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As we start to thaw from our forced summer break in Formula 1, AUTOSPORT put the question to Mercedes technical boss, Paddy Lowe, regarding the teams dominance and if this was really down to the new power unit regulations.

According to Lowe, it isn’t just the new hybrid systems and F1 has not become, effectively, a series driven by the best power unit saying:

“These cars are about system performance, not individual elements,” Lowe told AUTOSPORT.

“It’s about how you put it all together. It’s the power unit, the efficiency of the power unit, the aerodynamics, and the manner in which they’re all put together.

“It’s the collective efficiency of that package from a power, aero and suspension point of view, as well as a weight point of view.

“Our car is very quick. There are other cars running that power unit that aren’t as quick, so it’s a whole system.”

Fair enough, I say, but let’s think about the reality of a non-Mercedes works team who has not had the best aerodynamics and chassis for several years on the trot—namely, Williams F1.

Is Williams a decent litmus test as to how elemental the engine/power unit has become in 2014? Williams were nowhere near Ferrari and Red Bull or even Lotus in 2012 or 2013 and now they are running at the sharp end of the grid.

The team has made management changes and perhaps we could suggest that what we are seeing is a better chemistry of what Lowe suggests—Power, Aero, software etc. Somehow, I am not quite ready to afford Williams the position of making moves that have made them better than Red Bull or Ferrari at this point so that leaves the engine/power unit as the main source of their new-found success.

I would disagree with Lowe because the 2014 season is about having the best hybrid engine out of the blocks and the others are having to try and play catch up. Renault Sport F1 fired its head of state and made massive changes over the issue, Ferrari fired their engine man, Luca Marmorini, over the debacle and Cosworth vaporized at the end of 2013. You don’t see these kinds of aggressive moves if engines weren’t the main source of contention.

On the balance of it though, is this a bad thing? Engines/power units have always played a large role in the series and some could argue that the past several years with V8 engines saw no innovation with that formula.

The new engines are challenging, apparently road relevant and provide more torque than the chassis can handle. Aren’t those earmarks of a good formula?

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Is the engine issue so prominent now because the FIA have hobbled development in so many other areas of the “system” as Lowe put it? Yes, more power is always better, with so many other areas being restricted, and even banned mid-season, even a very slight power edge gets amplified to the point of dominance. All top-tier motorsport, but especially F1, have been about finding those marginal advantages. Heck, Penske even sands down their IndyCar chassis so that the decals lay flush for improved aero! The restrictive technical regulations we’ve seen from the FIA just magnify the importance and influence of those slight and marginal performance differences.

    • There is the sometimes overlooked issue of the reduction in aero this year that we fail to mention too and this places a bigger role on shove does it not?

      • Exactly my point.

  • rapierman

    If, as Lowe says, it’s more than just the engine, then why does Merc succeed this year where others fail? I posit that it IS the engine, but not in terms of horsepower, but also in terms of how they designed it with their turbocharger in mind and how they made the two work together in a new way that reaped huge benefits. That’s an engineering marvel.

    However, I think we can all agree that the rules need to be loosened up on the other parts of the car. The question needs to be asked: Which is better? Engine, aero, electronics, driver, or what? Could a measured combination of these things be the right answer? That’s part of what this competition is about. It’s great that Merc has the upper hand on engines, but that’s not the complete answer to that question.

  • Rik

    I believe that it’s an unfair comparison to bring Williams into the fray. They were admittedly a poor blown rear diffuser develop’d race team and those were good at it were at the front of the grid.

    FF to 14′ and no more blown rear diffuser. The teams that could not develop a good one had to rely upon other talents on the chassis and this was predicted to happen and William’s have proved it. They had a good car minus the blown diffuser and when it was taken away they moved up. Of course the Mercedes engine helps but why cannot one say the same for McLaren or FI both of which are currently behind Williams and both of whom had develop’d a blown diffuser in the past.

    Engines are great and this is where RB are making their point. In Malaysia RB were what? 12-15 mph slower on the straights but faster in the turns according to Hamilton.. It’s more than just an engine as the car has to slow, turn and accelerate also.

  • I think we distinguish the power units/engines solely in horsepower terms; it’s the media’s fault as much as any. If acceleration was the main difference, why is the Mclaren a crap can? How is the low-drag Toro Rosso consistently near the top of both mid and end-straight trap speeds, yet only a midfielder? What about RBR’s performance? The works Mercedes is much faster than all others, but I agree with general consensus it was Merc AMG’s holistic car design approach yielding the results.

