Mercedes will be looking to sign off on the current era of cars with another dominant championship double – which would give it eight doubles in a row – before Formula 1 heads into a new era with the 2022 technical regulation overhaul, which could reset the pecking order.
The Anglo-German team are working hard at their chassis factory in Brackley and power unit base in Brixworth to deliver a W12 that can once again dominate the F1 field. There’s downforce to recover thanks to technical changes at the rear of the car and nobody would bet against James Allison and his team once again coming out on top.
Goodbye to DAS
The first thing to underline on the new silver arrow (which look set to remain black this year) will be the absence of the dual axis steering (DAS) system, which was a major technical secret of the W11 car.
This system, banned by the FIA for the upcoming season, allowed Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, through a longitudinal movement of the steering column with hydraulic actuators, to change the convergence of the front wheels. Through this system, Mercedes were able to maintain the temperature of the front tyres during warm up, or under virtual safety car periods.
This system is now illegal and Mercedes will have to adapt the W12 to make up for its loss which will require some hard work on the front suspension. The Brackley team could therefore spend the required tokens to revisit the internal elements of the front suspension, which will also have to work with Pirelli’s new tyres which will be slightly more rigid in structure.
Aerodynamics are the focus for 2021
By regulation, the aerodynamics aren’t covered by the development freeze and Mercedes between one season and the next is always able to amaze with the incredible aerodynamic work it can produce over the winter.
On the 2021 car, aerodynamics will obviously be the main focus of the work of the Brackley engineers, as it allows freedom of development and modifications over the previous car. The main aerodynamic work is likely to concern the sidepod, with a further tapering of the pods and the air vents at the rear to create an even tighter ‘coke bottle’. However the radiators will remain the same as those used in 2020, therefore somewhat limiting the freedom of development in this area.
The entire cooling system has been frozen and homologated last season, therefore it cannot be changed, unless a team wants to spend its scarce development tokes on doing so – but this would likely only happen if there was a fundamental flaw with the system.
Last season on the W11 Mercedes did extensive modification work on the radiator vents, moving the air cutters above the side impact structure. All this obviously had aerodynamic benefits by increasing the side channel for the flow of air along the sides of the car.
In this drawing we see the direct comparison between the Mercedes W11 and the Racing Point RP20. The pink so-called ‘Tracing Point’ used the older version which featured on the W10, with the air intake of the radiators under the side impact structure.
Further aerodynamic work will probably concern the front of the car, with the confirmation of the new wing specification that debuted at Mugello, and was then used in Abu Dhabi. Changes focus mainly on micro-aerodynamics, with a different management of the Y250 vortex, which will adapt to the new bargeboards, introduced in Belgium.
In fact, the last flap at the top has been lengthened compared to the previous solution, up to the limit of 250mm from the car’s centreline.
Power Unit boost for 2021
In Brixworth, home of Mercedes engine department, they have been working on a new Power Unit which will be even more powerful than in 2020, with an estimated power jump of around 20-25 horsepower.
Development mainly focused on the hybrid systems, with an improvement in efficiency and duration of charge. The endothermic part, on the other hand, provides for an improvement in the general reliability and durability of the components.
At the end of the season, the Mercedes Power Unit was not particularly brilliant from this point of view, and there were a few technical problems – although these mainly hit their customer teams, such as Racing Point and Williams.
The banning of so-called ‘Party Modes’ did not level out performance among the Power Unit manufacturers that much, despite Ferrari’s hopes it would, and Mercedes maintained its supremacy over Honda, Renault and Ferrari.
It’s expected the ’21 PU will be the most powerful F1 engine in this era, with an output now far exceeding 1,000HP.
Since hybridisation has existed in F1 since 2014, Mercedes has almost always dominated on this front compared to other manufacturers, and after the Ferrari flop of last year, and the farewell of Honda at the end of ’21, and the possible freezing of the engines for next year, it could give a continuation to the domination shown in this era by the German manufacturer.