It was almost forgotten in the face of major tire warm-up problems. Mercedes still suffers from bouncing. In Barcelona they want to get a good deal closer to the solution.
In Imola, Mercedes got away with a black eye. George Russell finished fourth. The team is still 3rd in the World Championship. The key was a rocket launch from 11th to 6th. Russell mostly had a clear run. This brought the tires up to temperature and the Mercedes was able to show its normal form. It could have gone very differently, as the example of Lewis Hamilton shows. The ex-champion was stuck on a DRS train the whole time.
Mercedes' tire problems almost made us forget that there was another major construction site. Bouncing didn't disappear just because hardly anyone was talking about it. It was still there, and even worse than ever. The engineers reveal their internal order: "The bouncing hit us the most in Imola. Then come Jeddah, Melbourne and Bahrain." Imola provided further important information for Mercedes to put the puzzle together correctly on the way out of the trap.
It's all about the questions: when, where, how and why does it occur? And why do others have it less severely or not at all? For example, why does the Ferrari rock at similar points, with a higher amplitude and lower frequency, and why does the red cars stop abruptly when the drivers turn the steering wheel or step on the brakes?
Drivers complain about pain
The learning process is an ordeal for the most successful team of the past. Fourth places are not the claim for a racing team that has won the world championship eight times in a row. Not even for George Russell, although he jumped at every championship point at Williams. At Mercedes, he at least expected regular podium finishes. "We know our car can do more than the results indicate. The bouncing forces us to drive it in a window where it doesn't feel like a real race car."
In Imola, both Mercedes were on the road with more ground clearance on the rear axle than ever before. And yet the drivers were at their breaking point. "Everything hurts when you rock. The hips, the back, the chest. It was the maximum of what is still bearable. But if we go any higher, we lose even more time," complained Russell. Colleague Hamilton is already running out of words. He is reminded of his 2009 McLaren, which suffered from a similar teething condition. It took six months for McLaren to correct the mistakes back then.
Mercedes doesn't want to wait that long. At the same time, the engineers know that it cannot be solved overnight. Because new discoveries are constantly being made that were not expected."We thought it was less bad in the rain because the speeds aren't as high. In fact, it wasn't any better than on a dry road." Team boss Toto Wolff concludes: "It depends on a number of factors: downforce, speed, vehicle height, but also external influences such as wind, bumps, driving in traffic."
Shooting in the black is too risky
The new aerodynamic components that were screwed onto the two Mercedes in Imola were not a reaction to the bouncing. "Just a general development that gave us a little more downforce." To untie the shackle, you need something that is data-supported and explainable. "We could shoot the bull's-eye and hope to hit," says an engineer. "Even if we were lucky, the problem wouldn't be off the table. Because then you still don't get it. The next upgrade could backfire again."
This is also the reason why Ferrari hesitates with big upgrades. The championship leader also suffers from bouncing, although it doesn't cost the drivers any lap time. But that can change quickly if you make major changes to the car without knowing how it will affect bouncing. "We're going to take further steps to alleviate it first," says team boss Mattia Binotto.
In this respect, Red Bull holds a trump card. Bouncing is minimal and the engineers seem to have gotten it. Also the last upgrade in Imola worked as expected. Technical director Adrian Newey says: "It's a pure aerodynamic problem that will never completely disappear with these cars. You have to live with it as much as possible." According to Newey, the key is to manage the various flow structures under the car in such a way that there is never a vacuum that is so great that it sucks the car to the road.
Comparative test in Barcelona
In its detective work, Mercedes has prepared a number of tests for the future races that should shed more light on the darkness. "We'll try something in Miami and then again in Barcelona." Toto Wolff places his hopes particularly on Barcelona. "We drove with our presentation model during the winter test. It had much less bouncing than the second specification, which we then brought to Bahrain. The data comparison between the two cars should bring us a step further."
The engineers warn against automatically declaring Barcelona the turning point: "First we have to fully understand the problem, then pour it into a mathematical model, then fix it. As painful as it is at the moment, we have to get through it. It There's no quicker way out, at least not one that we can see. Correcting anything now doesn't make sense if you don't know what the 'something' is supposed to look like. If you do that, you're making it worse instead of better."
You could theoretically recreate the problem in a wind tunnel, but according to Mercedes and Red Bull, hardly anyone will do that. "It would need an extremely light model and you would have to shake the car at ten times the frequency, um represent reality," explains Newey.