Mercedes W12 unlocks further hybrid potential
Like every season, the teams’ ultimate challenge is to bring a new car to the track with the clear goal of taking a step forward in every area. Mercedes has been dominating for several seasons now and although the advantage gained is great, every year it faces the most challenging task: to develop a successful car by identifying specific areas where it can improve and create a further advantage on the opposition. A task that it has been able to carry out very well, taking new directions in specific areas of the car without standing still designwise. This is even more remarkable, considering that it is a factor that is always around the corner for a team that has never led the rankings for a long time.
A very important area in 2021 will certainly be the portion of the floor placed in front of the rear wheels. Due to the new restrictions imposed by the technical regulations, this area will be simplified significantly. It is estimated that the loss will be around 10% of the total load. A huge loss indeed, which according to the FIA should reduce the gap between one car and another. This is because this specific area is very delicate and the flow management varies a lot between a top team and a midfield team. This difference from an aerodynamic point of view then translates into the difference on the stopwatch.
However, the pressure drop will cause greater “damage” to teams like Red Bull given the use of a more stringent rake, compared to teams like Mercedes who have always chosen to compete with an angle that the car’s diffuser forms with the asphalt much more contained. In fact, when a set-up is heavily beaten it needs to seal the bottom more. In this delicate task, the floor area affected by the new rules helped a lot. Therefore, all the teams will need to recover the “lost load” through different methods.
Basically, this deficiency will lead to an imbalance of the car which will therefore have to be revised. Especially during the 2019 season, we were able to observe a Mercedes equipped with a very stable rear end, planted on the ground, perhaps too much. This “strength” led the car to have an excessively soft front, especially for the taste of Lewis Hamilton, confirmed by the countless complaints on the radio from the Briton. For this reason, the highly decisive factor that actually made the German team stand out was undoubtedly the approach to the aerodynamic package or chassis concept. An aspect of which little is said but which played a fundamental role in the German triumphs. It seems almost impossible to say, but Mercedes copies too.
It modified the central area of the car following Ferrari’s style, significantly lowering the upper anti-intrusion cone by introducing a really important change. The W11, therefore, without increasing the drag of the car, managed to obtain a decidedly superior vertical thrust generated by the car body, supported by a very efficient engine thanks to the excellent work done by the engineers in the remodeling of some components. Similarly, another area of development where the Brackley-based team has pushed hard is the suspension system, with the aim of increasing the aerodynamic potential of the car. There is no mention of changes in the internal components, but rather of the work done on the two triangles.
Mercedes W12: suspension
In this regard, the updates made on the W11 are worth mentioning. The suspension arm of the rear triangle was directly connected to the crash of the FIA coming out of the fairing and undergoing, as for the front, a backward shift. Thanks to this operation, it was possible to clean the flow that subsequently flows above the diffuser, which is also a crucial area for the generation of downforce.
Although the bulk of the work was carried out at the rear, we also noticed some changes on the suspension triangles at the front, leading to small upward shifts. A rise whose purpose was to improve the flows coming from the front wing towards the bargeboard area, essential components in modern Formula 1. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect further developments on the W12 in this part of the car, aimed to further increase performance and use the know-how learned during 2020 by transferring it to the front as well.
A big change, in this case only for Mercedes, will be the DAS ban. This system favored the achievement of the right tyre usage window, being able to change the wheel alignment and raise the temperature of the front tyres more quickly, which turns out to be a very difficult task in many tracks. In 2020 the Brackley-based team was able to make the components work very well in every type of track and conditions, a strong point for the whole championship. One of the issues that Mercedes engineers will have to sort will be precisely that of recovering the lost advantage, if somehow recoverable, remembering how the correct use of Pirelli compounds is fundamental to achieve excellent performance. A small step forward in tyre management can easily be worth half a second or more. In this regard, it is enough to recall the extreme fatigue of the SF1000, almost always unable to make the tyres work properly. Even in the race, after having used twice as much as the other cars to activate the compounds, there was often a sudden cooling in the front halfway through the stint and, even more surprisingly, this value was often unbalanced on the sides of the car.
We also recall how in 2021 the Pirelli compounds will undergo certain changes. The compounds will be stiffer to compensate for the general increase in performance of the cars compared to 2019, the last year in which the tyres were “updated”. This factor could mix things up a lot more than you might think. The multi-titled team has shown great mastery on this point as well, being the only team to test 2021 tyres for a total of laps higher than that indicated by Pirelli. On Friday in Abu Dhabi, the Black Arrows even simulated the race pace with the new front tyres, accumulating extremely precious data for the development of the W12 in view of the coming season.
Further work carried out with great continuity by Mercedes in recent seasons concerns the development of the side pods. In fact, at each presentation of the new cars, we have seen a streamlining, albeit fine, of the side pods. Small changes which, however, are the result of a lot of work in reducing internal dimensions, changing the layout and size of the different elements that make up the Power Unit, improving compactness and efficiency. This area has seen a significant step forward, surprisingly given the stability of the technical regulations.
Mercedes W12: power unit
Over the winter, according to information gathered by FormulaUnoAnalisiTecnica, in addition to the careful work carried out on the combustion chamber to allow a high thermal efficiency, combined with the use of new alloys, the Anglo-German engineers worked on “unlocking” the unexpressed potential on the hybrid by modifying the cooling system. The fact that there was still unexpressed potential is rooted in a number of reliability problems, which forced a more conservative approach during the past season. Despite the usual pre-season alarmist statements, the extra power, originally intended for mapping pushed for qualifying, can also be used in the race from 2021, although it is not known whether for the entire span of a Grand Prix. For this reason, there should be at least 20 more hp that will push the W12 during 2021.
A philosophy imposed by the management that has created an almost idyllic environment admired from the outside. Mercedes is the team where, by definition, there is the greatest openness to the problem. This has helped, for example, to develop systems such as the DAS, capable of leaving the entire Barcelona paddock speechless last February. With these premises, we look forward to see the W12 on track…