Insight: One of the secrets of Mercedes’ success and some interesting pointers from Spain
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 May 2014   |  12:34 pm GMT  |  168 comments

The first European round of the F1 season is traditionally a time when teams bring new parts to their cars hoping for a performance boost.

We saw that to some extent this weekend in Spain.

But here, with the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, formerly of Williams, McLaren, Toyota and Jaguar Racing, we have highlighted some interesting details, to help fans understand more of what goes on behind the scenes and especially some of the interesting things Mercedes and Red Bull in particular are doing with their cars at the moment, which contributes to why they are performing as they are.

Don’t look at this post as a dry analysis of aero updates. There are some pointers here which could become real talking points as the season goes on.

All teams have aerodynamic departments which will be looking to add 1 point of downforce per week in the wind tunnel and using computer simulations. The rough rule of thumb is that three points of downforce is worth around 1/10th of a second in lap time.

So in three weeks of development you gain 1/10th. This is why if you take a wrong path and lose time, as Ferrari did last year for example, you lose ground to the opposition.

It has been around 9 weeks since the start of season, so teams will be looking at around 3/10ths to aero gain and more from the new hybrid power units. However this post is mainly on the chassis side.


These channels on the rear floor section just ahead of the rear tyres are not new but highlight the mixture of complex carbon and metallic structures integrated in the floor with these ‘simple’ addendums literally riveted onto the top surface.

The channel clearly works though and sometimes the simplest solutions, even if not the most aesthetic, are the best. It shows that even the leading teams have afterthoughts. The floor is beautiful and this piece isn’t, but they aren’t too proud to do what’s right even if it looks ugly!

Everything around the rear cut out corner is about channelling air around the tyre. This is there to control that flow. This area is one of most sensitive parts of the car. You can lose a lot of lap time in getting this wrong.

This is an example of the secret of Mercedes’ success. Once again not new for this race but it is worth mentioning Mercedes interesting approach to their lower wishbone with a single outer wetted surface (highlighted) to help optimally manage the flow from the front wing and front corner assembly, including brake duct and narrow spacing inboard between the pick-up points onto the chassis. Mercedes have carefully checked the flow structures on this assembly.

The gain here isn’t all aero, it is also mechanical. The mounting points are very close together, the geometry is interesting. This can’t be copied by other teams because you can’t remake chassis pick up points under F1 rules on chassis homologation. They have to wait to 2015 to copy it.

This is the kind of item Ross Brawn was talking about last year when he said that there are some clever things on the Mercedes which rivals can’t copy.

This corner of the car is very sensitive aerodynamically, but the gain here is also mechanical and helps with front grip and protecting the tyres. It’s hard to say exactly how this works without seeing the drawings. Other teams will be looking at this very closely. We might well see it on other cars next year.

Red Bull Racing

This could turn out to be a real talking point this season.

Red Bull were running flow vis paint on their rear wing and floor again in Spain. If one zooms in on the leading edge of the upper element (highlighted) one can see some intresting stripes as the flo vis shows what the air is doing through the wing. This is unusual; these perfectly regimented surface flow structures almost look as if they’ve been created by micro vortex generators.

What does this mean? Their rear wing flow structures are extremely stable. These stripes are unusual and you only get them if you energise the air flow. These structures are much more stable than any other team. This is a class act. It is a very strong, stable rear wing.

You see this kind of thing on aircraft rear wings, but not on racing cars. Red Bull’s clever aero peole may have learned something possibly from aerospace solutions.

If you look at Sector 2 and Sector 3 times in Barcelona, which highlight aerodynamic excellence, the Red Bull car was very quick and this is highly significant, indicating the car has massive downforce.

What is behind this striped pattern on the rear wing could become a real talking point this year and for sure all the teams will be studying images like this one, trying to understand how they are doing it.

Interestingly, Red Bull traditionally run more wing on their car because their approach is to get pole and lead races and and dodn’t worry about straight line speeds because the chasing cars can’t get close enough in the corners.

Now with an under performing power unit and a massively fast Mercedes rival, Red Bull doesn’t have that luxury and although they are sticking with the same aero and development philosophy, the problem for them could be that the car is too draggy for where they are in the field at the moment.


Williams have removed the integrated mirror stay between the mirror and central vane on the chassis cascade, but have retained the three element cascade profiles. The profiled stay may have been there to act as a stiffener, but potentially later found ‘excess to requirements’ and therefore removed. This is worth probably a point of downforce, so around 3/100ths of a second.

This is a small gain, but as part of a package it all adds up to around 2/10ths or 3/10ths of a second. Williams is bringing new parts to the car, which seem to be working and the team is moving forward.


Ferrari’s exhaust diameter has increased. In recent years there was always a clear trade-off between the smaller diameter exhaust’s better diffuser-blowing capabilities and improved aero benefits versus the detrimental loss in engine performance.

With the ban in 2014 on blowing towards the floor and the impact of the turbo charger in 2014 this trade off no longer exists to the same extent, so exhaust diameters tend to be set for optimal engine performance. It is interesting that Ferrari have tried a modified system.

In the blown diffuser days aero staff wanted a narrow pipe for maximum blowing pressure, which the engine people wanted a wider diamteter for better engine performance.

With the turbo taking energy, the pipe is sized for performance, so it is interesting they changed it after four races.

This indicates they are retuning the power unit, one of their biggest weaknesses. These updates are pretty powerful in terms of gains, but if you get it wrong can cost you. In the blown diffuser days you could lose 10hp with a narrow pipe, but the gain on aero was in tenths of a second, so the trade-off was on the aero side.

Whilst not a change for this race it is interesting to highlight how large the Ferrari front brake ducts are compared to their rivals. Although larger doesn’t necessarily mean worse (from an aero perspective) Ferrari’s ducts are surprisingly open. Not new but stands out. It is surprising how large they are. Their rivals go for less scooped duct.

There tends to be a size beyond which it becomes detrimental. They are doing it because they want to cool brakes, but also because it provides an optimal aero solution for front corner, maybe they help enhance performance. McLaren traditionally have been the ones with largest ducts.


McLaren had a revised front drum geometry (everything inboard of the red stripe) and detailed changes around the brake ducts including the addition of a grill (highlighted) to probably stop tyre rubber fragments into the cooling system, thereby stopping any potential blockage. The hot rubber tends to stick on the grill rather than enter the system.

Given the amount of marbles on the track on Sunday this was a prudent design. With the advances in pressure monitoring systems this type of grill could also potentially act as a mini rake for Friday running.

Typically Brake ducts mods like this are very expensive from a tooling point of view and give around 2-3 points, so 1/10th of a second. It wouldn’t be worth doing for less than 1/10th but it’s all carbon and lots of pieces so a very expensive piece of engineering.


To remove a reported 15kg of mass from an F1 car in a single update package is an impressive achievement. This should be roughly half a second of lap time.
It is unlikely they were 15kg overweight before, but they were a bit overweight. The centre of gravity will be improved and there are lots of other benefits, like they can also run more sensors. This is a significant gain. They need it because they are struggling a bit.

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Derek Nickels

Can JA or Mark Gillan answer this please? During in car footage from the Merc’s,the front suspension appears to be turning as a complete unit on a pivot point in the centre,much like a home made soap box billy cart’s steering does. Is this an optical illusion caused by the brake ducts or is it really happening? If it is happening,is it legal? Wouldn’t such movement fall under “Active Suspension” bans? I’ve looked on other cars and haven’t noticed it to as much of an extent.




Maybe the stripes on the picture was not caused by aero.

I have been searching photos to get the idea where the element and the highlighted part are. Then I found this photo.

Looks like the photo was taken when the RB10 was going out of the pit for testing and the stripes were already there.


The red bull wing looks like its using something called lifting line theory from aircraft vortice work


A small point, but I love how McLaren’s “all carbon and lots of pieces so a very expensive piece of engineering” brake duct appears to be partly masked with a strip of insulating tape 😀

On a more serious note, apart from translating to lap time is there a definition for a “point” of downforce?


Thanks for the great article! The level of insight makes it a great read. It is a shame however that some posters dont respect the work done and start discussing topics that have nothing to do with the article!


Has anybody noticed how slow F1 cars are. It must be getting embarrassing for sponsors to see their money being spent to produce a car that is barely faster than a GP2 car. In fact the top 3 GP2 qualifiers would have qualified for the F1 race!!!

Can the belief that F1 is the pinnacle of motor sport be justified any more?


please note:

loose, opposite of tight; loose, looser

lose, opposite of win; lose, loser, losing

I know all posters don’t have English as a first language, so the rest of us need to set an example


It is a pet peeve of mine. Also it’s and its, which is a simple one (i.e. it’s always means “it is”).


