Russell: Mercedes cannot afford “trial and error” approach to fix W13

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Mercedes’ 2022 challenger is unchanged for this weekend’s returning Melbourne race compared to the previous event in Jeddah, where the Silver Arrows squad was further behind pacesetters Red Bull and Ferrari than it had been at the season opener in Bahrain.

The W13 is suffering with severe porpoising at top speed, plus considerable extra weight and drag issues, which has left Mercedes with a highest qualifying position of fifth for Lewis Hamilton at the first race.

The team is confident it can unlock better pace from the W13 – it is also struggling to find a set-up sweetspot – but Russell explained that it is waiting to fit parts it has “total faith and confidence they will do as we expect” rather than bring experimental updates to every race in a bid to cure its current ills.

“We’re a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull,” Russell said in the pre-FP1 press conference at Albert Park on Friday. “We were probably further behind them in Jeddah, and we understand why.

“But obviously I think when we have things optimised, or more optimised [as they were] in Bahrain, we were still 0.5-0.6s behind. So, we need to close that gap, but there’s nothing substantial this weekend that will do that.

“It’s going to take time and I think we just have to be disciplined and patient – because we are so far behind and because of the cost cap, we can’t afford just to throw things at it and ‘trial and error’ at race weekends.

“We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect.

“And that will be a number of races before we start seeing that.”

Despite the lack of updates – which is also the case for AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo, per the official FIA car presentation documentation for the Australian event – Russell is confident Mercedes will be “closer [to the front] than we were in Jeddah”.

“But obviously we were probably a second off the pace in Jeddah,” he added. “So, there’s nothing that is going to really put us in the fight with those guys, we’ve just got to make sure that we maximise our result, which is, as a team, being the third fastest team, making sure none of the midfield cars sneak in between us.

“And just gathering those points while we can. This is going to be the case for a number of races to come now.”

Russell dismissed suggestions there is any internal Mercedes frustration at its current predicament, insisting instead “it’s more optimism and excitement” because “we do believe there is a solution and we do believe there’s a lot of laptime on the table once we do optimise that”.

He continued: “We’re not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we’re off the pace – we absolutely know why we’re off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that.

“And having that knowledge, having that understanding of what the issues are and that we can solve it is quite an exciting place to be. Because it gives us all something to go at.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Speaking later in the press conference, Hamilton said he was “really excited to get in the car” to see if the W13 was better suited to Albert Park compared to Jeddah, where he was dumped out in Q1.

“I’ve just been buzzing this morning,” he said. “Just super eager to get in the car, try this new track, hoping that it feels better here this weekend.

“Ultimately, we’ve not brought any upgrades – the car is the same car generally as the last race. But, with every little race, we make small improvements and I hope it just feels a bit better here. Plus, we have the four DRS zones, so I’m just hoping we can race harder here.”

Of the teams have opted to bring updates to Melbourne, Red Bull has fitted an updated front wing endplate that features changes to the leading and top edges to be rearward and lower respectively.

Its aim is to “maintain aerodynamic performance whilst reducing the volume and weight of the assembly”, per the FIA document announcing the updates, with Red Bull set to evaluate its results this weekend.

Ferrari has updated its diffuser with a “packer (around car centre line) in the diffuser” to hopefully improve both rear downforce and stability around the lap.

McLaren increased ed the sideview of its rear winglet endplate, with the aim of finding improved aerodynamic performance on the rear of the car due to increasing suction on lower winglets and improved flow control on rear corner.

Alpine has a “bigger floor outer fence and realigned forward floor fences compared to its previous design” to try and increase aerodynamic load and improve overall flow to the rear of the car”.

The newly-blue liveried team also has a rear brake drum flick that has been reorientated compared to its previous design that is aimed at improving local load around the rear wheel and diffuser, but is set to only be a test item during Friday practice.

Aston Martin has gone back to its previous rear wing “with increased incidence, particularly at the tips”, as this increases rear wing load and drag that it has deemed preferable for the Albert Park layout.

The green team does say the wing’s setup will only “be confirmed on Friday due to the new layout”.

Like Ferrari, Haas has made a diffuser update that means a different volume distribution in that part, hoping it will better condition flow emanating from the skid surface and therefore help better manage diffuser performance.

The team also says it will “be running various measurement rakes in FP1 to further our understanding of flow structures around our car”.

Williams is the team with the most updates for the Melbourne race, with changes to its beam wing, floor edge, front wing and front brake duct forward deflector vane.

The beam wing tweak is aimed at increasing downforce and drag, while the floor edge change is a reaction to the damage the team sustained in crashes in Jeddah, with a material change made to reduce the deflection of the floor edge under high aero load.

The front wing’s gurney flap has been changed so it is less tapered compared it is configuration in Jeddah and is aimed having a better front balance, as well as working with the new rear beam wing if Williams opts to leave that on after practice.

The front corner change is to alter the air flow being fed further down the FW44 for a general improvement in downforce along the length of the car.

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