Mercedes pinpoints tyre temperatures as main limitation

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Mercedes Technical Director James Allison reckons that much of the ongoing issue with the team's 2024 F1 car, the W15 is down to warmer track temperatures which compromise the way the car handles the tyres.

Mercedes have had a very difficult season so far. While the team hoped after the three days of pre-season testing that they would be more competitive with their heavily revamped W15, the opening race of the 2024 F1 season revealed that Mercedes are far off the field-leading Red Bull and second quickest team Ferrari.

The Jeddah race then confirmed that Mercedes are unable to challenge the two leading teams, and are immersed in a battle with McLaren and Aston Martin. Round 3 of the season then saw the Anglo-German team suffer a double DNF after Lewis Hamilton retired with a power unit issue and George Russell crashed out on the penultimate lap.

Despite the lack of outright pace, the W15 displayed flashes of encouraging pace at various parts of the race weekends. Hamilton led the way in the second practice in Bahrain while the W15 appeared to be quick in the final practice in Melbourne. However, that performance always vanished come qualifying and the race.

Technical Director James Allison reckons that the team slowly identifies the root of the issues: "We are starting to see a pattern emerge that most weekends we have a period in the weekend where we are feeling confident about the car. But then in the paying sessions, in qualifying and the race, that slips through our fingers," he admits.

"If we were trying to draw that pattern together then probably the strongest correlation that we can make at the moment, is that our competitiveness drops when the track is warm, when the day is at its warmest and therefore the tyre temperatures rise with those of the track. That gives us some clues about what we need to do as we move forward from here.

"From FP3 to qualifying in Melbourne there was not a set-up change. If you know what you're shooting for, if you've sort of identified correctly an accurate assessment of why our competitiveness waxes and wanes, then you can work into the weekend a program that is dedicated towards trying to move the temperature and the temperature balance front to rear in your favour and using all the conventional set up tools on the car, That work you can do back here in the factory and the simulation and so on.

"But if you conclude having exhausted the degrees of freedom that you have available to you in setup terms that you still need to go further, well then that gets harder at that point because that will be that there are underlying characteristics in say the aerodynamic map that you've engineered or the suspension characteristic that is aggravating that particular feature, and in order to make it really heal up nicely then you would have to change those underlying features.

"It can be either quick and dirty or a little more involved and a bit more complicated."

Following the Australian Grand Prix, Russell made the long flight from Melbourne to Brackley to carry out extensive simulator sessions to prepare the car for the forthcoming Japanese Grand Prix.

“Suzuka is a track with lots of fast corners and some slow hairpins, so a real test for the car. Our job will be to manage factors such as the tyre temperature issue, the balance between high and low speeds. George worked hard on the simulator at the start of this week, trying to help us on this journey so that we have a clear manifesto on what needs to be done.”

Regarding Hamilton's power unit, Allison said that the team did not know at first what caused the catastrophic failure on Lap 17 in Melbourne, but the Brixworth-based engine department will make changes to the other power units to avoid further reliability issues.

“The power units will return to the safe hands of the guys at Brixworth, who will be able to figure out what let go.

“All we know is the symptoms at the time, which was a rapid loss of oil pressure followed by a shutdown of the engine to protect it because when you know you’ve got catastrophic loss like that, the best thing you can do for the future is kill it there and then.

“And then you have not just got like a load of molten metal. You have normally got a fairly clear evidence chain of what caused it. And then that lets you work better for the future.

“So, we do not know yet, Brixworth and HPP will do in short order. And no doubt as soon as we know then they will jump to with their characteristic energy to make sure that any risk that happens on any other engine is mitigated as best we can.”