SAKHIR, Bahrain - Mercedes has brought a significant upgrade to its 2022 Formula One car in time for the second pre-season test in Bahrain.
Driven by seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton on Thursday morning, the car featured tiny sidepod inlets and a completely redesigned engine cover.
Sidepods have become a big differentiator in car design this year, with Ferrari running a wide boxy design with a concave upper surface and Red Bull featuring raised inlets above a dramatic undercut.
However, Mercedes' concept is arguably the most extreme solution of the lot, with very small air inlets either side of the cockpit and a sloping sidepod that appears to exist separately from the upper side-impact crash structure on which the wing mirrors are mounted. It also features two sets of louvres cut into each sidepod to help with cooling.
The design is unique on this year's grid and is likely to become the focus of rivals' attention, with an Auto Motor und Sport story quoting Red Bull boss Christian Horner on Thursday morning questioning its legality. The question over legality focuses on whether the upper crash structure has been repurposed to act as a wing.
A few hours later, Red Bull issued a statement saying: "Christian Horner has not given any interviews regarding Mercedes' car.
"Any quotes being attributed to him this morning are incorrect."
When devising the new regulations, F1 motorsport director Ross Brawn and his technical team undertook "rule-breaking" exercises in order to close off loopholes.
Brawn admitted he was not expecting to see the Mercedes' design.
"I think there's no doubt that the Mercedes concept, we didn't anticipate, I don't think," Brawn told Sky Sports.
"It's a very extreme interpretation of the regulation and I think there's going to be, inevitably, a lot of debate about their interpretation and that's what happens with new regs.
"And however hard you try to close off all the options, and believe me we closed off hundreds of them, the innovation in F1 is always extreme. From our perspective it's largely about does it affect the objective of the regs, but for the teams they want to be sure no one has taken an interpretation they don't feel is correct so I think there's going to be a lot of debate in the next few days."
In 2019 Mercedes employed a similar tactic to testing, bringing a basic car to the first test to run system checks and gather preliminary data before bringing a more extreme design to the second test. The team went on to dominate both drivers' and constructors' championships that year.