Mercedes radical sidepods not easy to replicate

George Russell at the wheel of the Mercedes W13 during testing in Bahrain last week

The aggressive sidepod design adopted by Mercedes for the 2022 Formula 1 season is not easily replicated.

Mercedes unveiled a radical new sidepod design at the second pre-season test in Bahrain, ahead of Round 1 last weekend. The team which has won eight straight constructors’ championships finished third and fourth at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Far more tightly packaged than any of its rivals, it features a narrow-slit inlet with the mirrors sitting atop a shroud over the side impact post.

Asked about Mercedes’ solution, and whether rivals could copy it easily, Scuderia AlphaTauri’s technical boss Jody Egginton explained the complications teams could expect to encounter.

The first related to the way in which each power unit was supplied, with AlphaTauri using an unbadged Honda for the coming campaign.

“Each power unit has got subtle difference in terms of its cooling requirements,” Egginton explained.

“And each team has got the ability to have a different approach to charge air cooling, for instance.

“Some teams are air-air, other teams might be air-water.

“It might be that their solution, combined with their PU operating condition requirements, means they can come up with a very novel and refined solution, or they decided to do that.

“That could lead them to have a bit more freedom in terms of how they’re distributing their cooling, centreline to sidepod.”

Ensuring the power unit cooling is maintained, and the packaging of the car such that a team could follow Mercedes’ lead is only part of the problem.

From there, teams also need to understand the aerodynamic impact such a significant change would have, noting the impact on other elements such as the floor and rear wing.

“Every team is trying to package their cooling solutions as best they can but I’m sure it’s a conscious decision on the side of Mercedes to package in such a way to give them that freedom,” Egginton noted.

“We’ve got our approach to the cooling, and obviously with the same power unit we’ve had for a number of years now, we’re pretty confident that it’s a tight packaging solution.

“But it’s very likely we’re using different technologies to different PU manufacturers, which means our distribution of cooling, and the way the cooling technologies we’re using are different.”

Another consideration for Egginton and his team are the cost implications of pursuing the concept, and what development headroom it might leave the team going forward.

The Brit admitted that AlphaTauri has looked at aspects of the W13’s solution, though suggests changes would likely be at least eight weeks away.

“We’ve looked at certain parts of it, to be honest with you, prior to now – bits and bobs of it, and not as a full package,” he said.

“It’s really hard to say how long it would take to replicate.

“A body work update, we’d typically be looking to get to the car [in] eight weeks, something like this – depends on how big it is, really.

“But if you’re making structural changes, if you’re changing radiator duct layouts and radiator design, then it gets super expensive and the lead times really go longer.

“At that point, you’re potentially taking the chassis out of circulation to make changes to the bonding of the rad ducts and everything on that chassis, and it’s a big story then.

“So if we could do it just with body work and package around the cooling structure, we’ve got probably eight weeks, something like that.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be sure that you’re happy with the wind tunnel results, the rest of the package is working with it, and it gives you a development direction.

“It would be awfully inefficient to go a direction and then say, ‘actually, we want to go a different way’. That’s not making your budget cap work for you.

“You’ve got to find development strands which have got some life in them, because you’ve got to achieve, especially with the new regulations, a consistent strong development rate all year.

“If you want to race people, you’ve got to be developing at the pace that they are or better.

“So if you go down one path, get a good development, and then it doesn’t go any further, you’re falling behind again.

“So one of our philosophies over the last years has been evolving development update, where you’re constantly trying to improve the package race on race, correlate where you are, go again.

“The big package is fantastic until something doesn’t work,” he added.

“Then you can be left with an awful lot of homework to do in a hurry to get yourself back on track.

“I’m sure Mercedes were very considered before they went that way, but I’m glad to see it really because there’s lots of stuff for everyone else to think about and see how they can integrate into their development.”

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