
Wolff opines that the contrast in fortunes between Friday and Saturday will be useful as Mercedes try to learn what works and what does not.
“[We’ve] definitely got a better handle [of it],” he explained.
“Also the slump that we had today from yesterday helped, it’s never one thing that is responsible for performance or non-performance.
“But we had a good car yesterday afternoon, we worsened it a little bit. Some things we understand, others not.”
The teams will head back to Europe at the next race when they contest the Spanish Grand Prix, and they will also have data to cross reference having completed the first pre-season test in Barcelona.
Mercedes will be introducing some new evolutions to the floor of the car, and the Mercedes boss is hoping that improved aerodynamic efficiency on the underside of the W13 can eradicate the bouncing.
“We will carry out a few experiments on the floor for this. In Barcelona, we will then have major modifications to the underbody, which will hopefully already be a solution,” said Wolff, quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
Russell’s P12 is his worst qualifying result since he made the switch to Mercedes from Williams over the winter.
The young Briton finished the Miami Grand Prix in P5, one position ahead of Hamilton.