Why is Mercedes changing the 2023 F1 car design?

New year same problem for Mercedes as now the team have conceded defeat and will change the concept of their car for 2024, abandoning their 'no' sidepods. But what direction will the team go for?

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After two years of trying and failing to make a radical concept work, Mercedes conceded defeat and gave up on its ‘no’ side pod concept, effectively ruling out any chance of regaining the F1 world championship in 2023.

The concept which briefly turned the Formula 1 world on its axis has produced little success, making the car draggier and putting Mercedes behind Red Bull and Ferrari.

Instead, the team may have to use 2023 as a long and expensive test session, putting the team behind customers Aston Martin, who have seemingly found plenty of pace with their more conventional sidepods.

Lewis Hamilton in action at the 2023 Bahrain GP | Mercedes F1 Team

But why are Mercedes already conceding defeat before the first Grand Prix has even begun, and what will the eight-time constructors’ champions do differently in 2024?

Drag is causing the lion’s share of the problems

The main culprit behind the failure of the zero pods design was the amount of drag it produced, with the issue causing Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to become sitting ducks on the straights.

An example of this came in the 2022 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Amercas, when Hamilton was in a clear lead with just a handful of laps left to run. 

But COTA’s 1.2km long straight in sector 2 of the circuit exposed the weakness of the concept as the drag cost Hamilton time, giving Max Verstappen a chance to breeze by in the final laps.

Verstappen’s victory showcased how Mercedes’ concept was flawed, as Red Bull’s wider sidepods gave him less drag, making it easier for him to eat into Hamilton’s gap.

Haas tested the concept before the 2022 season. However, they found it only gave the team an advantage in the slower corners, making the switch to the broader sidepods.

Lewis Hamilton pounds in the laps as the sun sets on day one of 2023 F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain | LAT Images / Mercedes F1 Team

Lack of competitiveness

Although the times had improved before Saturday’s qualifying session for the Bahrain GP, Mercedes could only manage sixth and seventh for Sunday’s race behind Red Bull and Ferraris.

The lack of competitiveness and qualifying behind Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin has forced Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff to play down the team’s hopes for 2023.

“I don’t think this package is going to be competitive eventually,” said Wolff to the press after qualifying. “We gave it our best go over the winter, and now we need to regroup.

“[We need to] decide what is the development direction we want to pursue. It’s not like last year, [when] you score many podiums, and you get there. I’m sure we can win races this season.

“But it’s its really the mid and long term that we need to look at and which decisions we need to take.”

No decision on what concept the team will change to

Lewis Hamilton crests a rise at the Bahrain International Circuit | LAT Images / Mercedes F1 Team

With the regulations changing in 2026, Mercedes must find a solution quickly to avoid repeats of 2022 and 2023, potentially switching to a conventional form of sidepod for 2024.

Yet still, the team seems non-committal at present as to what concept they will look at for next season, nor are they planning to make any changes in the technical department. 

“I think it’s the whole development of the car,” explains Wolff. “We’re finding good downforce in the tunnel [for] many months. But we got to look at how we can find more.

“I really enjoy working [as] a team and discovering that. I said last year [that] sometimes it’s important for the long-term development [to get it] wrong. 

“I [have] trust [in] the engineers, and we got the physics wrong. Now we need to correct it because there [are] another three years of [these] regulations to go.”

Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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