Mercedes’ poor start to 2024 F1 season impacted by simulator correlation issues, says technical director James Allison | F1 News

Mercedes technical director James Allison has admitted the team’s poor start to the 2024 Formula 1 season has raised concerns over the correlation between findings from their simulator and performance on track.

Despite an off-season overhaul of the design of their car, Mercedes have not only remained out of contention for race victories during the opening first three races, but appear to have fallen further back from the fight at the front.

A lack of performance in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia ensured the highest finish managed by either Lewis Hamilton or George Russell was the latter’s fifth in the opening race, before a double DNF at the Australian Grand Prix compounded a continued lack of pace.

Even after three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain, Mercedes were optimistic regarding their prospects of taking the fight to reigning constructors’ champions Red Bull, but now appear to have accepted that something has gone fundamentally wrong.

« There are always correlation issues in every year in every team and there always will be correlation issues between what you see in the factory and what you see on the track because the factory is a sort of reduced version of reality, » Allison explained in Mercedes’ public post-race debrief.

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Lewis Hamilton reports an engine failure and retires from a chaotic Australian Grand Prix!

« It is not the same as driving a car on a real track on the actual asphalt of the actual circuit with all its infinite detail and complexity. You have simplified models back here in the factory and those simplified models are powerful for steering you one way or the other.

« But all of them have their shortcomings and all of them have their correlation issues. In large measure the models that we have, the simulation tools we have, are amazingly good at keeping us on the straight and narrow and guiding us towards more lap time. The devil’s always in the detail.

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Lewis Hamilton says the gap from Mercedes to Red Bull is the same as last year after he retired from the Australian Grand Prix following an engine failure.

« In the area of the high to low-speed balance, we could do with some improvement in that area of the models, because there we have some difference between what we are seeing on the track and what we are seeing back in virtual world.

« And those differences, if we can bring them closer together then it just allows us to be more accurate with the projections we make back here address the things that we believe are holding the car back. »

Allison reveals ’emerging pattern’ in Mercedes struggles

Mercedes’ performance in Australia was undoubtedly the most disturbing of their season thus far, with the Silver Arrows having arrived in Melbourne hopeful that the Albert Park Circuit would suit their W15 car.

That expectation failed to materialise in Friday’s opening practice sessions, although the team appeared to have made an overnight breakthrough when both Hamilton and Russell were within striking distance in final practice ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session.

However, that apparent speed disappeared when it mattered, with Hamilton making a surprise Q2 exit as he qualified 11th, while Russell could only manage seventh.

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Mercedes lack of performance is not for a lack of trying but it is not good enough after qualifying P7 and P11.

The race provided little consolation as Hamilton retired after an engine failure in the early stages, while Russell crashed – amid controversial circumstances – when chasing Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso for sixth on the penultimate lap.

« We are starting to see a pattern emerge that most weekends we have a period in the weekend where we are feeling good about the car, confident about the car, but then in the paying sessions, in qualifying and the race, that slips through our fingers, » Allison said.

« If we were trying to draw that pattern together then probably the strongest correlation that we can make at the moment, is that our competitiveness drops when the track is warm, when the day is at its warmest and therefore the tyre temperatures rise with those of the track.

« The times when we have been at our best have been all in the sessions which are the coolest and so that gives us some clues about what we need to do as we move forward from here. But from FP3 to qualifying in Melbourne there was not a setup change. »

Suzuka set to provide ‘real test’ of W15

With expectations clearly reset after the disappointment of Melbourne, Allison admits that Mercedes will need to take a highly experimental approach to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

There is concern that the Suzuka circuit’s characteristics could prove particularly challenging for Mercedes, while Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren all appear to be confident of maximising their packages.

« It is a track with plenty of fast corners and also some slow-ish hairpins, so a real test of the car, » Allison said. « Our job will be to make sure that we are attacking some of those things I discussed earlier. The tyre temperature issue, the high to low-speed balance and all the activities between now and then will be to try to work out in the simulator, and see what we can do in simulation to influence those things.

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Guenther Steiner claims nothing is impossible when it comes to a potential eighth world title for Lewis Hamilton and the former Haas boss also has his say on Max Verstappen.

Then it will be about making sure that we design the programme for Suzuka, so that we can execute that in the limited time that there is available. And to make sure that we give enough time to getting stabilised temperatures in the tyres, constructing a programme that will allow us to check not just that the car is okay on single lap, but also over stabilised temperatures when we are more in sort of race mode. »

Mercedes are also wary that after Suzuka comes the first Sprint event in the form of the Chinese Grand Prix, at which teams will only have one practice session to set up their cars before the competitive action begins.

Allison added: « So that’ll be the main thrust of what we’re doing, to try and make sure that we really seize the opportunity of this couple of weeks before Suzuka, to make sure we’re on the right track in terms of seeing Suzuka pick up a little bit and then that will give us more confidence when we head to China, which is a Sprint race and where the amount of time available at the track is that much lower still.

« Where you want to have a bit of certainty under you that you were on the right track that the things we’ve been working on have been sort of nudging us in the right direction and then that just gives you more confidence to push harder down that path in the following events. »

Sky Sports F1’s live Japanese GP schedule

Thursday April 4
5am: Drivers’ press conference

Friday April 5
3am: Japanese GP Practice One (session starts at 3.30am)*
6.45am: Japanese GP Practice Two (session starts at 7am)*

8.30am: The F1 Show*
10am: Japanese GP Practice One replay
11.30am: Japanese GP Practice Two replay

Saturday April 6
3.15am: Japanese GP Practice Three (session starts at 3.30am)*
6am: Japanese GP Qualifying build-up*
7am: Japanese GP Qualifying*
9am: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook*
10am: Japanese GP Qualifying replay

Sunday April 7
5am: Grand Prix Sunday Japanese GP build-up*
8am: Chequered Flag: Japanese GP reaction*
9am: Ted’s Notebook*
9.30am: Japanese Grand Prix replay
12pm: Japanese Grand Prix highlights

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Formula 1’s biggest-ever season continues with the Japanese Grand Prix, live on Sky Sports F1 from April 5-7. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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