On the 2 February Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team unveiled the W12 from the brand new race bay’s which have been in the making over the past 18 months in the Brackley Technology Centre.
The aerodynamic changes have understandably been the main focus of the W12, but a lot of the car is similar to the W11, which was used last season, down to the token system which restricts development hours on parts of the car and the amount of upgrades a team can bring to a car. This has perhaps lessened the amount of work that needed to be done on the car compared to a ‘usual’ off season but this lack of change has also brought its challenges too.
James Allison – Technical Director of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team, states that the changes from 2020 to 2021 is going to be different from team to team, depending on where teams choose to use the development tokens. There may have been fewer changes on the car, but the fact that teams have the freedom of choice on how they spend the development tokens will make the season still an exciting one.
“What’s carried over will look different from team to team, because the rules didn’t require you to carry over the same things, the rules freeze a large chunk of the car, but then give each team two tokens to spend on changing their car.
“Along with the tokens comes a shopping list showing how many tokens are required for each change. How teams decided what to use their tokens on was entirely up to them.”
There are also parts of the car that can be changed without using any of the precious development tokens which include the floor of the car which has had to be changed by all of the teams, down to the 2021 change in regulations.
Mercedes are remaining relatively secretive on how they have spent their tokens, unlike a team like Alfa Romeo who have been very open on how they have spent theirs.
Once the season gets underway, most of the underside of the car must remain the same unless you have specific permission from the FIA, so it is crucial that development over the winter is a success.
“In addition, there are some parts of the car that you can change token-free, for example the Power Unit, the cooling systems, the suspension and of course all of the aerodynamic surfaces. We have spent our tokens, but we won’t reveal how we used them just yet. That’ll become clear in good time.
“Once the racing gets underway, pretty much everything under the skin of the car must then be frozen for the entire year. With the specific permission of the FIA, you can make changes for reliability or cost saving, but if part of your car isn’t performing well, then you are stuck with it for the whole season.”
Contrary to popular belief, the regulation changes to the floor of the car are still significant, but there are still opportunities for improvement and the Mercedes employee’s have been working tirelessly to gain this ‘edge.’
“Our other aerodynamic work has been the normal fare of seeking out aerodynamic opportunity across every square centimetre of the car with particular attention to finding places where we can invest extra weight into fancier aerodynamic geometry”
Another part of the 2021 regulations, is the cars being required to be 6 kilograms heavier, and with the banning of the Dual Axis Steering System, this means that Mercedes have to find even more ways to put weight on the car. Carryover rules have confined the team to increasing the durability on parts so they don’t have to be replaced so frequently and don’t cause a mechanical failure.
“2021 permits the cars to be 6kg heavier, and we have an additional few kilos to spend as a result of DAS being banned. Beyond this, the carryover rules have confined us to figuring out how we can make some parts live longer, so we don’t have to replace or buy them so often.”
There are also new Aerodynamic Testing Restriction rules which come into play this season, which decreases the allocated amount of time for Wind Tunnel Testing and CFD Testing. On top of this the new handicapping system, means that because of their championship victory they will have 22% less time in the wind tunnel compared to last placed team Williams.
“We have always tried to get the most out of every wind tunnel and CFD session, but there’s nothing like having a new constraint imposed to renew the spur to become more productive and efficient, we are determined to find better ways of working so that we can mitigate the effect of this handicapping.”
With Pirelli introducing a new, more durable tyre for the up and coming season and with teams only being able to test the tyres at 3 Grand Prix Weekends, it is crucial to make every single lap count in the up and coming shorter pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit.
“The tyre is a little slower, owing to the trade-off for more durability, but it is consistent and should give us trouble-free racing, however, it will be an interesting competitiveness factor during 2021. Any time a tyre changes, it is always a learning race between the teams to find its sweet spot – where the new rubber gives its best performance.”
All of these different variables that have been changed for 2021, make it far more complicated than the simple ‘carry over’ year which many believe it to be. However, even though these changes are large, the drastic changes for 2022 will undoubtedly be the main focus of all the teams, including Mercedes.
“The ideal situation would be to have a car that is so brilliantly fast, you can almost turn your back on it immediately and focus on the next one,” said James. “But Formula One is never that simple. The siren call of the 2021 racing campaign will inevitably draw our attention from the seismic changes of the 2022 regulations.”
Mercedes will do just about enough to retain a competitive edge for 2021 but put as much focus as possible into the 2022 car, in an attempt to remain at the front of the pack. Managing this is going to be a huge challenge for Mercedes who will also have to think about the budget caps for 2022 on top of this.
“We will walk a tightrope all year between doing enough to be competitive in 2021 and putting as much as we dare into 2022. Managing the bird in the hand and the one in the bush is the eternal challenge of F1 and doing so in the face of both the cost cap and the completely new 2022 technical regulations will be a challenge like no other.”
Fans of Mercedes do not have to wait long until they can see both Valterri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in action at the fastly approaching pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit.