Mercedes' wood path: How Adrian Newey smelled a rat

by Mathias Brunner - Automatic translation from German

When Formula 1 entered the new wing car era, fans discovered pleasing diversity in terms of sidepods. However, Mercedes' way proved to be the wrong one. Red Bull technical genius suspected as much.

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It is in the nature of Formula 1 that the pursuers orient themselves to the best in class. And the best in class has been Red Bull Racing for two years.

One racing team after another is following Red Bull Racing's example in the tricky aerodynamic area of the sidepods. Even arch-rival Mercedes-Benz turned away from the solution of the extremely compact sidepods.

In Spain 2023, Ferrari followed suit, and team boss Fred Vasseur explained it this way: "We think the update will give us more room for manoeuvre in terms of further development."

When Formula 1 entered the new era of winged cars at the beginning of 2022, there were three possible solutions for the sidepods: the one from Red Bull Racing, the one from Ferrari with the dent affectionately called "bathtub" by the Italians, and the ultra-compact variant from Mercedes-Benz ("size zero").

Already during the 2022 season, racing teams were adapting to the RBR concept, starting with Williams; this trend continued at the beginning of 2023, when Aston Martin put a great race car on wheels for Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll. Meanwhile, Mercedes (since Monaco) and Ferrari (since Spain) have also switched to similar side-box designs. Haas will follow suit in the USA.

Mercedes' "size zero" concept has failed, and Ferrari sees more development potential in RBR's solution than with the bathtub.

The racing teams are experimenting with a wide variety of concepts in the wind tunnel. Was size zero also an issue at Red Bull Racing, as it was at Mercedes? Adrian Newey, the best Formula One technician of the last thirty years, says in the podcast Beyond The Grid: "Of course, in view of the designs of the opponents you always ask yourself: Have I perhaps overlooked something? Should we also research in this direction to be on the safe side? But my gut feeling told me - no, better we do our thing."

As it turned out, the Mercedes W13 was "a real diva" (Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff), the car was even more strikingly prone to pitching on the track than the opposing cars, and by the end of 2022 Mercedes stood with only one victory (George Russell in Brazil).

How did Adrian Newey go about building the new wing car? "The regulations are very tight, so you don't want to go wrong with important parts where a bit of clearance is possible. So I concentrated on the front and rear suspensions. With the fairing, you can touch up later if necessary, it's more difficult with the basic architecture."

"It also didn't help that we were involved in the 2021 World Championship battle with Mercedes and were developing at full steam until the end of the season. Ferrari had focused on the new car early on and were often faster in the first half of the 2022 season. We, on the other hand, possibly had the better basic structure and were also able to step up in terms of development over the course of the 2022 season, taking the Drivers' Championship with Max Verstappen and winning the Constructors' Cup."

Japan GP, Suzuka Circuit

01 Max Verstappen (NL), Red Bull Racing, 1:30:58.421 h
02 Lando Norris (GB), McLaren, +19.387 sec
03 Oscar Piastri (AUS), McLaren, +36.494
04th Charles Leclerc (MC), Ferrari, +43.998
05 Lewis Hamilton (GB), Mercedes, +49.376
06th Carlos Sainz (E), Ferrari, +50,221
07th George Russell (GB), Mercedes, +57,659
08 Fernando Alonso (E), Aston Martin, +1:14.725
09 - Esteban Ocon (F), Alpine, +1:19.678
10th Pierre Gasly (F), Alpine, +1:23.155
11th Liam Lawson (NZ), AlphaTauri, +1 lap
12th Yuki Tsunoda (J), AlphaTauri, +1 lap
13th Guanyu Zhou (RCH), Alfa Romeo, +1 lap
14th Nico Hülkenberg (D), Haas, +1 lap
15th Kevin Magnussen (DK), Haas, +1 lap
Out
Alex Albon (T), Williams, collision damage
Logan Sargeant (USA), Williams, collision damage
Lance Stroll (CDN), Aston Martin, rear wing failure
Sergio Pérez (MEX), Red Bull Racing, collision damage
Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Alfa Romeo, collision damage

World Championship standings (after 16 of 22 Grand Prix, incl. 3 of 6 sprints)

Drivers
01 Verstappen 400 points
02. Pérez 223
03. Hamilton 190
04. Alonso 174
05. Sainz 150
06. Leclerc 135
07 Norris 115
08. Russell 115
09th Piastri 57
10th Stroll 47
11th Gasly 46
12th Ocon 38
13th Albon 21
14th Hülkenberg 9
15th Bottas 6
16th Zhou 4
17th Tsunoda 3rd
18th Magnussen 3
19th Lawson 2
20th Sargeant 0
21 De Vries 0
22nd Ricciardo 0

Constructors' Cup
01st Red Bull Racing 623 points
02. Mercedes 305
03. Ferrari 285
04. Aston Martin 221
05. McLaren 172
06. Alpine 84
07. Williams 21
08. Haas 12
09. Alfa Romeo 10
10. AlphaTauri 5