Hi James,

I noticed that by end of the race, Lewis had used 3kg less fuel than Nico. I was thinking, why didn’t the the pit tell Lewis to increase the fuel mix and burn more fuel? It would achieve two things: 1) Lighten the car. 2) Increase pace. I Would like some insight into this if anyone has any? Assume he had loads of fuel in the bag or was he already at the 100kilos/hr limit?

I don’t get the point of saving all of that fuel during the race and no being able to use it your advantage at end.


James do think this ban on copying parts from other teams should be dropped?

The fans are screaming for closer racing between teams and this could bring them closer together.

Im in OZ and I’m starting think, why should I deprive myself of sleep when I know who is going to win.


James when it shows that certain drivers are using less fuel, why don’t the teams ask the driver to turn up the fuel mix therefore going faster? Or do they start the race with a lot less than 100kg??


Not a lot less, but Merc have certainly been starting with less

HAM had ROS where he wanted him so no real need to burn off fuel. If he and needed to he could have turned it up to defend, is what this shows


Or is it that he started with less than ROS, so at the end they had roughly the same amount of fuel left?

I would love it if the FIA released post-race car weights. Surely this info gets out to the teams.


not wishing to start any rumour but Brawn popping in to Ferrari for a cuppa does look interesting.

I think a year out is enough to refresh him and

nobody should give up something they are good at.

What he put in place at Mercedes blossomed this season and has shown he still has it.

Also , Aldo Costa. Why did they think they didn’t need him?


I’ve spoken to friends who have spoken to Ross and he has no intention of going back to work at Ferrari


Brilliant Article, Mr Allen.

It is stuff like this that keeps me coming back to your website. These technical insights are not found anywhere else.



The point about McLaren’s brakes brings me to ask if these teams run around with disc brakes or drum brakes, or is it a hybrid of both?


Fascinating insight and indeed, what else would there be to report on, since there’s no more racing, just a show case parading on track disguised as a race. I’m really frustrated with F1 in general and with this season in particular. It’s “the one team takes it all” scenario year after year. Too bad, so sad.


The rise of single team dominance, and on-track racing principally ocurring within teams, is a result of the massive ramp in technology. The out of control budgets are due to the same; technology.

In short, technology is ruining motor racing.


I’m with you.

I hate the lack of testing. I understand why they impose it and understand the chosen technical route but why a freeze on engines? If they’re serious about helping the real world with relevant technology however, then surely that’s the one place you can genuinely make a difference. Mercedes may have still been untouchable but at least there’s hope if other teams can test.

The real GP championship unfortunately starts and ends in the off season. The rest of the year is a series of parade laps around the world masquerading as a championship.


Given the fuel consumption hasn’t been as big an issue as predicted are any teams looking at reducing the amount they carry to save weight ? According to the in race fuel updates Hamilton and Massa are regularly 1.5-2 % better than the rest. They could lose 1kg and gain 0.1s a lap over the race ?


Not only that, but it would be less weight to push around.

Unless I’m wrong, it would take less power to drive a car holding 50 litres of fuel than it would to drive a car holding 100 litres of fuel, so the less fuel you have the less fuel you actually need to drive at the same pace, so I’m sure there’s a magic amount that they could start with to gain performance and still make the race distance.

Does that sound right to anyone else?


It makes total sense to me.

But, would Mercedes want to risk Hamilton(or Nico) not finishing a race he is leading because they didn’t give him enough fuel? Would that be wise? Could that cost either driver the WDC? I think the risk is too great.


I think toward the end of year once one or the other is leading by about 250 points they should try it just for giggles, but maybe that’s just me 😉

Jonathan Powell

As has been said above James,another fantastic article and insight into the technical side of F1 and one of the reasons why I regularly visit your site.

What perhaps would have been an additional beneift would have been images of the back of the grid teams cars to show the differences and where they are losing out performance wise.

With regards to comments about McLaren it is not acceptable that with their resources and the best engine that they are not performing better once again this season.




