Mercedes can pinpoint "one moment" during the design phase of its 2022 Formula 1 car where they made a fundamental mistake – one they are still trying to overcome.
New technical regulations for 2022 brought ground effect back into F1, with the breed of cars drastically different to those of the '17-'21 era in which Mercedes continued their domination from the early years of the turbo hybrid engine formula.
However, the team's W13 design has been off the pace in 2022 compared to the RB18 of Red Bull and F1-75 of Ferrari, with the Silver Arrows in danger of a first winless season since 2011.
The car was affected in the early stages by the aerodynamic phenomenon known as porpoising, with it taking multiple races for new technical director Mike Elliott and his team to understand and rectify the problem.
Although this has been done to some extent, the W13 is still prone to fluctuations in performance, as well as struggling to get heat into its tyres for qualifying and not always being competitive on low downforce tracks.
And Elliott believes the root cause of this is down to one single decision taken by the team in the initial design phase.
Mercedes' problems caused by one mistake
"You look at how we developed the car, and I can point to one moment in time last year where we did something where I think we made a mistake," Elliott explained on F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast.
"What you’re seeing in terms of performance and the way it swings from race to race is a consequence of that, and that’s a mistake we’ve known about for a while.
"It's something we’ve been correcting and that’s why our performance has gradually got better.
"But it’s not something we can fully correct for a little while yet, and we will do over the winter."
While Elliott would not elaborate any further on the exact details of the mistake, the design of the Mercedes floor has been suspected to be the root cause of its drop in performance.
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FIA reaction to Mercedes sidepods
In the first pre-season test, Mercedes appeared with a regular car, with regular sidepods, although this had drastically changed by the second test in Bahrain.
Its unique 'zero' sidepod approach attracted attention from all teams in the pit lane to see if it was legal and quick.
Elliott outlined the FIA's initial surprise at seeing the design.
"The aerodynamicists come up with the idea, we take another group of people, generally run by our chief designer, they will go and look for themselves and see if they can shoot it down," Elliott explained when asked how the team decided the usual design was legal in-house.
"Before the test, we’d shown it to FIA, we discussed it with them, and their first reaction was: 'Ah, that’s not what we intended' and they worked through it as well, [to] see whether they can challenge it.
"When you look at the sidepod, people say: 'It looks very different, that must work completely different to the rest of the cars,' and it doesn't, it’s just a slightly different solution.
"Aerodynamically, I don’t think it’s a massive departure from the other cars, it’s just something that adds a little bit of performance for us."
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