Why Mercedes has gone “aggressive” with its new W11 F1 car

24th February 2020
Damien Smith

Winter testing: the most exciting time of year for Formula 1 fans. Starved of action since the previous season’s finale, there’s renewed anticipation as teams roll out new cars in Barcelona and give us a first indication of form for the year, which stretches out ahead of us unblemished and full of possibility.


The teams have just six days of running this year and are currently half-way through that allocation. There were three days of running last week, with another three to follow at the Circuit de Catalunya starting this Wednesday. Then it’s all systems go for the Australian season opener on March 15th

So first impressions? Well, those silver cars looked forebodingly strong from the point of pure lap times – and to rub it in, Mercedes-AMG also stole a march with a fantastically clever technical innovation that must have left Ferrari and Red Bull kicking themselves that they hadn’t thought of it too. A six-time consecutive champion it might be, but in the final year of these current F1 regulations Mercedes-AMG is keeping its foot flat to the floor and has gone “aggressive” on its new W11, as technical director James Allison explained.

No chance of complacency

This Mercedes team is fast becoming regarded as the best in F1 history, and not just because of the astounding achievements it continues to rack up in this hybrid era. It’s also something about its attitude. There’s a humility and a grounding in reality, despite all the wins, that must leave its rivals groaning in frustration – because it indicates there’s not a chance of complacency creeping in and undermining its relentless F1 campaign.

Take the video issued by Mercedes, in which Allison has explained his team’s approach to the new car. It wasn’t just what he said, but the way he said it that will have left others in the paddock with an all-too-familiar sinking feeling.

“The temptation for us was just to keep polishing last year’s car,” he said. “After all, it finished the season really strongly and it was developing really fast all through the year, so there was still lots of opportunity to make that one quicker. That conservative approach was very tempting, but in the end we decided that wouldn’t be enough. We were feeling the breath of our competitors on our shoulder. We know their hunger and we know that is we don’t do something impressive with this car they will eat us up and leave us behind.

“So we decided to make a car that was very aggressive despite there being no change in the regulations. We would take every part of this car and see if we could make it better.”


More power, more downforce

Technical directors going public to describe their new car isn’t exactly normal, given the poker-face secrecy that has always been at the heart of F1’s competitive intensity. That Allison was happy to not only speak but actually make a video about the W11 really raises eyebrows – and can be taken as a sign of sky-high confidence and belief. Again, we can almost hear the groans emanating from Maranello and Milton Keynes.

Allison explained the key areas Mercedes has worked on to go aggressive on the design. Significant structural work on the front end and an “adventurous” approach to the rear suspension and geometry should bring greater flexibility in aerodynamic development, while he was happy to admit Mercedes has followed its rivals in adopting high-shaped sidepods and a raised side crash structure, again for aero gains.

Significantly, the tech director also praised Merc’s Brixworth-based HPP division for finding “lots of fresh horses” from a “really impressive upgrade” to the powertrain. More than that, he said for a third straight season power unit gains have been made that directly benefit the aerodynamics of the chassis. The hybrid turbo V6 can now run hotter, meaning radiators can be reduced further in size and help create an even “slimmer” car.

In conclusion, Allison described it as a “good winter” for the team: “We’ve got a car that is streaks ahead of [the W10] in terms of downforce,” he said. Added to all this, of course, is the sensational innovation that left Allison with a big smile he couldn’t hide last week when the penny dropped with rivals of what his team had come up with. The ‘dual-axis steering’ system, which allows the drivers to change the toe-in and toe-out angle of the front tyres in corners by pulling and pushing the steering wheel, helping to increase grip in corners without compromising straight-line speed, is pure F1 at its best. The system will be banned for 2021 – but it’s legal for this year. And it will take months for the other teams to make their own.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both set comfortably fast times on their days in the car last week. As starts go, it couldn’t really have gone much better.

When’s the first F1 race of 2020? How many races are there this season? Have a look at the 2020 Formula 1 calendar here.


Ferrari’s unsteady start

This time last year Ferrari was the one flying in testing and headed to Australia  as the accepted favourite – only to get soundly beaten. That example can give hope to Merc’s rivals that its daunting form won’t necessarily be carried into the races. Then again, is that clutching at straws? Ferrari’s tricky test last week won’t exactly leave its fans full of confidence that it’s about to get its own back for last year once the teams get to Melbourne this time.

Sebastian Vettel suffered an engine failure and in terms of pure lap time, Ferrari was only eighth out of the 10 teams over the three days. Again, we must be careful not to read too much into that, but team boss Mattia Binotto couldn’t hide how downbeat he felt when he spoke to the media. Let’s see how the red cars fare this week.


Attack of the clones

As for the rest, the big talking point was an uncanny similarity between the new Racing Point RP20 and the 2019 Mercedes-AMG W10. Lawrence Stroll’s team is insistent that there’s no illegal sharing of IP between the factory and customer team, and it’s hardly a novel subject in F1. Alpha Tauri has Red Bull, Haas has Ferrari.

But when the midfield battle is so intense, McLaren and Renault in particular will be watching Racing Point closely. The tension on the subject of F1 cloning could well become a point of drama as we get into the season.

Moving steering wheels, afflicted Ferraris and copy-cat cars – all scope to spoil that unblemished road ahead. But would you expect anything else?

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • F1 2020

  • Formula 1

  • Mercedes

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Ferrari

  • SF1000

  • W11

  • Racing Point

  • RP20

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