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Mercedes thinks it has finally found ride height sweet spot for 2024 F1 car

Mercedes thinks it has finally unlocked a ride height sweet spot for its 2024 Formula 1 car, after failing to get in the right window for the past two seasons. 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

The German manufacturer has endured a challenging time since the switch to ground-effect cars at the start of the 2022 campaign. 

Last year's W13 was blighted by porpoising, and the squad battled with a too-small ride height operating window for where its car produced downforce, which effectively forced it to run very close to the ground. 

This had a double whammy effect of risking bouncing as the downforce levels increased but also required the car to be run with stiff suspension that exposed it to problems with bumpy tracks and kerbs. 

For this year's W14, the team aimed at delivering downforce over a much wider range of ride heights, which it felt would be helped by the FIA lifting the edge of the floors by 15mm. 

But it is understood Mercedes ended up being too cautious with its ride height approach. Having been shy of running close to the ground, it found itself running much higher than others – which left performance on the table.

This has been confirmed by technical director James Allison, who this week said the decision was prompted by it wanting to avoid the risk of porpoising problems.

"Although we made great strides last year, 2023 presented all the Teams with a rule change that offered some protection against bouncing," he said. "Over the winter we faced a choice. Go aggressive and trade the bouncing protection in the rule change for performance, or take a more cautious route and steer clear of the sort of porpoising that wrecked our season last year.

"We chose the cautious path, knowing that it would be less painful to correct if we were wrong. The story of our year so far has been mostly about finding out that we had been too cautious and making the changes to correct that."

The extremely complicated nature of the current generation of cars, which are reliant on the harnessing of vortices underneath the floor, means that making a radical change of ride height means an almost total rethink of aero maps – something that is not really possible mid-season. 

Instead, it is something that Mercedes feels can only be addressed over the winter as it looks to its new car. 

Mike Elliott, Technology Director, Mercedes-AMG, in a Press Conference

Mike Elliott, Technology Director, Mercedes-AMG, in a Press Conference

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

And having run too low in 2022, and too high this year, chief technical officer Mike Elliott believes it has got things properly addressed for its W15 2024 car. 

Asked by Motorsport.com if he felt Mercedes had pinpointed the sweet spot, Elliott said: "The real difficulty is, if you look at the aero testing restrictions, you've got so limited a number of runs, and you've got to pick a direction and go for it. 

"If you go down the route of saying I want to develop a car for high ride height or low ride height, and I want to be able to cover all my bases, then suddenly you'd be doing like three runs a week on each one and going nowhere.  

"So, you have to sort of pick a direction and go in it. Then, as you learn, you can tweak that direction and move it slightly. I like to think we've sort of gotten ourselves into the right place for the winter." 

While Mercedes is devoting most of its focus to the 2024 car now, Elliott says that will not stop it from developing its W14 as much as it can. 

"I think there's still learning we can do, and there's still P2 to fight for in the championship," he said. "We'll keep developing, but obviously our prime focus now is next year's car." 

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Elliott did not feel that keeping work on developing this year's car would compromise any efforts for next season, even though it is expected to be a very different design. 

"Fundamentally, we want to be winning world championships," he said. "I think that's our prime focus and we'll put our efforts into doing that.  

"I think when you look at trying to develop a brand-new car, when you're making architectural changes, it's hard to sort of keep that pace in the tunnel. So, in actual fact, some of the running we're doing for this year's car is just helpful learning and it's helpful learning at the track, without really hindering next year's car."

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