My perception (very non technical) is that MB leapfrogged RBR by about 1 sec, but RBR still holds a .5 to 1 sec advantage over the rest, depending on the track, not fully showing yet because reliability, pit errors, DSQs and VETs problems in adapting to less downforce

So my very boring prediction for the season is that HAM will be WDC but ROS and MB will try to make it fun for the fans like WEB/RBR never did (OK, just in 2010)

VET and RIC will fight it out for 3rd (hopefully shown on TV screens), and ALO will have his worst season ever in 5th on pure merit (as usual), and hailed by his fans (as usual), given Ferrari’s shortcomings

So the real fun is to see who ends up 6th, Ferrari’s “No.2”? the FIs fighters?, the Williams Flying Finn? the French Lotus late bloomer?

I’m leaving Macca out because IMHO they should better start on next year’s car than waste time in this one

The other question up for grabs is after which race will Maldonado get his first 12 points? (license ones, of course)

So, contrary to most fan’s opinion I intend to have fun watching the rest of the season, just had to change my expectations on it


I’d say that Ricciardo is showing the advantage that RBR have over the rest of the field pretty well so far.

As for Maldonado: As of now he has accrued three points I think?

So if he’s to acquire another nine points that should take three races (assuming only three points per race), which would mean he could potentially reach his target by the time they hit Silverstone, but because I’m feeling nice and factoring in the fact that he doesn’t get points for attempting to drive through walls I’m going to say Hungary, maybe Belgium 🙂


Pastor got another point added for his first lap clash with Erikson, so isn’t that 4 now?


4 points it is then, so now I’m leaning more toward Hungary 🙂


I think he has more, “Sorry” thinking of his demerit points on his license.


He already has 4 points, he got 1 for nipping Ericsson on Sunday, but I will settle for Belgium as you say


In Pastor’s mind, he’s tied 4-4 with Grosjean. 🙂


Interesting stuff James, but I’m surprise about 2 things:

Re the Merc and the inability to change suspension mounting points due to chassis homologation. Wasn’t chassis homologation changed already in 2012, making it possible to change the chassis during the season provided that homologation (crashtest etc.) are repeated?

And re large Ferrari brake ducts, weren’t they introduced together with the blown wheelnuts so that the nuts actually have some air to blow?


Fantastic article, thank you very much Mark and James!


Why are Mclaren getting so left behind in the development race.

Strikes me they’ve got fundamental operational issues to resolve. We know it’s not the engine strapped in the back afterall.


I’ve got a theory on Macca and their poor performance in recent races.

I think the problem is their front suspension and front wing, amongst other issues. I suspect the Macca has a very limited ride height window, which requires the suspension to be also very limited in its travel. Bear in mind Macca use pull rod front suspension, then it doesn’t have that much travel and direction anyway – pull rod suspension gives better centre of gravity benefits, but is severely compromised by a lack of compliance and adjustability. Any how, I suspect bumpy, uneven surfaces are upsetting the Macca quite severely.

I suspect because of this rigid ride height/suspension problem, the Macca’s underbody airflow is stalling badly, and the car is loosing downforce every time it strikes a bump or kerb. To prevent an underbody stall, I reckon Macca are running a rideheight operating zone that is very tame, and I don’t think the car will respond well to running with a lot of rake (nose down, rear end up – like the Bulls).

I also fear Macca’s front wing is flawed: possibly when the McLaren’s front wing gets near the ground at a certain point it will stall, and because of McLaren’s wing design the stall will be too big, a good analogy being like a light switch. Add on the compromised ride-height issues I have explained, and although the Macca may produce peak downforce for a certain moment, it is not producing clean, efficient, and most importantly consistent downforce like the Mercs and Bulls.

So, in other words, Macca’s front wing and front suspension design is badly flawed and is holding them back at this moment in time, blunting their competitiveness.

I suspect Ferrari have exactly the same problem, because like Macca they are the only other “top” team running pullrod front suspension which severely compromises it.

If I were McLaren and Ferrari, I would seriously think about redesigning the front suspension to go for a push rod front suspension design for next years car.


Whoops, I may have made a bit of a clanger! Some websites says Macca are using pullrod suspension this year, the others push-rod! So if it is true Macca are using push-rod suspension, discount that bit from my post.

Having said that, in mitigation, even if McLaren are using the more conventioal push-rod front suspension, the point I made about the front end lacking compliance and suppleness is still relevant, and even if it is push-rod suspension it still appears to be too stiff and is not “talking” to the drivers when it comes to adjustability.

I still think my opinion on the front wing and floor is possibly correct, the point is Macca are not producing good consistent downforce which is hurting them.

