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How do they do it? Behind the scenes sneak peek at Mercedes' F1 engine base

Mercedes opened up its Formula 1 engine base in Brixworth, England to a select group of media today, offering a rare insight into the progress of t...

How do they do it? Behind the scenes sneak peek at Mercedes' F1 engine base

Mercedes opened up its Formula 1 engine base in Brixworth, England to a select group of media today, offering a rare insight into the progress of the hybrid turbo power units and where the technology goes from here.

After recent wrangles between the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and the manufacturers in F1 over the cost of the hybrid turbos and the need for an affordable supply of engines for customer teams, the situation was resolved with hybrid turbos being confirmed as the engine until 2020, but reducing costs by standardising some parts.

Mercedes engine

The manufacturers have proposed abandoning the token system in 2017, but development into the key areas of efficiency will continue in parallel with the racing programmes. This means that any manufacturer has the possibility to make significant gains from year to year. No one is locked into a situation where they cannot introduce a good idea because they are restricted.

It's good news for Honda and Renault, who have the most ground to make up and it means that the next two seasons could lead to less predictable patterns as manufacturers can potentially make big steps.

Alonso Brazil 2015

"We don't want anyone to say that they can't catch up because the regulations don't allow it," said Mercedes F1 engine boss Andy Cowell. There will be 32 tokens for in-season development on any area of the engine this year, then after that no tokens at all from 2017 onwards. All development will take place in parallel for the next season's engines.

The idea of an independent customer engine supplier operating to a different set of regulations was dropped.

So what are these engines all about and where does the technology go from here?

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.58.13

The purpose of today was for Cowell to offer some insights into the progression of the hybrid technologies two years since their introduction. They have not been much loved by fans or by many in the industry, but they are here to stay, so it's as well to understand what they do and what gains have been made.

The headline, Cowell says, is that the V6 hybrid turbo is now the most powerful F1 engine ever - even greater than the 2005 V10s that revved to 20,000rpm.

Meanwhile the technology has advanced the efficiency of engines to 50 per cent, meaning that 50 per cent of the potential power than can be derived from a unit of petrol is being converted. The goal is 100 per cent but that is far in the distance. At the outset of the internal combustion engine, efficiency of 12 per cent was standard. Over 130 years that improved to 29 per cent, which is where F1 V8 engines were in 2013. In the step since then, it has gone up to 50 per cent.

Mercedes engine

Combustion is one of the key areas of this technology and one where the largest gains are to be had. The fuel flow limit for an F1 Grand Prix, which is maximum 100kg/hour, has a potential output of 1240kw of power. In fact only half of that actually comes to the rear wheels, but the quest is to improve that all the time. The gains made by the switch to downsizing engines, electrification and turbocharging has brought about improvements in F1 of 37 per cent more fuel efficiency. The automotive industry makes gains at around 1.5 per cent per year.

The turbo has been another key area. Mercedes' F1 engine department had little experience of turbos, but their truck division had plenty of experience of the size and reliability concerns of a turbo needed to deal with over 900bhp. The turbos on the 2016 cars are even larger than in 2014 when the new rules came in.

There have been gains in the Motor Generator Unit - Heat (MGU-H). It's connected to the turbo and helps to keep it under precise control, which eliminates turbo lag. Cowell said that it will not be long before MGU-H technology appears on road cars.

Mercedes engine

Other areas of development have been the software that controls these units and the energy store, or battery. This is now down to around 20kg for an F1 car, from 25.3 kg in the 2009 season when it was attached to a KERS system that had half the power requirement and was deployed for only seven seconds per lap, instead of over 30 seconds as it is today.

Software wise, when the car is on track, the systems now analyse the lap before to look for improvements in deployment and estimates the best locations for increased or reduced deployment, based on lap time gain.

This time of year is busy for the engine builders. Mercedes has four customer teams, including the works outfit and that means eight engines per race plus eight spares. These will be built for Melbourne in early March, once they have locked down the specification and homologated it on February 28th. Each engine takes 100 man hours to build.

Williams F1 team

On our visit, the engine builders, working in pairs to check each other's work, were building the four engines for the single car test teams at the forthcoming Barcelona test, which starts in two weeks.

A further development engine will be used for the second Barcelona test in early March and then the final race units will be built after that.

What do you make of the development rate on the V6 turbo engines? Has it changed your attitude towards the current engine regulations? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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