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Pods or No Pods: Mercedes' Failed Aerodynamic Concept

Written by Isabel Brito, Edited by Nicola Spingies

Credit - Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mercedes ran a zero sidepod concept from 2022 to early 2023 as they deviated from the rest of the grid's conventional aero philosophies, a decision the team has since gone back on.

The performance on the W13 had heads turning at the poor results from Mercedes, as it is expected from a high-level team to have an equal level of performance. Regardless, the team felt the need to experiment with the car design—taking out the pods generated a wider floor design meant to let the air flow more freely when passing around the car. Unfortunately, the wider floor created more porpoising than any of the team’s rivals on the grid.

The no side pods concept comes with a myriad of consequences. One of them being that the team can’t hide important pieces of the car like the stays introduced in the 2022 pre-season testing. In contrast, teams like RedBull and Ferrari have installed these stays in a way that isn’t perceptible.

A bigger issue with Mercedes’ concept is how it physically affected the drivers. When there’s porpoising involved, the drivers will feel the consequences at different levels. In the case of Mercedes, it has affected their team more negatively than others. It is then that the team should truly re-evaluate their decision to have no side pods.

During the first few races of the 2023 season, Mercedes tried to fully understand the sidepodless concept and make it work. The team was tirelessly fighting not only the car as a whole but the fact that the concept didn’t work.

With multiple people telling the media how much they believe in the concept, did they truly believe in it enough? At some point, it was bound to be discarded. Then the team would’ve had to acknowledge that someone had fixed something that, according to their narrative, was never broken in the first place.

Credit - Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The start of the current season was a rough run for Mercedes, seeing how all the teams had improved, and they were stuck on the same point. Hoping to move forward with their initial concept, Mercedes continued to lose confidence and performance.

As much as their porpoising issue had been fixed, the aerodynamics of the car was still not working. Giving the airflow the freedom to run on a wider floor never seemed like the right choice, especially when other teams extracted a higher performance with less of the floor showing.

On that premise, the team finally decided to bring a range of upgrades and introduced them at the Monaco Grand Prix. The most noteworthy upgrade was the addition of side pods, with the team finally ditching the previous concept. Since then, the performance of the has varied but, at the same time, improved if compared to previous races.

Where the biggest improvement happened was in the Spanish Grand Prix, where the team achieved a double podium. However, Mercedes is yet to see one of their drivers win a race.

Until then, it seems like hope has returned to the team, even though it proved that sometimes an innovative dream is not always a functional one.


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