How Mercedes Perplexed the F1 Grid By Running a Car Without Sidepods
The design might help with porpoising but points to some very bold cooling methods.
Mercedes have turned up to the Bahrain pre-season test with a radically reworked version of its 2022 Formula 1 car. The one the team ran in Barcelona didn't look shabby, setting the fastest outright time of the first test, but still, there's been a big change before it arrived at Sakhir. For starters, the sidepods seem to have been completely shaved off.
Sidepods are the bulging bits down the length of an F1 car, and they're pretty much essential for air circulation to cool the power unit. Or, well, that's the conventional wisdom at least. Mercedes appears to have discovered a way to run its car without them and the car's definitely working, Lewis Hamilton having put together 62 laps around Sakhir this morning before George Russell took over for the afternoon session.
Reports first emerged in Corriere della Sera on Tuesday that Mercedes had completely removed the sidepods from its car. Initially, it sounded kind of absurd—you can't just lop such a crucial element off a car. Here we are, though, and there the sidepods very much aren't.
Compared to other cars running Mercedes power units, which have to be fitted into the area that the sidepods would normally kind of cover, there's a really huge difference.
McLaren's sidepod is cut down, tucking into the rear of the car, but nowhere near as trimmed back as the Mercedes. Aston Martin is running a full sidepod, going the complete length of its potential space, right to the rear tires. Meanwhile, Williams seems to have the closest thing to what Mercedes has done. Although the Williams livery hides it a bit better, the car only has quite a scant sidepod under the cockpit and then flattens inwards, with the dig looking maybe a little bit less aggressive than the Mercedes one.
Comparatively, Ferrari—currently quickest in Bahrain with Charles Leclerc setting a 1:34.531 during the morning session—has a completely full sidepod, going all the way to the rear suspension. If paddock ruminations are to be believed then Ferrari may well have the best performing power unit of the year, after putting huge amounts of development work into it during 2021, so it makes sense to give it plenty of space to breathe.
Unsurprisingly, the sidepods' absence has immediately drawn attention, but it's actually something else that teams have ended up in a spat about already. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was quoted as telling German publication Auto Motor und Sport that he thought Mercedes' complex wing-mirror mounts were "a step too far" and that the rival team's car "doesn't correspond to the spirit of the regulations. For us, these wings are illegal."
From Red Bull's perspective, the complicated structure next to the mirror on the Mercedes counts as a wing. From Mercedes' perspective, it's a mirror mount.
The FIA has yet to put out any official ruling on the mirror mounts but there has, overall, been a very watchful eye on the way this season's cars have developed, so it's relatively unlikely that something so cosmetically obvious would have escaped scrutiny.
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