Here's How The Tiniest Changes Enabled Mercedes To Dominate The F1 Season

Illustration for article titled Here's How The Tiniest Changes Enabled Mercedes To Dominate The F1 Season
Photo: Douglas Magno/AFP (Getty)

Success in Formula One depends pretty damn heavily on having lots of money and also having the most minutely more impressive technology—and no battle epitomized the importance of those seemingly microscopic details than the championship fight between Ferrari and Mercedes.


Seriously. We’ve talked before about how just about everything Ferrari tried this year somehow failed, but a new Autosport video shows just how minute some of the differences between Ferrari and Mercedes were this year. And, as a result, how that impacted the Italian team’s championship hopes.

Ferrari looked stellar in pre-season testing in part because it was running that season’s actual car, whereas Mercedes wasn’t quite ready to do so yet. But as the season progressed and minor changes took place, with the cars evolving in response to more time on track, Ferrari proved to be lagging behind Mercedes at almost every turn.

It’s kind of incredible to realize how small details could drastically change performance. When Mercedes showed up to the second week of pre-season testing with small divots made in the nose to increase downforce, suddenly it looked a whole lot better than it had before.

You can see Mercedes making changes and Ferrari responding, largely in terms of aerodynamics and airflow optimization. But it’s absolutely fascinating to see how far Ferrari lagged behind for much of the season. Mercedes’ changes often seem complex and sophisticated; Ferrari’s, on the other hand, feel like they’d been tacked on. The Mercedes feature a lot of softer curves that looked like they guided air flow, while Ferrari often uses choppier and more angular aerodynamic components. It becomes especially obvious when the video takes us to Spain, where big upgrades usually take place across the board.

The video also touches on the changes that Ferrari made after the summer break, when the team started kicking plenty of ass. The Ferrari excelled when it came to straight-line speeds, but its host of upgrades for Singapore—a new nose, for example, that created more downforce—proved that the team was capable of making meaningful steps. The only problem was the fact that Mercedes hadn’t been bringing any big upgrades. Once the German team started building on the car again, Ferrari was once again relegated to the sidelines.

These details are, honestly, pretty damn small. It’s the equivalent of trimming your bangs and then somehow your dating game mysteriously improves. The championship is all in the details.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



I know everyone likes to talk about how Mercedes sandbags at the beginning of every season but it’s really not true.  They’d never stoop to something so clumsy.  They clearly developed a precision machined resistance ring to increase mechanical resistance in the axles.