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Don't write them off: New Mercedes W04 technical analysis

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Don't write them off: New Mercedes W04 technical analysis
Feb 4, 2013, 7:43 PM

Mercedes rolled out its new car today, the F1 W04.

Mercedes rolled out its new car today, the F1 W04. A lot of work has gone into this car, especially around the cockpit area and on thermal management. We are yet to see what they have in mind on the front and rear wings, but it looks like a lot of careful detailed work has been carried out by Aldo Costa and his team, so here is our analysis of what's been done and what it will mean for Mercedes' chances this year.

Background

Mercedes went down a high tech route last year with the double DRS and paid a price for that. This year, it looks like they have a more traditional aerodynamic concept.

They are playing catch up, but it is certainly possible over the next ten months for them to close the gap on the front runners. It's early days and we've not seen any times, but with the drivers they have and the resources they have at Brackley, it would be a mistake to write them off this year. Certainly they should be aiming at winning some races.

Until we get to the business end of testing it will be hard to see exactly at what level they start the season relative to the Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus cars.

The car in detail: Front wing

Mercedes say that the car is based around "a new five element front wing", but this is puzzling, as what was on the car today was the same as Brazil. Clearly they are not going to show all their goodies in Round One.

The nose has been reshaped and features a vanity panel over the step, but the one shown today on the track is otherwise similar to last year; the under nose and turning vane are the same.

Based on what we saw today, it looks like least work has been done on front. So we expect to see that updated as the tests go on.

One vital area of change is the front and rear wheel rims, in terms of spoke geometry. They have updated the wheel nuts too. This might seem very trivial but it's important on two counts: it looks like they are aiming at faster pit stops (like Ferrari), but also they have done a lot of work on thermal efficiency and this tells us a lot about this new car, as we shall see.

Cockpit area

This is all completely new, a lot of work has been done in this area. From the roll hoop, all the way to the floor, the bargeboards, everything is new. There is a lot more detail here than on previous Mercedes F1 cars and this is where the car is much more "sophisticated" than the 2012 model, as Ross Brawn put it.

It is interesting to see how closed are the side pod openings. The Mercedes engine needs quite a bit of cooling, relative to the Renault, for example, but this Mercedes has an aggressive cooling treatment.

There is a surprising amount of detail just below the cockpit opening; a three element cascade bolted onto the chassis, working with side pod turning vanes. There is a lot of intricate work to clean up the air flow around and over the side pods. The roll hoop geometry has changed, it's less triangular, they have got rid of additional entrances.

They have worked a lot on thermal management because there is a lot of performance to be gained in the hotter races when you normally have to start opening up the bodywork for cooling, which loses you a lot of downforce, especially at the rear. To have the baseline improved could give them a nice gain in the hotter races.

Rear end

The rear of the car has been tidied up and looks cleaner. The bodywork has been closed down quite a bit, but the temperatures in Jerez now are lower than they will be in races like Bahrain. The car today ran with a lot of temperature sensors on the car. It's likely that this car is much more efficient in the higher temperatures than it has been in the past.

This is really important; if you have a weak cooling package, you are forced to open up bodywork at the rear of the car and this leads to rear end aero instability. This is one of the Renault engine's strong points; Red Bull, Williams, Lotus and Caterham can get away with less cooling than rival teams.

The rear looks cleaner, but doesn't look revolutionary; the Coke Bottle at the rear has been cleaned up, the engine cover is pulled in slightly.

The rear brake caliper position has been changed, partly for weight but mainly for cooling reasons.

You want to get the heat out of the rear tyres as much as possible during races, to keep them cool. Last year's Mercedes went through its rear tyres too quickly in races.

This will have been first order priority when updating the car for 2013. Work has been done on the wheel rims and other parts of the rear corner, to get the heat out of there as quickly as possible. Also having a more stable car aerodynamically will help with rear tyre wear. You have to have a well-balanced and stable car.

Last year's tyres were so sensitive, it was imperative to manage the temperatures; once the rear tyres got too hot, it was all over.

As for the Coanda exhaust, it's similar to last year, but there has been work on the channelling; the fence on the exit of the coanda has been updated and is a curved shape.

Rear wing

The rear wing seen here is largely a carry over. The DRS actuation is more standard now, the endplates look identical to the 2012 ones. They have made some changes to the lower beam wing

[Additional Technical Input: Mark Gillan]

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