How Mercedes overcame latest F1 rules threat

In our latest instalment focused on Mercedes’ amazing run of winning cars, we arrive at yet another rule change that the team dealt with in style to stop rivals catching up.

That challenge came at the start of 2019 when the FIA approved a raft of new aero rules aimed to slowing the cars down but also improving their ability to race closely.

But despite all that was thrown at it, and the pit falls exposed by a rules overhaul, Mercedes produced in the W10 another brilliant challenger.

The rule changes

2018 vs 2019 rules, front wing comparison, top view

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2018 vs 2019 rules, front wing comparison, bottom view

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2019 brake duct fins rules

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2019 front blown axle rules

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2019 bargeboard regulation

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2018 vs 2019 rear wing regulation

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes met this challenge with its usual vigour, having several front wing specifications at its disposal during pre-season testing. But, whilst Mercedes was fielding designs with a more conventional full flap configuration, the likes of Ferrari operated at the other end of the spectrum with what became known as the unloaded design.

Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Alfa Romeo Racing C38 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes W10 front wing endplate

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Mercedes W10 front wing endplate comparison

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Mercedes W10 front wing flap

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Suspended sentence

Whilst there were plenty of aerodynamic changes to consider for 2019, Mercedes focused a huge amount of attention on its suspension, as it was keen not only to deal with the challenges of this rule change but also eyed what was originally on the horizon for 2021.

The upright extension that had come along as a consequence of the last regulation change was retained, but as we can see a concerted effort was being made by the team to remove weight from the assembly without compromising its ability to withstand the associated loads. 

With the bracket exposed in this illustration, we can see that it’s a design that would be impossible with conventional manufacturing techniques thanks to the extremely complex organic, lattice-like geometries used that require the parts to be printed. 

The team also moved to a more extreme Pushrod on Upright (PoU) solution (red arrow, left / knuckle on the pushrod, right), which alters the cars ride height when the driver applies a steering input.

As the car is steered left or right, the front end of the car is drawn closer to the ground, which has numerous aerodynamic benefits if it’s applied correctly, both in terms of the front wing and also parts associated with the front of the floor.

It’s an idea that we’d already seen Ferrari pursue over the last few years and trialled by several others. But the overwhelming consensus always seemed to be that the drivers struggled with the counter-intuitive steering process that’s required as a consequence of the system.

The primary issue faced by the drivers is the steering wheel doesn’t automatically recentre and needs to be pulled back over by the driver as they exit the corner.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 front suspension detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes was also developing in a new direction when it came to its inboard suspension too, with a new, more traditionally sprung heave damper arrangement favoured over the fully hydraulic arrangement it had been using for a number of years.

Of course, this wasn’t done by accident but was part of a measured response to the incoming ban on hydraulically assisted suspension elements for 2021 (now 2022).

Mercedes was keen to get ahead of that curve and not have to learn the ropes with a traditional setup whilst also having an all-new car to deal with.

Interestingly it didn’t just jump back to the traditional coil spring arrangement favoured by many of its rivals though. Instead it used a Belleville washer spring arrangement.

When packaged and set up correctly it offered more accuracy, versatility and stability. This was always the preferred choice of Red Bull for a number of years, whilst others have merely had passing forays.

Meanwhile, at the rear of the car, the team was thinking about how it could use the higher upright position to make further gains, with an aperture made in the forward face that formed an additional inlet. 

This ‘inlet’ could then feed airflow through to the wheel side of the assembly given a thoroughfare had been conveniently made by the location of an adjuster.

This inlet would then provide a supply of fresh, cool air to the void between the wheel rim and brake drum, creating a sort of thermal barrier that reduced the transfer of heat from the rear brakes to the wheel rim and consequently stabilized the bulk temperature of the rear tyre.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 old barge board

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 barge board

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes AMG F1 W10, barge board Japanese GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The bargeboard region of the car was still massively important, in fact perhaps even more than it had been when the rules were last changed in 2017.

With less tools at the aerodynamicists’ disposal on the front wing, they were less able to affect the front tyre wake. This put even more of an onus on the design of the bargeboards, sidepod deflectors, the front section of the floor and even the sidepods as teams looked to recover the performance that had been lost.

Mercedes was particularly proactive in this arena, having several large update packages throughout the season in order to try to improve performance.

The first major update (middle) focused on the downwash winglets hung from the side of the chassis, the boomerang winglets on top of the bargeboard cluster and the first deflector.

Another big update arrived at the Japanese Grand Prix too. The team focused on the deflector region, updating the first element and adding the venetian blind-style horizontal panels that had become a popular addition elsewhere up and down the grid. It also opted to separate the main deflector tower from the horizontal flap that runs over the top of the sidepod.

These changes came fairly late into the season and, at a point where the team had already pretty much wrapped up both titles, it suggested that the parts had perhaps been developed with the W11 in mind and would not only offer a performance uplift but also give the team more data to work through heading into 2020.

Devils in the details…

As we’ve seen throughout this series, Mercedes has frequently looked at serrated surfaces as a way of improving performance. And 2019 was no exception in that respect.

A solution we’ve seen before had a revival in Baku, as the trailing edge of the rear wings mainplane was furnished with a serrated trailing edge to help improve straight line speed.

The DRS actuator pod was also treated to some serrations too, with the design reminiscent of the trailing edge chevrons seen on some aircraft nacelles. It appears the intention was to reduce some of the aerodynamic hysteresis that’s created by the body of the pod and affects the performance of the flap behind it.

As we’ve already established, the team had a large update package for the German Grand Prix and, as part of this package, it revised its rear wing, adding a couple of interesting features.

Mercdes AMG F1 W10 rear wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

These new features lent heavily on the contouring of the endplate, with the surface thickness altered to feed the airflow toward the new stepped cutout in the upper rear corner. Meanwhile, a double row of more imposing upwash strikes were being used rather than just a single row.

At the front of the car, the team also optimised its front brake duct design, adding a row of small vortex generators in the crossover channel.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10, front brake

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The W10 took the first eight victories of the season before Max Verstappen spoiled the party in Austria, taking victory for Red Bull.

Undeterred, Mercedes would take another seven victories before the season was out, albeit with Ferrari having a resurgence on the return from the summer break that quickly came to an end when the FIA issued its technical directive over fuel flow measurements at the United States GP.

In our next and final instalment of this series we’ll take a look at the fastest Formula 1 car to grace the sport: the Mercedes W11.

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