W13's issues evident from the outset, admits Shovlin


Mercedes trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin admits that the team was aware that the W13 was likely to be a dud almost from the outset.

The German team had adopted a radical ‘zero-sidepod' approach this year, and this, combined with an approach to the rules overhaul which resulted in its cars being the most susceptible to 'porpoising' resulted in a season in which it was only in the latter stages that it became a true force. Indeed, it was at the penultimate race of the season that the reigning champions secured their only win of the year.

Andrew Shovlin has admitted that the team was aware it was facing a tough year as early as that first demo run in mid-February.

"The signs were there from the very, very early running, even on the filming day that we did at Silverstone," admits Shovlin in a post-season video debrief.

"We then went for three days in Barcelona and the car was not that competitive," he continues, "but we were expecting a big update that we were going to bring to Bahrain and that was the point that we realised that we had a serious issue at that test.

"We put the update kit on and it simply didn’t make the car go quicker," he admits. "It’s been an interesting year from there on, but it has been a lot of work to do to try and get on top of those problems."

Though the German team never got fully on top of its problems, many of which appeared to be track specific, Shovlin is confident that the progress made in the latter stages of the season will be carried over.

"The big body of work that’s been going on for the last number of months has been to make sure that those issues on the 13 don’t get carried on to the 14," he says.

"We made good progress there and you can see that in some of the later updates, particularly the update that we brought to Austin, put us that bit closer to the front.

"A lot of our focus was making sure we can develop an update kit, bring it to the track and actually see it translate to performance and hopefully the culmination of that work will mean that we can get an altogether more competitive package together for next year."

Some have said that Mercedes should have abandoned the zero sidepod and essentially copied Red Bull and Ferrari.

"Most of the engineering, certainly from the aerodynamic point of view, a lot of it are the bits you can't see under the floor," explains Shovlin. "That is where a lot of that work is.

"The sidepod concept was something that we had to commit to anyway for the year realistically. But if we'd been more focused on just trying to find a quick fix, we may have been copying and rolling it out and seeing what it does.

"The goal for us was always to try and understand it ourselves and learn and find our own path, because if you want to win, and you want to win races and world championships, you don't get there by copying everyone else's design. All our other cars have had pioneering features on them, they had clever ideas. We have tried to be leading with the technology, so we'll carry on doing that."

However, other than its 'obstinacy' over the zero-sidepods, many have pointed to the W13's high drag, as opposed to Red Bull's low-drag approach which gave the Austrian team's cars a significant speed advantage.

"When you've got a completely new set of rules, it's difficult to know where everyone is going to design to," says Shovlin. "Their car looks like it has less drag if we put the same wings on it.

"In the earlier part of the year, we were having to run very high downforce levels, which was certainly not helping from that point of view. But if you look at Brazil, we didn't have the fastest car, but we could overtake them and we were able to get the 1-2.

"So making it quick in a straight line is not our highest priority. And one of the fastest in a straight line is the Williams. So it doesn't define your performance level.

"But when you are very similar, obviously, it's a nice advantage to have," he admits. "So it's something we'd like to fix. It's just that the priority will always be the base performance of the car and getting that in the right place."

In terms of porpoising, just when the German team appeared to have resolved the phenomenon it returned in the latter stages of the year.

However, Shovlin believes the new floor edge rules for 2023 will help.

"The more you load up the floor, the more you can trigger those problems," he explains. "Where we have made very good progress is in the straight-line.

"Back in Imola, Jeddah, Bahrain, all those early races, the car was bouncing really badly at high speed. And we managed to get a really good handle on that.

"There were still issues we got when the car rolled in a fast corner and the floor gets to a point where it's touching," he admits. "And that can cause a bit of unsteadiness. But the rule changes for next year will help that.

"Fundamentally, though, they're not going to make the problem go away," he warns. "They'll make it a bit easier for the teams. But we're hopeful that the work we put into the learning and the understanding in the early part of the year will help us at least develop to a good baseline next year."

As far as Lewis and George are concerned, that will be a case of 'fingers crossed'.

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Published: 09/12/2022
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