The Silver Arrows are set to bring a set of significant upgrades to the 2022 British Grand Prix, but what problems are they looking to solve – and why could their home race prove to be a turning point crucial in this campaign? Mark Hughes looks at what Mercedes are aiming to achieve this weekend.
Mercedes hopes the smooth surface and fast corners of Silverstone will give their W13 awkward access to Barcelona’s performance levels. At the Spanish race redesigned ground saw the car relatively unaffected by the aerodynamic porpoising it had suffered so far and it was quite competitive in the race, with George Russell taking a podium on merit after battling the Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton showing good pace as he recovered from his first lap incident with Kevin Magnussen.
F1 NATION: Gang turns to Silverstone as Mercedes details ‘bigger and more visible’ upgrade
However, since then the next tracks – Monaco, Baku and Montreal – have exposed a separate but related problem – that of mechanical rebound. This trait is an issue around the car’s combined tire/chassis stiffness and how its rear suspension seems unable to cope. The bumpier the track, the more serious the problem.
So the last four races have revealed a Mercedes that can be really fast in smooth, fast and aerodynamically charged corners, but with bumpy track performance severely compromised due to lost downforce by rolling the car high enough to reduce the bounce at higher speeds, when the car will repeatedly crash into the ground, bottoming out in its high-frequency suspension.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that Mercedes’ years of using a car with a lower lean than almost everyone else led it to develop a rigid, limited-travel rear suspension to keep the car in that limited tilt angle range.
The high-rake cars needed a softer, longer-travel rear suspension. The new generation of cars even have a lower rake than Mercedes used to maximize the effectiveness of the underbody venturi tunnels, but they need more suspension travel – not least because the 2022 tires have significantly less sidewall deep and therefore do not contribute as much to the suspension. The unsprung mass of the car – i.e. the mass (such as wheels) that is unsprung – is also significantly greater due to larger and heavier tires, wheels and brakes .
Mercedes continues to address the issue, as technical director Mike Elliott recently explained. “We will bring new elements to Silverstone; we’ll try to push the car forward, trying to get some rhythm with the car we have as well as the new elements we’re going to add to it.
READ MORE: Mercedes says they ‘really want to win’ Silverstone – but Wolff warns team need to ‘really walk away’
“I think at the same time we have to be honest with ourselves and say that at the moment we are just a bit behind the leaders of Ferrari and Red Bull. And in a normal race I think that gonna be hard.
“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 slick nature of the track can make it difficult to gauge the ability of new parts to fix the underlying problem. What we will also see at Silverstone is the second phase of the FIA’s technical directive – announced in Canada – regarding the control of the vertical oscillation force of all cars.
READ MORE: An all-British Mercedes lineup and Leclerc on the attack – 5 scenarios we’re excited about ahead of the 2022 British GP
After the data-gathering exercise in Montreal, this weekend should see the governing body’s first attempt to limit the severity of those forces, using data from sensors already in the cars.
Rather than bringing everyone to a prescribed ride height, the FIA’s technical guideline will instead insist that the force of the rebound be within the prescribed limits – and that the team must use whatever setup that will facilitate this. Which could possibly mean that the smooth-riding Red Bull can continue to perform at its optimum ride height while those suffering from rebound issues will have to compromise performance more than before.
Again, Silverstone may not be the track where we see the full implications of this decision due to its relatively smooth surface. But in the ongoing story of Mercedes’ struggle with this car, the British Grand Prix should be a milestone.