Show caption Lewis Hamilton testing the new Mercedes in Bahrain. Photograph: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters Mercedes GP New Mercedes F1 car has no illegal parts, insists team principal Toto Wolff Red Bull chief reportedly questioned car’s sidepod design
Wolff confident that new design is within FIA regulations Giles Richards @giles_richards Thu 10 Mar 2022 16.55 GMT Share on Facebook
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Mercedes have firmly rejected suggestions their new car for the Formula One season features any illegal components. Responding to reported comments from Red Bull, the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, said their innovative sidepod design unveiled in Bahrain was within the new regulations.
When Lewis Hamilton took to the track for the final test this week, his Mercedes was radically different from the one at the first test in Barcelona. They have used the side impact structures as fins and mirror mounts and in so doing have dramatically decreased the size of their sidepods. The intent is to improve airflow and increase downforce. The design has the potential to give Mercedes a major pace advantage going into the new season, which begins in Bahrain on 20 March.
On Thursday morning, Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reported that Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, had already called the car’s legality into question. “From our point of view, Mercedes went a step too far,” he said. “That doesn’t correspond to the spirit of the regulations. For us, these wings are illegal.”
In a surprising twist Red Bull quickly and strenuously denied Horner had made any comments about the Mercedes. Nonetheless, Wolff responded by noting that although they were the only team to have adopted such a radical approach, their car had been designed in full consultation with F1’s governing body, the FIA, which had confirmed it was within the regulations during development.
“When you go down a specific development direction, the FIA scrutinises it and you make them a part of the process,” he said. “We were keen in not running alone, but being in touch with the FIA, that is why I think it will be OK. It is clear that when you come with an innovation it creates the kind of debate that we are having here. That was expected.”
Given there are new rules of governance this year, it is possible the design could become outlawed should enough teams believe it confers an unfair advantage.
F1’s director of motorsport, Ross Brawn, was at the helm of the new regulations, the biggest shake-up the sport has experienced since the 1980s, aimed at improving the chances of overtaking. Brawn said the Mercedes approach, which he described as “extreme”, had not been expected and noted that even if the car is within the regulations such innovations could now be banned mid-season should eight of the 10 teams (known as a “supermajority”) agree.
“There’s no doubt that the Mercedes concept we didn’t anticipate, it’s a very extreme interpretation of the regulations,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s largely about does it affect the objective of the regulations? From the teams’ perspective, they want to be sure that no one’s taken an interpretation that they don’t feel is correct. So I think there’s going to be a lot of debate in the next few days.”
The other teams will have the opportunity to protest against the design before next week’s race but it remains to be seen whether Mercedes have indeed stolen a march on the rest of the field.
On Thursday, they ran the car with the intent of putting miles on the clock and checking long-run performance without setting out to push to its limits – a task they will probably leave until the final day of testing on Saturday. Hamilton was fifth-fastest in the first session with his teammate, George Russell, ninth.