Whatever front suspension are using, its flawed anyway, and couple with a poorly designed front wing/floor section is giving the drivers a poor ride and lack of confidence.


Mclaren have gone back to using push rod this year. They had a pull rod setup in the MP-28.

Also, Australia is one of the bumpier tracks due to it being a street circuit and that’s where they did well!?


Hi James & Mark

Another excellent piece of insight, thank you both.

On the subject of engine developments, and specifically the split turbo / intercooler solution, clearly this is something all the non-Merc teams would like to have. As far as I can tell, engines are now frozen for 2014 (notwithstanding reliability tweaks, etc.), however between Nov and 2015 manufacturers are free to develop again before the end of Feb 2015 where they’re frozen again for FOUR YEARS?

My questions are:

1) Is there’re enough time for the manufacturers to copy this concept before engines are frozen again next season?

2) is the four year freeze accurate, I.e. Will other teams get one shot at copying this design and however well they do it by Feb, be stuck as it is for some time thereafter?




The 2014 regulations have an increasing number of the engine functions frozen each year (except 2016-2017 which keeps the same number of frozen functions) then from 2019 onwards most of it is locked in.

See Appendix 4 in the technical regulations:

I guess it depends if the follow on changes from extending the turbine spindle through the V of the engine and relocating the compressor require the areas that are being locked down to change. Someone else might know enough about engines to say??


I have wondered about this issue relating to Honda, and their relationship with Macca, who have a relationship currently with Merc…………..I don’t have an answer to your questions, but relating to Honda it is a bit of grey area seeing as they officially will only be an engine partner from January 2015.

It’s a good point you have raised – should more manufacturers want to come into F1, and that is why the Formula has been changed to entice more engine suppliers back onto the F1 grid, then would they get a dispensation clause from the FIA being as they start late?

Perhaps James and Mark can delve the politics of this slightly open-ended situation.


McLaren must fire Button… he was out of F1, before BrawnGP made the mistake of bringing him out of retirement…

The double diffuser WDC should have been given to a worthy driver, who had demonstrated prior racing skill… Button was a waste of everyone’s time, and still is.



Respectfully your comments seem to consistently deride Button. His record stands for itself. Give the man some credit. He’s a proven winner 15 times over. He’s a world champion.

Can you even begin to substantiate your assertions?



There is a constant attack on a driver here

Please moderate your attacks or they will no be published – Mod


Maybe you should drive for them Goob, show everyone how it’s done?

Just remember: Blue flags mean slow down…more…

James Clayton

Em no they don’t… they mean you have to let the car behind you pass; there’s no explicit requirement to slow down.


High profile names tend to walk away from Macca before they get fired!

I’m thinking of Lewis, Pat, Paddy et al…….all left Woking for pastures new.


Thanks Mark for the very readable article and James for all that you do. What a great site and sport to follow.

H.Guderian (ALO fan)

Off Topic, but…. (GrandPrix247)

Raikkonen: Exactly who made the decision for Alonso to pit first?

Hours after the chequered flag in Spain, Kimi Raikkonen’s long talks with Ferrari officials were dragging on, according to MTV3, reporting that the Finn was unhappy with his treatment by the Italian team in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Raikkonen answered an emphatic “no” when asked if he now feels like the number two driver at Maranello, because Fernando Alonso received first call for pit service despite running behind the normally ice-cool 2007 world champion in Barcelona.

He was, however, ‘furious’. In a television interview with Sky, the 34-year-old answered “I don’t know” when he was asked who made the decision to pit Alonso first – an advantageous tactic usually reserved for a team’s leading driver.

Asked if he wanted to pit before Alonso, Raikkonen mumbled, shrugged, and stormed off. Later, having been beaten in the race by Alonso, he played down the strategy incident, according to Auto Motor und Sport.

“There was not much between the two,” said Raikkonen. “In the end it makes no difference. It was a very disappointing result for Ferrari.”

### He was, however, ‘furious’ ###

Me: Raikkonen, who was responsible for the (crazy) two stop strategy??? *YOU* AND YOUR RACE ENGINEER.

Me: It seems that after the 5×0 the IceCreamMan is starting to melt.


James, a great article! I always read these technical analysis, such a difference from other sites that specialize in gossip, rumours and made up stories! Thanks for existing.


I bet James is thankful he exists, too. 😉


Lol 🙂

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