Mercedes is finally running its Formula 1 car closer to its intended set-up, leaving the team encouraged in its bid to unlock the potential of the W13’s concept.
George Russell outqualified the Red Bull of Sergio Perez and will start fourth at the Spanish Grand Prix, the first time a Mercedes driver has made it onto the first two rows of the grid this season.
Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton have been more competitive throughout the weekend than at any other event and looked like they might challenge Red Bull and Ferrari even more closely in qualifying before fading slightly in Q3.
After spending the first few races compromised while trying to understand why its car suffers from porpoising so much, and conducting experiments at the recent Miami Grand Prix, Mercedes committed to updates for this weekend’s race in Spain.
These include a slot added to the outer edge of the floor, and a new bib vane added to the keel in the middle of the car.
Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott says these new parts have “definitely settled the car down” while team principal Toto Wolff said the team now “understands” the porpoising problem.
This is a crucial development as Mercedes returns to a track it ran in pre-season testing with an older car concept with more conventional sidepods.
There had been increasing questions about whether Mercedes’ new concept was fundamentally flawed.
But Mercedes had been encouraged by a brief show of serious performance in Friday practice in Miami before bizarrely slipping back over the rest of the weekend – and
Elliott says that gave it “a few clues”.
“The package we brought here, we’re definitely able to run the car in a position much more close to where we’d ideally run it,” said Elliott.
“So there’s a chunk of downforce that comes from that. And the car just is a lot more settled.
“The drivers look happy now. There’s the sort of body language is coming from them that says that they feel a car that feels a bit more like a race car.”
Mercedes conducted a filming day in advance of the Spanish GP but Russell echoed Elliott’s assertion that Miami was key, where Russell said Mercedes found the “solution”.
Russell said the car is now not “fundamentally different” through the corner but “just had more grip”, although he suggested that was from the mechanical set-up and that Mercedes had sacrificed peak downforce to get to this stage.
“We could get the car lower to the ground, and we knew that’s what would come with solving the porpoising,” said Russell.
“But I think we lost a lot of overall downforce to achieve [that] and the car is probably not quite as quick as we’d like at the moment to be fighting with the guys at the front.
“Now we know this is our baseline, we can really build off that and find a lot more performance.”
Russell feels Mercedes has struggled to get the tyres in the right window at Barcelona, where he and Hamilton have been very quick in the first sector before fading through the lap.
Wolff said Hamilton’s feedback was that “the car finally felt like a Formula 1 car” but Hamilton lacked Russell’s consistency throughout Saturday’s running and trailed him in all of qualifying.
He was barely a tenth slower in Q3 and put the deficit down to “struggling with the car”, but was buoyed by Mercedes’ general progress and confirmed there has been an improvement.
“We don’t have the bouncing in a straight line which is a huge, huge difference,” Hamilton said.
“But we still have some bouncing in Turn 3 and Turn 9, so we’ve still got some porpoising, but the car is going in right direction.
“In Q2, we were quickest so that’s a glimpse of hope for the team.”
Wolff said that Mercedes would now be able to commit to more normal development “to unlock more performance” as other teams have “been able to continue develop their car while we have been a little in a pause to find out about the bouncing”.
Hamilton added: “I’m 100% confident in the team, I know we’ve now made this step, I’ve seen five races, I’ve finally seen a step, and now we know the direction to go.
“Now just waiting for the engineers, the aerodynamicists to come through with some more bits for us to progress.
“In Monaco, it’s much slower corners, so hopefully will be better there.”