    Yes, the drivetrain is the biggest change, and it’s had a knock-on effect on summed car design. As Todd alluded, designers scrambled to recapture lost downforce and rejigger wake-districtution from various bans/regs, leading to interesting packaging. With shorter engines and rear-aero reg changes, the gearbox and rear suspension philosophies shifted; the 2014 Williams Rik referenced abandoned it’s low line gearbox because the beam wing’s now banned, and are now using exhaust gas to blow under the main plain via the monkeyseat, for example, the advantage being better rear wishbone geometry.

    How teams prioritized mechanical vs. aero grip also shifted, undoubtedly due to fattened PU power curve forecasts. According to the Scarbs/Piola aero savants of the world, Ferrari concentrated on the latter due to its historic deficiencies and the stagnant 2009-13 regs, and from anecdotal on track observation of poor traction and under/oversteer in slow corners, is paying the price.

    In contrast, the aforementioned Williams car apparently was poor (early-season) in max downforce fast sweepers, but its front end bite and ability to harness the Merc’s power out of corners seems to have advantaged its team. Rik’s assertion Williams didn’t have to unlearn a blown-diffusor car also has merit, although question whether the ’13 Williams was *good*. :)

    Gearing’s played a part IMO; early on I noticed the Merc-powered teams geared their cars wildly differently between them, whereas the Ferrari/Renault teams’ shift points were similar amongst the brands, approximately where fuel flow forecast peak averaged power. It appears Merc’s wide-range ERS efficiency gave its customers freedom in selecting for specific traction/software capabilities.

    Furthermore, Ferrari and Renault’s reliance on finite battery storage/discharge for hybrid power means they run more conservative power modes than Merc. I think Merc’s simultaneous harvest/discharge and overall * sustained*ERS/Turbo efficiency is more significant than any peak power difference . Better fuel consumption is a knock on benefit across Merc’s teams, despite different drag levels; an important advantage in an efficiency formula.

    Total car design’s been the most distinctive in some time. Mclaren’s wishbones, although seemingly a failure, conceptually are just as novel as Lotus 49’s suspension-mounted wing. Merc’s turbo/MGU-H and intercooler packaging is just as ingenious as MP4/4’s fuel tank/driver layout. Safety requirements, increased understanding of aero principles, and some questionable FIA nosiness means we laymen don’t see the changes as easily, but they’re there, and our easier info-access means we get detail if desired. The engineers are earning their paychecks.

    Concluding this, AMuS just ran an interesting Pat Symonds interview (J. Allen’s site has a post with excerpts and a questionable POV). In it, Symonds explains the Williams resurgence as a mindset shift within the team. By unifying his staff, he implemented a focused base design that would hopefully accept development. I think Wiliams’ results speak to his contribution. Symonds provides a template for Mclaren/Ferrari as to how to lead a team/design and car. Good reading, and reinforcement it’s more than the engine as most of us think it.

  • Rik

    Another seemingly overlooked fact is that the Mercedes team, more so than even the Mercedes customer teams, accomplish’s their superior performance while using less fuel. This is a sign that they are are less aero down-force dependent to reach their performance needs as more down-force = more drag = more hp needed = more fuel burn.

    I think that what Symonds has also had to to is eliminate Frank Williams style of management. Sorry but he generally has been boasting more of an engineering focus than a synergy focus and this has apparently led to fractures in communication from within. That and Frank has an open disposition to the value of others to the point whereby the good talent has simply left. Hello Adrian Newey!

    With Head out of the team it possibly took someone to fill in the engineering deficit and it also took someone to nurture the team and shape it talents. How much of an effect has Rob Smedley had on the team? I don’t underrate Massa but I also don’t think his arrival turned the team around either.

    Mercedes has historically struggled with tires, more so than most teams, which leads me to believe they are heavily focused upon mechanical grip over aero. They predicted in Brazil 13′ that they had the makings for a great 14′ as they had finally figured out their shortcomings. They were very correct indeed. With Hamilton’s comments about RB being on par with them on the slow sections I believe that Mercedes has (with the help of the X McLaren employees) made a superior chassis combined with an excellent engine package which I think with the fuel burn has also a superior energy harvesting system.