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Formula 1

Gary Anderson: What Monaco struggle reveals about Mercedes

by Gary Anderson
4 min read

The Mercedes Formula 1 team’s ride problems in Monaco baffle me.

I can understand how porpoising has been a major problem for it in the previous six events where the car is running very low at high speed.

But to have what’s visually a very similar problem in Monaco points me in a different direction.

Monaco is a track where for the last 50 years you have had to run the car softer and higher than any other circuit on the calendar. It has always been bumpy and it’s always had lots of camber variations on the surface.

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So for Mercedes to arrive with a car that looks like it simply doesn’t have any control over the rear suspension movement, and on top of that a really nervous rear end on corner exit, suggests it has thrown away all its years of previous experience.

We have seen that the Ferrari and the Red Bull are both pretty good at riding the kerbs and that transfers to riding the bumps here in Monaco. But Mercedes is in all sorts of trouble.

If I was Mercedes, I would be looking at the rear suspension set-up. It’s not a simple case of pushrod or pullrod as the other two have a variety of suspension set-ups. So it is more about the fundamentals of how the suspension controls its movement.

With the new 18-inch wheel rims and shallower-sidewall tyres that are stiffer both vertically and laterally, the suspension must compensate and allow more movement. This means it has more work to do.

That’s a good thing because it means that the damper can control that movement. But you need to get the balance between tyre and suspension movement right.

If you were to run a solid suspension set-up, the car would bounce along the track surface on its tyres like a pogo stick and you would have no control over it. If you run very high tyre pressures, the tyre will be stiffer and more of the bumps will be absorbed through the suspension. You can control this with dampers but the tyre grip would be reduced.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

So the compromise is absorbing any vertical inputs from bump or kerbs and sharing it out between the suspension and the tyres. Neither one can cope with it all and they need to work in harmony.

It looks like the rear suspension of the Mercedes is not working in line with the new stiffer tyres. If this is so, it will also induce the porpoising over the bumps that it is suffering at other tracks.

Sometimes, you have to give something up to make a gain. For Mercedes, softer and higher should be beneficial in Monaco but then you need to control that extra suspension movement with damper control.

So far this season, Mercedes has been focusing on fixing the porpoising with aerodynamic modifications. To manage it short-term, its philosophy seems to have been to keep the car low and stiff.

When you are doing that, you are minimising suspension movement so it might not be geared up damper wise to manage a suspension set-up that has more movement. Or, Mercedes might not have enough damper or rear suspension travel to allow the car to run softer. If that is so and the car moves too much when softer, it simply bangs into the ground.

Monaco has not been a disaster for Mercedes. It has qualified sixth and eighth so anything is still possible in the race, but the biggest thing might just be that it has highlighted that there are other problems with the car and it is not all aerodynamic.

Every car has porpoising to some degree. We often see the Ferrari bouncing along merrily, but it is able to manage it to a sensible level. For Mercedes, it might not be porpoising that is the prime mover – it is controlling the ride of the car. If you can’t get the ride under control, then porpoising is a secondary effect. However, it can very quickly become a major issue and for the driver it is what they focus on.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

It’s the old saying, ‘every day is a school day and you should learn something new’. For Mercedes, Monaco could be another step in its learning curve with these new cars.

If the bumps set off the porpoising at more conventional tracks, it could very easily be that controlling the ride over the bumps better will massively reduce its porpoising problems elsewhere.

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