Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The false dawn F1 puzzle that Miami gave Mercedes new hope

Mercedes had something of a false dawn at the Miami Grand Prix, with the Formula 1 team topping the times in Friday practice thanks to some upgrades.

The false dawn F1 puzzle that Miami gave Mercedes new hope
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But as the weekend carried on, Mercedes could not recapture that form and it again found itself fighting at the front of the midfield pack rather than with Ferrari and Red Bull.

What Mercedes now needs to understand is whether it was flattered by Friday or underperformed over the rest of the weekend.

One factor that appears to have played to Mercedes on Friday was that its tyre warm up struggles were masked by track temperatures and a lack of rubber on the new surface. This contributed towards the team being able to find a sweet spot during Friday’s running, something it failed to achieve on Saturday, as grip ramped up and the track evolved.

Although Mercedes did make some set-up changes between Friday and Saturday, in an attempt to extract more performance, the rollercoaster form has at least confirmed to the team that the problems with its W13 are not entirely aerodynamic in nature.

In fact, ill-effects posed by porpoising are just one of the puzzle pieces that the German car manufacturer needs to resolve in order to get the best from the W13.

Mercedes introduced a handful of new components for the Miami GP to try and both boost performance and cater for the demands of the new track. While it is fighting to resolve issues with the car, the team's design ingenuity certainly doesn’t seem to have been suppressed – as its new front wing design is by far and away the most unique interpretation of the new regulations we’ve seen so far.

George Russell, Mercedes W13, arrives on the grid

George Russell, Mercedes W13, arrives on the grid

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Making a paradigm shift

Up until now, most teams have toed the line with regards to the design of the front wing elements and the endplate juncture, with each of the designs similar to those presented by FOM before the season got underway.

The regulations in this region of the car had purposely been formulated to work in conjunction with the 18-inch wheel rims, lower profile tyres, wheel covers and less complex brake duct designs, in order to reduce the amount of outwash that had been possible under the previous regulation set.

However, Mercedes’ approach represents somewhat of a paradigm shift, as the resultant changes are likely responsible for a sizeable shift in the behaviour of the local airflow, which will, in-turn, affect the wake created by the front tyre.

Mercedes W13 endplate comparison

Mercedes W13 endplate comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To facilitate this, the design of the flaps at the outboard end of the wing have been entirely redesigned, resulting in the leading edge of the mainplane being upturned and its chord length significantly shortened.

It has also allowed the three flaps thereafter to be positioned further forward on the endplate when viewed from the side, which requires them to be swept forward quite aggressively.

This also results in the tight radius at the juncture between the flaps and endplate to be unwound. This has been replaced instead by angular surfaces.

These changes all lead to an edge being exposed on the endplate that would otherwise be connected to the flaps, not only creating a pathway for the airflow to emerge sooner but also at a higher point.

Mercedes W13 end plate inside component

Mercedes W13 end plate inside component

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Interestingly, there are also sections on both the uppermost flaps that have featherlike slots (red arrow) that will likely produce a collection of smaller vortices that will help manage the core vortex that’s being generated at the flap and endplate intersection.

You’ll note that there’s metalwork being used to strengthen the swept outer section of the upper two flaps to help manage the associated loads.

The changes found at the front of the car were not the only ones made by the team for Miami, as it also overhauled its rear wing too.

The design was not circuit-specific though, as it had already been looking for ways to change downforce levels over the course of the last few races, adding and removing a trailing edge Gurney flap and trimming the upper flap to alter the load being generated and with it, the drag too (previous spec inset, below, with the dotted line showing how much of the upper flap had been cut away).

Mercedes W13 rear wing comparison Miami GP

Mercedes W13 rear wing comparison Miami GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The wing’s redesign not only featured a revised upper flap, as the upturned leading edge of the mainplane was also discarded, whilst the design takes up less space within the allowable box section, as can also be noted by the more open corner radius where it meets with the endplate (blue arrows).

Changes have also been made to help de-power the beam wing, as the trailing edge of the upper element has been cut back to reduce that element's chord length (red arrow).

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