Mercedes may have lost its second place at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix due to excessive skid block wear on Lewis Hamilton’s car, but the race at Austin offered a glimmer of hope about its 2024 prospects.
Having seen Red Bull take a second successive constructors’ title with this season’s peerless RB19, Mercedes rolled out an upgrade that could inform the look of the W14’s successor.
It was encouraging, then, that Hamilton crossed the line within three seconds of race winner Max Verstappen and issued praise for the update package, despite being subsequently disqualified.
Mercedes put the DQ down to a combination of factors, but insisted the updates were not one of them. Technical director James Allison described the weekend as a ‘cast iron vote of confidence’ in the team’s aerodynamic direction, noting that the setup and track bumpiness impacted underfloor wear. This was exacerbated by Austin being a sprint race weekend which forced setup decisions to be locked in much earlier than during a normal Grand Prix.
Mercedes’ changes between Qatar and Austin were headlined by a redesigned floor. At surface level, this was observable in the shape of the floor’s leading edge. The outer flank of this frontal edge was higher than before, altering the airflow to the diffuser for greater downforce. The effect of modifications to the cambered parts of the edge wing were measured using the analogue, but far from ineffective, method of attaching green woollen tufts.
Hamilton later said the upgrades increased his confidence behind the wheel of the W14, which is hugely important on a medium to high-downforce track like Austin.
In the first season of the current ground effect regulations, Mercedes worked on the W13 until the end of the 2022 season. This contributed to it sticking with its troublesome zero-sidepod philosophy for this year, until a major update at Monaco brought it closer in line with other designs on the grid.
Without the option of building a second car around a new chassis, it appears to have gradually morphed the W14 into a springboard for next year’s design. Mercedes’ experimentation of 2024 aero options with a handful of races to go means the team is positioning itself to be a competitive force from the outset, rather than playing catch up.
After the Austin race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: ‘This is a circuit where only a few races ago we wouldn’t have performed well because of the fast,…