Mercedes reveal how they exploited ‘loophole’ – and how it has hurt them

Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are yet to win a race this year.

Mercedes technical director, Mike Elliott, has admitted that the team made some critical errors while finding a “loophole” in this year’s technical regulations.

The FIA brought in a new raft of rules this season, in a move that saw the return of ground effect aerodynamic for the first time in 40 years.

The goal was to allow the cars to follow more closely, and ultimately ensure a better racing spectacle for the fans.

The shift in aerodynamic emphasis moved the main bulk of downforce generation to the underside of the car, necessitating a different chassis concept.

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Mercedes decided to go for a design that almost entirely removed their sidepods, but the zeropod concept has not worked as planned.

The W13 has suffered from horrible turbulence on the straight, and because of the lower ride height, that has caused the floor to violently make contact with the track surface.

This is known as “porpoising,” and it was coating Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell time on the straight, as well as causing them a fair bit of back pain.

When the team raised the ride height, it only led to horrible performance in the corners, so they have been working hard all year to solve their pace issues.

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The car has improved, and Hamilton and Russell have taken their tally up to 13 podiums between them this season, but neither Briton has won a race in 2022 yet.

The deficit to Red Bull and Ferrari has been disheartening at times for the eight-time champions, but they have kept plugging away at it, and a lot of the work they are doing now could be crucial for next season.

Looking back at Mercedes’ developmental work last winter, Elliott reckons he can pick out one pivotal moment that spelled doom for their campaign

“You look at how we developed the car, and I can point to one moment in time last year where we did something where I think we made a mistake,” he told the Beyond the Grid Podcast. 

“What you’re seeing in terms of performance and the way it swings from race to race as a consequence of that, and that’s a mistake we’ve known about for a while, and something we’ve been correcting and that’s why our performance has gradually got better.

“But it’s not something we can fully correct for a little while yet, and we will do over the winter.”

Elliott went on to divulge what process the team goes through when they reckon they have found a gap in the regulations.

“With a loophole, you go through the winter and you look at and think ‘has anybody else spotted it, is someone else going to turn up with it?’,” he explained.

“While it looks visually very different, as always with these things, it’s about opening up small aerodynamic advantages.

“Without going and running a development on the concept we’ve got, and running a development on a different concept, it’s hard to know what it will be worth at the end.

“But it wasn’t a huge game-changer, in the learning we’ve found this year, it’s less about the shape of the car, it’s more about the way we approach the development of the car, that’s where the difference lies.

“When you look at the sidepod, people say ‘it looks very different, that must work completely different to the rest of the cars’, and it doesn’t, it’s just a slightly different solution.

“Aerodynamically I don’t think it’s a massive departure from the other cars, it’s just something that adds a little bit of performance for us.”

After the engineers come up with a design based on their interpretation of the laws, there is an internal scrutineering process to determine whether it is legal.

“The aerodynamicists come up with the idea, we take another group of people, generally run by our chief designer, they will go and look for themselves and see if they can shoot it down,” stated Elliott.

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“Before the test, we’d shown it to FIA, we discussed it with them, their first reaction was ‘ah that’s not what we intended’ and they worked through it as well, [to] see whether they can challenge it.”

Mercedes are third in the Constructors’ Championship and, after their disappointing weekend in Singapore last time out, they have fallen 66 points behind second-placed Ferrari.

Red Bull look set to wrap up their first teams’ crown since 2013, while Max Verstappen is on course to wrap up his second consecutive drivers’ title.