Mercedes and Ferrari F1 launches: Who will copy who for 2018?
|By Jonathan Noble and Ben Anderson||Thursday, February 22nd 2018, 09:24 GMT|
When the 2018 Mercedes and Ferrari Formula 1 cars are unveiled in the coming hours, seeing how much their designs have converged over the winter will be a key question.
Last season was one of the rare occasions when two teams so evenly matched in gunning for the F1 title created cars with clearly different design concepts.
It was a battle of the longer wheelbase Mercedes 'diva', with its nose cape and high front suspension wishbones, against the compact Ferrari that included a unique sidepod arrangement that appears to have set a trend for 2018.
Different circuits played into the hands of different teams. From Mercedes being nowhere in Monaco, for example, it was unstoppable at venues such as Silverstone and Monza.
Now Ferrari and Mercedes have a full year of understanding the advantages of disadvantages of each other's ideas.
Major changes to areas such as suspension, sidepods and wheelbase are only possible over the winter.
As McLaren technical chief on chassis Tim Goss said on the subject of teams copying each other: "Now we have had a year to learn about the cars and how they perform with these new bodywork regulations, then you will build on that.
"As a result of that, you can make some architectural changes second time around. First time around there are certain things baked in and you will not go about changing, like wheelbase or weight distribution within bounds. But second time around you have got the opportunity to change things."
The key areas to watch on the Ferrari and Mercedes will be the wheelbase, front suspension concept, bargeboard area and sidepods.
The biggest talking point has been the wheelbase difference, although Mercedes has insisted it did not feel any of the weaknesses the W08 displayed were down to its length.
Speaking late last year, Mercedes chief designer John Owen said the 'diva' characteristics owed more to a lack of understanding of how to extract speed from it, than any fundamental problem.
"With this car, we didn't understand it, and I think the term 'diva' came along because we seemed to do what looked like the right things and it doesn't respond the way we want it to," he said.
"Over the year we've come to learn a lot about this car, and how to get the best from it. You see other teams have struggled similarly - they've had their own divas as well - and as the year's progressed we've all understood what we need to do more and more."
Conversely, Ferrari sources suggest it believed gains were possible from lengthening its car for better aerodynamic performance.
There could be other changes too. Last year Mercedes did some trials with a high-rake set-up, something that Red Bull was continued to pursue aggressively with its 2018 car.
Ultimately it is hard to single out one area as the key basis around which the whole car is designed and it could well be that both teams cherry pick ideas from the other.
As Owen said: "A lot of those things get talked about as being defining factors, but they are coupled to a lot of other decisions you make about the car.
"There have been things that suggest we might want to look at high-rake, maybe not: we are evaluating all the time.
"Sometimes things that look obvious to the outside observer are actually small aspects and things that really make the difference are far more hidden on the car.
"It's one of those things we know is talked about, but we've obviously made a conscious decision to do what we've done. We have a longer car, with lower rake; others have shorter cars.
"It will be interesting to see who copies who."