Cooling or Secret Suspension Revision? The Secret Behind Mercedes Front Panel Change

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Formula 1 British Grand Prix showed that Mercedes is finally back in the game.

While George Russell’s triumph in Austria was largely due to accidents by the race leaders, Hamilton’s victory at Silverstone was based on pure speed – it could be argued that the fastest car was the W15.

Mercedes has made some big strides this year and achieved some significant gains with its car – the result of finally understanding what it takes to make its current ground-effect car faster.

As team boss Toto Wolff said: “It clicked. Suddenly everything that didn’t make sense made sense. And the development direction is a result of the development directions from the old days. We find the performance, we put it on the car and it translates into a lap time. And that hasn’t been the case for the last two years.”

But the biggest breakthrough for Mercedes wasn’t the sudden introduction of a new aerodynamic element that created much more downforce.

Instead, according to Wolff, it was because the team, under technical director James Allison, were able to use their package to get the car in great balance – which helped put it in a good position for both Hamilton and Russell.

Wolff added: “There was a moment when, under James, the data suddenly made sense. The way we did it, the way we balanced the car and how we could get it into a better sweet spot – that was the most important thing. It wasn’t the miracle front wing. It was more the balance we got.”

This reference to balance is interesting because it can often be the result of advances in mechanical aspects such as suspension and springs.

Whether it’s just a coincidence or there’s more to it, a modification to the W15’s nose protection panel that first appeared at the Austrian Grand Prix could have been a clue to a potential shock absorber change that could have helped the development progress.

Technical data of the Mercedes W15

Photo: Giorgio Piola

The vanity panel (pictured above) has a new bulge that the team says is related to cooling – and serves to increase the flow of cool air into the cockpit, albeit without the forward-facing intake the team used previously.

But the idea that the new bulge is entirely related to cooling seems at odds with how air would move through that part of the car. Normally, you’d expect driver cooling to be directed to a specific area.

This eliminates some of the flow disruption that could occur, which is a particular problem considering how many different components are in that area, some of which are suspension parts that move.

Furthermore, it seems quite strange that the bulge has been increased to potentially provide more airflow while the front vent is closed to outside air.

Additionally, the team did not announce the change to the decorative panel in the car’s presentation document at the Austrian Grand Prix, which to some extent rules out its update from an aerodynamics point of view.

Moving on to the British GP, where the behaviour of this new chassis bulge in cold conditions, which do not favour the drivers’ need for additional cooling, convinced us that there was more to this change than meets the eye – and that the real answer lay in what had been changed under the panel.

Indeed, although the team does not confirm it, a detailed examination of the components in this area points to a revised damper layout that requires more space. Such a change could be crucial in helping Mercedes increase the stability of its aerodynamic platform and, once again, achieve the balance it has been striving for for so long.

Mercedes certainly has precedent for adding a bulge to this part of the car when it made suspension changes in the past.

Mercedes W06 hydraulic parts, front suspension

Photo: Giorgio Piola

In 2016 it was a dual purpose test as the team experimented with a new solution for the W06 for the following season which included both an ‘S’ duct layout and an improved vibration damper.

During this period, Mercedes gained a widespread reputation as the manufacturer that best handled suspension kinematics and its impact on the aerodynamic platform of the entire range.

For example, Mercedes had one of the most advanced versions of front-rear interconnected (FRIC) suspension systems before the concept was banned, and it laid the foundation for the highly successful hydraulic suspension systems that came later.

The switch to more traditional springs and dampers on current cars has undoubtedly reduced the support that Mercedes and other teams were providing prior to the rule changes.

It now uses a Belleville spring, which has been almost unanimously recognized as the best solution for designing a lifting damper. Mercedes is no exception in this regard, as it also uses this method to help control vertical chassis displacements.

It is this element that is most likely to be in need of modernisation or replacement, which led to the use of a convex vanity panel.

Technical data of the Mercedes W15

Photo: Giorgio Piola

A modified lifter and/or component repositioning would also tie in with some of the aerodynamic changes the team has made recently. Tweaks here will go hand in hand to deliver a more stable platform, something the team has struggled with in this regulatory era.

The W15 now feels more responsive in a variety of conditions and with varying downforce levels, whereas improvements made to the car in the past have proven effective on one track but failed to live up to expectations elsewhere.

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