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Mercedes

The huge upgrade gamble Mercedes are taking in Monaco

Mercedes will be bringing their much-vaunted upgrade package to Monaco – instead of waiting for the Spanish Grand Prix – and this is a giant risk.

With the exception of the carry-over of cars from 2020 to 2021, so-called b-spec upgrades are rare in modern Formula 1.

They are usually brought to a car when a team could not quite get the package ready for the start of the season, and have to muddle through a number of Grands Prix before the new parts can finally be unleashed.

Perhaps the best example of this in (somewhat) recent times is Force India (now Aston Martin) in 2015 with the VJM08 and VJM08B machines.

Having faced a difficult pre-season, missing most of the running due to financial issues, the team's launch car proved reliable but certainly not quick, as Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg scored 31 points from eight races before the huge b-spec was introduced at the British Grand Prix.

The VJM08B was the car which featured the unique 'nostril' design in the nose and, in the remaining 11 races, scored 105 points including a podium as they rallied to take fifth in the Constructors' for the first time.

But the situation Mercedes find themselves in is vastly different – bringing the b-spec to the track simply because the current car concept doesn't work and they need to get themselves facing into a direction where they could begin to hunt down Red Bull.

Mercedes' Monaco risk

Mercedes originally intended to bring this huge raft of upgrades to Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but as that race was cancelled owing to the floods and extreme weather in the region, it was forced to be delayed.

Looking at the calendar, that was no big deal however as, after the out-lier of Monaco, there is the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, aka the ultimate test track in Formula 1.

Lewis Hamilton has probably long forgotten the number of laps he has driven there down the years, and so teams have the added bonus of hundreds of thousands of hours of data to fall back on while testing upgrades and new parts at Barcelona.

With the possible exceptions of Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, Barcelona is the best circuit F1 visits if you are planning on introducing such a vast upgrade package to the car: every nook and cranny of the place is known, and both Hamilton and George Russell would be definitively able to provide rock solid feedback on the new parts.

But Mercedes are bringing the upgrades to Monaco. That is a huge risk and has potential to backfire.

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Monaco is an outlier

The Circuit de Monaco is an outlier on the F1 calendar: unlike any other circuit, this is the ultimate 'drivers' circuit' where a brave or foolhardy (there is a fine line) driver can make the difference and drag an unfancied runner to a memorable result.

As such, the overriding thing a driver must have in the Principality is confidence, and they need to build all of this up throughout practice and go just over the limit in qualifying without leaving the mechanics a long repair job. It is about knowing the car beneath your backside and extracting every drop out of it.

But instead of doing this over the weekend, Hamilton and Russell must now spend their time logging laps and gaining data on the upgrades while 18 others try to thread the eye of a needle.

In practice sessions, the clock continues to tick down under red flag conditions – of which there is almost universally one during the three hours of Monte Carlo practice, and would carve into the practice time available to the drivers as they pound around.

Mercedes must be pretty confident that even a car it half-understands in the W14B is a better prospect in Monaco than the troublesome W14 itself.

It might not be fully understood (because if it was, the b-spec would not be introduced at all), but W14 is a car Mercedes have been working with for almost half a year, and so have a rough idea on what works and what doesn't.

They are effectively starting all over again with the W14B in Monaco, which is perhaps the worst track on the calendar to do the kind of extensive data logging required with this new package.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

However, on the other hand

On the flipside, getting the upgrades on track as soon as possible and doing so one race earlier is a good move.

All data is good data, and so getting on track in Monaco would allow the team to crunch the numbers and arrive in Barcelona the weekend after with an idea of where to put the W14B and immediately hit the ground running rather than worry about the data gathering.

This is not an upgrade that will suddenly have Mercedes snapping at the heels of Red Bull and the class-leading RB19. Instead, it is one aimed at giving the team a development path with which it aims to begin the process of reeling Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in.

It will provide excellent base knowledge for 2024's W15 machine, the one that Hamilton will be hoping can get him back in the title fight to claim that eighth crown as Verstappen will surely be going for his fourth.

Also interesting:

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