Mercedes’ James Allison admits feeling ‘dumb’ after early-season F1 struggles

As the 2024 Formula 1 season unfolded, Mercedes found themselves lingering in the middle of the pack. Drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell described the W15, their team’s challenger for the current season, as being on a “knife’s edge.”

But in recent weeks, that edge has widened a bit.

A series of upgrades the team started rolling out beginning at the Miami Grand Prix, including a redesigned front wing, have seen the team deliver improved performance on the track, and in the standings. The Silver Arrows are coming off their best Grand Prix result of the season in Montreal, as Russell secured the team’s first Grand Prix podium with a P2 and Hamilton finished in P4. Those results, plus Hamilton picking up a bonus point for recording the fastest lap of the race, saw Mercedes bank 28 points in the Constructors’ Championship standings, their best result of the season.

According to Mercedes Technical Director James Allison, that result comes after feeling rather “dumb” when they finally pieced together some answers.

Speaking on the Beyond the Grid podcast, Allison opened up about the team’s start to the year, and their search for answers regarding the W15.

“The thing that has bedevilled us from the start of the year, the overriding thing, was that you could get the car okay in a slow corner, get it quite decent in a fast corner, but you couldn’t get it good in both at the same time,” described Allison.

That descriptions mirrors how Russell described the W15 at the Miami Grand Prix. Speaking to the media, including SB Nation, Russell outlined the difficulties in getting the car into the optimal operating window.

“The problems you know Lewis and I faced last year was with this sort of spiteful rear end, and now suddenly we are struggling to turn the car at its low speed corners, and it’s the front [end] That’s that’s sort of washing out,” described Russell in Miami. “So I think we’ve just gone too far in in the other direction, and we need to kind of find a halfway house from what we had last year and where we ended up right now.”

In Allison’s mind, the team finally solved the problems, delivering a more consistent car to Russell and Hamilton.

“What has changed in the last two, three races is that we’ve modified the car in such a way as it actually has a reasonable high-to-low-speed balance and a reasonable through-corner balance,” described Allison.

“Those are sort of boringly jargony things that it just means that the driver can trust both the front and rear axle in a fast corner and a slow corner, and can trust it from when he hits the brakes at the beginning of the corner, all the way through the apex and out the other side,” continued the Mercedes Technical Diretor. “That balance is crucial to a driver, that they know whether the car is going to understeer or oversteer, and that it’s going to follow the trajectory.”

Allison conceded the breakthrough was an “oh my God” moment for him and the team, terming it a “ … more of an ‘oh God, how can we have been so dumb?’-type moment where you see the path forward and you should have seen it sooner.”

Ultimately, the team went down an aerodynamic path to find the solution.

“A thing that we’d been fighting all year with springs and bars and all the mechanical accoutrements on the car, [we’re now] just attacking it with the aerodynamic characteristic of the car,” Allison told the Beyond the Grid podcast.

Having come to a solution, Allison believes Mercedes can be “as fast as anybody” over the rest of the season.

“I think that we definitely can get the car this season to be properly competitive and to fear no tracks,” he said. “I think that the specifics of this circuit [Montreal] might make our fans think prematurely that we’re already there. This circuit has quite a low range of cornering speeds in it, and it tests the car maybe slightly less severely than some of the others that are coming up.

“While I’m pretty sure that we will make a good showing in the nearby future races, I’d be surprised if we’re on pole at the next round, for example. But I am absolutely certain that we can be as fast as anybody over the coming period.”

You can listen to Allison’s entire appearance on the Beyond the Grid podcast here.

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