Before the start of the 2022 season, back in February Mercedes gave its W13 car a maiden run-out at Silverstone when the UK was being hit by Storm Eunice that had wind gusts reaching over 120 mph. Because of that Mercedes did not get a full picture of just how bad the porpoising problem would be until the first proper test in Barcelona.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes trackside engineering director, said that with the return of ground effect, the team had discussed potential issues related to that, but it had not “forecast the sort of mechanism that was actually troubling us.”
In a recent interview with Motorsport.com, looking back on Mercedes’ season so far, Shovlin commented:
“When we were at Silverstone, it was the middle of a storm, we were in 70 mile an hour winds,”
“You often start with a car quite high for shakedowns and things, just to avoid damaging it and then drop it later. And during that day, we did run the car at a normal ride, and started to see the issue.
“But it was only when we got to Barcelona that you could actually look at it properly on a reasonable circuit and start to understand what was happening.”
Mercedes brought updates to the car for the second test in Bahrain, but despite that the team continued to struggle with its car bouncing. “Perhaps the most complicated thing we've ever had to get our teeth into,” said the engineer talking about porpoising.
“But that progress was pretty progressive and quite encouraging, everything we were doing was was making more and more sense.”
“What we hadn't really appreciated was that the problem was very much like the layers of an onion. You peel that one, you're always looking at the same thing, no matter how many layers you were taking off. And we realised that there's a few mechanisms at play.
“The issue is that dealing with that challenge whilst going racing is a lot more emotional, a lot more difficult, a lot more stressful than dealing with it back in the factory when we can explore things in our own time.
“The start of the year was difficult, coming from being a team that will go to almost every race for the last number of years thinking we can be pole and win it, knowing that at best we were towards the front of the midfield, was quite a challenge.
“But the reality is there's a significant lag between the understanding in the factory and the race car actually going faster. And Barcelona was the first time that we were able to really put any of that learning into practice on the track.”
Shovlin explained how the issues forced Mercedes to reset some of its technical thinking. If that had it only been focusing on the Bahrain season-opener or the early races, it would have “probably gone down a much more experimental route”, said the engineer, but instead the team decided to focus on seeking out a long-term fix for the problem.
“At that point, we, as engineers, were looking at it from the view that we have these regulations for four years. And what will really hurt the team is not whether we win in Bahrain, but whether or not we can develop within these regulations over the next seasons.
“That was the thing that frightened us was: if we cannot develop things in the factory, make them, bring them to the track, see them work, then the very currency that we deal with, in terms of performance becomes valueless.
“That, at times, was quite terrifying.”