What's behind Mercedes' extreme new sidepods

A quick comparison glance between the German car manufacturer’s 2018 design and the new W11 shows a very aggressive sidepod solution, with the inlets much smaller than before.

The intent of this design is to improve flow quality into the radiator inlet and reduce the negative impact that the front tyre wake has on flow into and around the entire sidepod structure.

For 2020, Mercedes has joined the group of teams going down this route: lowering and bringing the uppermost side impact protection spars forward to improve power unit performance and reliability, while reducing drag and refining the aerodynamic output of the car.

The sidepod undercut and general shaping is very extreme due to their adoption of this lower impact structure and letterbox style inlet solution.

Mercedes is keen to edge out rivals when it comes to power unit performance once more in 2020, having given up ground to them last season.

Improving cooling efficiency will therefore be high on the agenda, in order that it can run in higher power modes for longer, as it clearly was unable to exploit the power unit upgrades introduced last season. It will expect further power gains in 2020 that must be unlocked to assure its continued success.

The W10 (pictured below) was already pretty extreme around the midriff, with a distinctive shape to the chassis that pulled everything as close to the body as possible.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10, chassis

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To maximise this further, and to take advantage of the new shapes and contours in this region, the W11 may also feature a revised fuel tank layout too, allowing even more scope for the revised radiator and sidepod packaging, while also improving weight distribution.

How we got to this point…

The FIA introduced a common side-impact protection spar (SIPS) design to reduce costs and better manage side-impact loads in 2014. This curtailed the more exotic designs we’d seen in recent years, with limited scope in the regulations restricting the design options available.

However, the changes made in 2017 reopened closed wounds and once again allowed designers to rethink the placement of these SIPS and the bodywork that surrounded them.

Ferrari was the first to take advantage, with the SF70H, but others swiftly followed suit, with three other teams sporting a very similar solution in 2018 and more taking advantage last season.