Mercedes are set to bring major upgrades to their W14 car in Monaco; the Silver Arrows are expected to move away from the concept they have pursued since the beginning of 2022; watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 from May 26-28
Wednesday 17 May 2023 16:09, UK
After weeks of speculation, Mercedes' long-awaited upgrades to their W14 car are finally set to arrive as the Formula 1 season returns to Europe.
The Silver Arrows realised as early as the beginning of March at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix that they had made an error by sticking with their design concept from the previous year.
There had been hope that untapped potential remained in the eye-catching 'zero-sidepod' look first seen on their previous W13 model, but it quickly became clear the new car would be unable to challenge Red Bull, who in 2022 emphatically ended Mercedes' eight-year streak of constructors' titles and have won all five races to start the new campaign.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said as early as Friday practice in Bahrain that they were on the "wrong track" before team principal Toto Wolff conceded that the W14 design "didn't work out".
Since then, it has been a case of damage limitation with Mercedes battling Aston Martin and Ferrari to finish behind the Red Bulls, and seven-time world champion Hamilton admitting he has been "counting the days" until the upgrades arrive.
There have already been repercussions in Mercedes' senior leadership team, with James Allison returning as technical director in place of Mike Elliott, who moved into the broader chief technical officer role.
The upgrades were expected to be revealed at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but the race's cancellation due to flooding in northern Italy has delayed their first possible sighting until the following weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
With the waiting almost over, we have collated the most notable comments coming from the Brackley outfit to answer the key questions.
Given Mercedes realised they needed to make major changes at the first race of the season, some may wonder why it has taken them two-and-a-half months to have them ready.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin last week explained: "If we go all the way back to the test and race in Bahrain, that was where we realised that we didn't have a package that was going to allow us to fight for a world championship - if we continued on that same development direction, we wouldn't end up in a position where we felt we could challenge Red Bull.
"It was around that time that we took some decisions on how we develop the car, how the car works aerodynamically, and how we shape the characteristics of the car. In essence, how it is in terms of handling for the drivers to drive.
"What we are going to be bringing to the track is the first step of that work. This takes quite a long time to develop in the wind tunnel and you can't just do these things overnight."
Discussing upgrades on the Sky Sports F1 Podcast, Karun Chandok added: "They take as long as they take. I think that's what people don't understand - you can't just think of an idea and just put it on the car for the next race.
"There's a six-to-eight week lead time. You come up with an idea, design it in CFD (computational fluid dynamics) in the virtual world, then once you're happy with that, you make a model which goes in the wind tunnel - there's x amount of testing that has to happen with that.
"Then it goes to the composite department to make the parts and get them to the actual race, and that whole process is six-seven weeks at least."
When Mercedes unveiled their 2022 W13 model in Bahrain last year, the car's lack of sidepods stunned the paddock.
Given the team's incredible streak of titles and reputation for excellence, most assumed it was another moment of genius that would ensure more success.
While the sidepods are not the only reason Mercedes have not reached the level they aspire to, they are undoubtedly a key element and appear set for a radical change.
As early as the Bahrain GP, then technical director Elliott said of new planned sidepods: "It won't be the same as other people's and it won't be the same as we've got, it'll be different.
"We have got a very different sidepod coming - I say very different, a different sidepod that's coming."
So yes, we can be pretty sure the sidepods are going to look different, but plenty of mystery remains around exactly what form they will take.
Speaking at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in March, Hamilton made it very clear that changing the sidepods alone wouldn't solve Mercedes' issues.
"People keep talking about getting the new sidepods on the car but it's not as simple as that," the Brit said.
"You put the Red Bull sidepods on our car and it won't change a thing, it literally won't change a thing, it might even go slower.
"It's about aero characteristics, it's how the car is balanced through the corners. There's so many different elements that people of course would not know because they're not aerodynamicists and you can't see it - there's a lot more to it."
Aside from the sidepods, Mercedes had largely been reluctant to share much information about what would be changing, but Wolff gave his most detailed answer at the Miami Grand Prix earlier in May.
"What we are doing is we're introducing a new bodywork and we're introducing a new floor and we're doing a new front suspension," he said.
"That's a pretty large operation, a large surgery and so there is going to be a lot of learning."
Red Bull have won all five races this season in dominant fashion, with Max Verstappen topping the drivers' standings as he seeks a third successive title.
Given the stunning pace of the RB19, it's difficult to see anyone closing the 122-point lead Red Bull have already opened up in the constructors' standings, but just competing with them for wins would undoubtedly be a triumph.
Asked in Miami what he is expecting from the upgrades, Wolff said that in the "virtual world" the car is producing a "good lap time" but has repeatedly warned that suddenly challenging Red Bull is highly unlikely.
"We need to manage our own expectations," Wolff said. "Because we are bringing an update package that is going to consist of new suspension parts and bodywork and some other things but I have never in my 15 years in Formula 1 seen a silver bullet being introduced where suddenly you unlock half a second of performance. I very much doubt this is going to happen here.
"What I'm looking for is that we take certain variables off the table where we believe we could have introduced something that we don't understand in the car and to have a stable platform. We shall see what our baseline is and what we can do from there."
While Wolff is keen to manage expectations, Hamilton's revelation that he's been "counting the days" until the upgrades suggests that there is internal confidence of significant improvement.
While it must be noted that Ferrari are also expected to bring major upgrades, Sky Sports F1's Karun Chandhok believes Mercedes are hoping to establish themselves as Red Bull's nearest challengers.
"I believe there's a decent upgrade coming to the Mercedes, and I'm really intrigued to see where that moves them," Chandhok said.
"I don't think it will move them into Red Bull territory, but I think they're hoping it will clear them ahead of Aston and Ferrari, that's their ambition I think, but we'll see."
Once upon a time, Mercedes would have quite literally been able to build a completely different 'B-spec' car, but Formula 1's budget cap and the sliding scale of aero testing allowed puts limitations on what they can do.
Despite those measures, Wolff confirmed that Mercedes have enough funds remaining to continue on the path they will soon reveal.
Wolff said: "Yes we do, because if you embark on a new development direction it's that one project you concentrate on so that should be fine."
While Wolff has said he believes Mercedes can win races this season, the ultimate aim of the concept change is to ensure the Silver Arrows can get back to competing with Red Bull over a full campaign.
Shovlin explained in his Miami GP review: "We do hope that it is quicker, we hope that it's better in terms of qualifying and race pace.
"The key thing though is that we are not just looking to bring a lap time update, we are looking to head off in a different development direction. One that we think gives us a better chance in the long term of being able to challenge for race wins and world championships."
Formula 1 returns to the streets of Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand Prix from May 26-28. Watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 including the race from 2pm on Sunday May 28.