Allison: Newey perception means Mercedes' aero ability goes 'under the radar'

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The perception of Red Bull's Adrian Newey being Formula 1's best designer means Mercedes' aerodynamic ability goes "under the radar", James Allison claims.

Newey has certainly earned the reputation as one of the best technical minds in F1 history, creating 11 championship-winning cars for three different teams during his 23-year career.

However, with his role within Red Bull reducing in recent years, it is clear that aerodynamically, Mercedes has certainly been a match if not ahead of Red Bull with their own chassis'.

Yet despite that, very few teams have shifted away from the high-rake philosophy that was pioneered by Newey.

“There are two answers,” Mercedes technical director Allison told Auto Motor und Sport when asked why that was.

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“Because the media do a good job of telling everyone that Adrian Newey builds the best chassis, and that has convinced everyone else to copy that concept.

“In the meantime, we have flown under the radar with a car that everyone only ever believed lived on its powerful engine. Our car is also very good aerodynamically.

"Now for the serious answer. Every team has chosen a way, whether they copied Newey or not, and to deviate from that approach is fraught with risk because you have invested a lot of work in your concept and brought it to a very good level.

“Any attempt to deviate from it is, first of all, a step backwards and it will take a while before you reap the benefits of the other concept. It is difficult to be brave, to switch to a new concept. That’s why everyone sticks with what they have."

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Last year, however, Racing Point did make the switch from following the Red Bull approach to essentially trying to copy the 2019 Mercedes, and would reap the rewards as most would agree they had the third-fastest car for much of the season.

Racing Point deserves a lot of credit," the Mercedes chief noted. "First, they had the courage to change the concept and secondly, that they had the competence to make the change quickly and smoothly.”

But because of Mercedes' alternative philosophy to Red Bull, the team has traditionally struggled on circuits dominated by slow corners such as Monaco or Mexico, where their strength on the straights and through high-speed corners hasn't been able to make up the deficit.

And Allison explained the process that went into improving in that area wasn't quick.

“The eradication of this weakness did not only happen last winter,” he said.

“We have been working on it since 2017. The 2017 Mercedes was impressive in fast corners, but a bit embarrassing in slow ones. It has been a gradual process to get to where we are now.

“Already the 2019 car was very balanced in all types of corners in the race. The key was to understand how the tyre develops grip on the asphalt, depending on the type of asphalt, the downforce, the tyre temperature and the rubber compound.

“[With the W11] we have found a way in which the aerodynamic platform works in such a way that the tyres are happy, the front ones don’t wear out before the rear ones or vice versa. That has improved us in the slow corners, and that’s where most of the lap time is.

“What have we given up for that? The peak of downforce in fast corners on tracks where the main aerodynamic load is on the front tyre. We don’t fly there like we used to, but we are still good enough.”

For 2021, the chassis' will remain the same as a cost-saving measure brought in after the disruption caused by Covid-19, although some development on other areas is allowed.

With that in mind then, where can the conquering W11 be improved?

“More downforce, more power, slightly better balanced between a lap and the race distance,” Allison replied.