The “massive performance wobbles” Mercedes is experiencing on-going make it difficult for the Formula 1 team to confidently commit to their concept car for 2023, given what team principal Toto Wolff describes as “big question marks” over his current difficulties.

Mercedes struggled in qualifying at Spa last weekend, with Lewis Hamilton their best-placed driver in seventh. He was 1.8 seconds slower than Max Verstappen’s pole position time and behind the two Alpine riders.

These struggles were due to a confluence of factors including the car carrying too much drag, poor balance and instability particularly in the twisty central sector, the return of bouncing on the circuit at high speeds and difficulties getting the Pirelli tires on. in the temperature window. for a single round.

The car’s performance improved a lot during the grand prix, with George Russell taking fourth place and even being able to threaten the leading Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. But speaking after the race, Wolff admitted the team didn’t fully understand the reasons for the wobbles.

“It’s very difficult to deal with these fluctuations,” Wolff said. “We had a totally sub-par performance yesterday being beaten by the Alpines and then in the race we were three seconds a lap quicker.

“Big question marks about what’s going on. It’s not where we should be with the structure and the knowledge to understand racing cars, but we don’t. [know] with this one.”

Wolff joked that the Mercedes W13 has been such a disturbing car that it will be put “in the caves” at the brand’s museum in Stuttgart at the end of the year given how difficult the 2022 season is until here.

But while hopes will be high for the 2023 car to be much stronger given the depth of research and knowledge acquisition Mercedes has gone through with this year’s car, Wolff admitted there is still worries about whether she had gained enough understanding to be sure of the right choices to make with the W14.

“It’s a very difficult situation because we have a certain concept car and it’s not like we can experiment a lot this year and dial in stuff and test, so whatever we decide for next year has to be carefully evaluated because clearly our data doesn’t match reality,” Wolff said when asked by The Race about the gaps in the team’s understanding.

“We have huge fluctuations in performance that we can’t really control.

“Right now, to make a decision for next year, whatever it is, radically changing the concept, how can you be sure that’s a better direction to go? It will be part of the decisions in the next few weeks on what we want to do about it. »

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Practice Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

While it can be taken for granted that Mercedes will change its concept in one way or another next year, it’s not yet clear exactly what that will entail.

While attention has been focused on its narrow sidepods, it gives a visually obvious difference to the designs of its rivals, especially as Williams dropped its similar mid-season concept, which is designed to work with its overall subfloor concept.

The idea that putting more conventional sidepods on the car would transform his car is reductive, with that area of ​​the car described as a “distraction” from the real source of his problems, although some rivals believe the lack of effect of downwash will be expensive. Mercedes performance.

The Race technical expert Gary Anderson has repeatedly pointed to Mercedes’ approach of designing a car that must operate in a narrow window near the ground as a potential problem. In particular, he pointed to the section at the rear of the floor where it is very close to the ground with which Mercedes has persevered.

Wolff admitted that Mercedes has yet to commit to his concept, although the definition of a concept car is, by his own admission, vague.

“We haven’t committed to a concept for next year, but it’s hard to say what a concept is,” Wolff said.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

“Is it the chassis, the weight distribution, the mechanical and aero balance, the body concept?

“All of these are different pillars of the car that are being assessed and could mean some of them go and some stay and we are looking at that right now.”

The bottom line is that Mercedes are making sure they understand their issues as well as possible, especially after a season where they have been regularly surprised by their stuttering progress.

Wolff said it is essential that Mercedes is able to get to the bottom of the problems it has by correlating performance predicted using simulation tools, including wind tunnel and CFD, and those produced. in the real world.

“Today we are wrong and the non-correlation in various areas prevents us from performing,” said Wolff, when asked by The Race how convinced he was that Mercedes had made improvements with its simulation tools and improved its car knowledge base.

“Now there may be one thing that overshadows everything and we don’t do it justice by questioning every part of the car.

“Is the tires something we don’t fundamentally understand and everything else is fine? Or does the aero mess it up? Or the mechanical scale? It’s so hard to dissect.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

Mercedes still have the ambition to win races this year, despite the pressure on time. But what’s most important is that he’s able to make sure the W13 is more predictable because that will validate his processes and also the decisions he’s making for the car. ‘next year.

The performance of the car will vary depending on the characteristics of the circuits visited, and the race pace at Spa made it clear that part of the problem was the continuous struggle to get the tires to work for a single qualifying lap. But as the race showed, once the tires are in the right window, the pace is much stronger.

But it’s the work underway at its Brackley headquarters at the moment, feeding on the knowledge gained from driving the car in the second half of the season, that will be crucial in deciding whether Mercedes can resume operations as usual in 2023.