Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insists he still believes the troublesome W13 car has significant potential despite its difficult start to the 2022 Formula 1 season continuing during practice for the Australian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes was the third-fastest car during the first two events of the season but struggled during Friday’s second free practice session at Albert Park in particular, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton outside the top 10.
The team has been in “damage limitation” mode so far this season according to trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin. This is a result of the porpoising problems that have required the team to run at a higher ride height to mitigate at the cost of downforce and therefore performance.
Mercedes started pre-season testing in Barcelona with a simpler version of the car featuring more conventional sidepods, with some arguing the team should consider returning to this concept to eliminate its problems. But Wolff stresses this is not an option because the car wouldn’t perform well.
There is also no evidence this would solve its problems even though the porpoising was less severe with the conventional version of the car which had less downforce. The key is to make modifications to the car, in particular the floor, to avoid the porpoising being set off by the underbody aero stalling.
“Yes I do,” said Wolff when asked if he still believes in the potential of the car. “Because what is the other solution? To dial back; go back many months and then put that car on the track?
“I don’t think this is feasible because it wouldn’t bring us forward in in terms of performance compared to the others. It is a relative game.
“So we have, at this stage, no choice other than to understand. Whatever the outcome may be from our understanding, we may change or tweak the car.”
Wolff stressed the team, which has won eight consecutive constructors’ championships and seven out of the last eight drivers’ titles, must be humble to emerge from its current mire.
Although the Australian GP is only the third race of the season, Red Bull and Ferrari have a clear advantage and Mercedes must make rapid gains if it is to be a title challenger.
Upgrades are expected soon, potentially as early as the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola in two weeks, although the car is unchanged for Australia.
“I’ve been in this situation before in life and you just need to be humble about it,” said Wolff. “I said last year with the new regulations that we could have a different pecking order and this is exactly what’s happened. The midfield is very, very compressed and we’re just not quick enough, full stop.
“There’s so many areas where we know we can improve. We just need to concentrate on ourselves and chip away at the performance. The team is still the same that won many of the championships.”
The porpoising problems were obvious for Mercedes during Friday practice, with Russell describing it as “the most severe I’ve experienced” on the flat-out blast to the Turn 9/10 left/right sweep.
Both Russell and Hamilton also complained about setup changes not making any difference to the performance of the car, meaning Mercedes wasn’t even able to emerge as the third-fastest team on Friday.
“We’re definitely porpoising pretty bad into Turn 9,” said Russell after FP2. “It’s probably the most severe I’ve experienced but it’s something that we have to deal with for the time being.
“We believe that’s the fastest way around the track, but maybe it’s not. We need to keep digging into the data and understand. We’ve sort of gone from left, right and centre with the setup and all have resulted in a similar outcome. So we need to try and get on top of things and understand why.”