I’ve seen the future… and it is awesome

Mercedes AMG - Brixworth © Mercedes AMG

Mercedes AMG – Brixworth
© Mercedes AMG

Formula 1 is a fairly secretive world. But when you’re asked to seal your iPhone and anything that can take a picture in a lockable bag, and requested not to use a Dictaphone because you’ll be hearing something that nobody outside the factory walls has been privy to, you know you’re in for something very special.

Such was the fashion in which today started, as Mercedes AMG welcomed a select gathering of Formula 1 journalists to its Brixworth base, on the outskirts of Northampton, England.

It’s all change for F1’s engine regulations next year, as normally aspirated V8s make way for V6 turbos. The naysayers, one Mr Ecclestone included, have said the new regulations will do more harm than good to the sport. The new units will be too expensive and they’ll sound awful. The regs have been delayed once, from 2013 to 2014, and for a while it looked like they might be delayed again… even shelved entirely.

But after a truly eye-opening morning in Brixworth, it is clear to see why the engine manufacturers have stuck to their guns on this one. Not only will the new technology create great power units and potentially some very exciting racing, but they will be cheaper, they will have direct road relevance which could convince even more manufacturers to get involved with the sport… and above all, they’re going to sound great!

We were treated to over two hours of fascinating insight by Mercedes AMG’s two newest and most influential bosses: Engineering Director Hywel Thomas and Managing Director Andy Cowell, not to mention a tour of the engine facility and an exclusive peek at the relevance all this has to the parent company.

Brixworth is a hive of activity © Mercedes AMG

Brixworth is a hive of activity
© Mercedes AMG

Work is going on in secret at all of Formula 1’s engine manufacturers on the 2014 units. The new power units are set to be homologated on March 1st 2014, and although the topic of extra winter testing is in discussion at present, thus far it appears that only the three standard pre-season tests will be used to track test the new units before this date arrives next year.

And that’s the first major change… we will no longer talk about engines. Instead, we will refer to “power units.” The reason for this is actually quite simple. The engine, as it exists now, will cease to do so. While each car currently has a limit of eight engines for the season, in 2014 this limit will drop to five “power units,” to include not just the traditional block we know as the engine but “all ancilliaries, any energy recovery systems and all actuation systems.” So, for the avoidance of doubt, a failure on any element of the “power unit” which requires a change, means that’s one of your allocation of five.

So what are the other big changes for 2014?

Mercedes Benz 2014 V6 Power Unit © Mercedes AMG

Mercedes Benz 2014 V6 Power Unit
© Mercedes AMG

First of all, the tech specs. The Internal Combustion Engine (ICU) at the heart of the power unit will be a 1.6 litre V6 turbo, running to 15,000rpm (Current V8s run to 18,000rpm.) The turbo will feature a sole single-stage compressor and single stage exhaust turbine, and will run at a max of 125,000rpm.

KERS will no longer exist, replaced instead by ERS (Energy Recovery System) which will harvest both kinetic and thermal energy. And here’s where it gets very cool indeed. ERS will produce approximately twice the horsepower and will be available for five times as long as KERS. So while KERS currently only provides 80hp for 5.7 seconds, ERS in 2014 will deliver 161hp for 33.3 seconds.

The maximum output of an ERS unit will be 4MJ. That’s 10 times what is available in 2013. In addition, while in 2013 only one journey is available for energy recovery, in 2014 there will be 7 different paths by which energy is recovered.

As Cowell himself admitted, racing without ERS in 2014 will be impossible.

Andy Cowell © Mercedes AMG

Andy Cowell
© Mercedes AMG

There must, therefore, be a shift in the weight allowances. While in 2013 the engine is a minimum of 95kg, in 2014 the power unit must come in at 145kg, including the exhaust. These units are expected to last 4000km, which is double the distance expected from a 2013 engine.

And then there’s fuel. The maximum quantity of fuel will drop to 100kg, or around 140 litres. As such, the concept of “performance” as we know it now will cease to exist. In its place, we will deal with the term, “energy efficiency.”

The 2014 technical regulations contain over 40 new in-built cost controls, too.

So we’re looking at fewer units, in-built cost controls, direct road relevance, more reused energy availability for a longer period… see why we’re getting excited?

Ahh, but what about the sound?

Cowell hits the play button on his presentation, and we are treated to a simulator lap of Monza… but the audio is a recording taken straight from the dyno of the 2014 V6 power unit. It does sound “sweet” as Cowell promised it would. It perhaps isn’t quite as high pitched as we’re used to, but we’re not talking octaves here… we’re talking a third… i.e. drop down three tones / notes on a scale… tops. Cowell, however, insists the pitch will be higher than at present. The sound is somewhat muffled, but having seen the unit on the dyno it is obvious why. The exhaust on the bench unit is shooting straight into an extractor.

The exhaust will also be a six in one. Right now we have two four in one exhausts, creating an eight in two configuration. If you imagine that a GP2 engine features an 8 in 1 exhaust, albeit from a naturally aspirated V8, then you’ll get an idea of what to expect. Thankfully, any fears we’d had that it would sound like a first generation GP3 engine, i.e. the flight of the bumblebees, have been well and truly left behind.

One exhaust exit, straight out the back of the engine cover does mean that, at first appearance, the ability to play around with exhaust plumes will also be limited. Cowell raises a cocked eye when it is suggested that a single exhaust exit will eradicate the importance of plume direction. We all know that what has been learned in F1 can never be unlearned. Work, it seems, will simply switch to figuring out how and where best to direct the plume from one exit, rather than the current two.

Mercedes Benz 2014 V6 Power Unit © Mercedes AMG

Mercedes Benz 2014 V6 Power Unit
© Mercedes AMG

Then there’s thoughts about the power available from these new units. More torque, especially on corner exit will be the order of the day. Cars in 2014 will have more power than grip. The quickest strategy for a race distance may therefore fly completely at odds with what will produce one quick qualifying lap. Cowell states that the sport will become a true thinking man’s game, and that only the drivers who can get the most out of the car and from the fuel’s energy, will prosper.

So we’re looking at advanced technology, the encouragement of technical innovation, and Formula 1 back on the cutting edge once again.

And in a small building external to the main F1 engine facility, an extra element of all this is coming together; the Mercedes SLS AMG Coupe – Electric Drive. When Mercedes bosses came up with the idea of a high performance electrical car, they asked for concepts from external and internal sources. The winning concept came from the F1 boys. Using the amassed knowledge of working on KERS in F1, the boys at Brixworth have created a car which is set to become the new benchmark in terms of energy density. Featuring 12 battery modules and 864 individual cells, the SLS AMG Electric Drive is a purely electric car with a 250km range, 1000Nm of torque and 740hp… that’s just 10hp less than an F1 car.

SLS AMG Electric Drive © Mercedes AMG

SLS AMG Electric Drive
© Mercedes AMG

This is why the technology matters. And it is why the sport cannot afford to ignore it.

Couple in the fact that a change in ACO regulations means that F1 power units will be eligible for Le Mans and could we see a return of Mercedes to Le Mans? Cowell won’t be drawn.

With all engine manufacturers working in private, despite the regulations being fairly tight there really is the prospect of one manufacturer getting it more right than the others. And despite homologation kicking in early, Cowell is convinced that development will be possible, particularly in terms of efficiency, just as it has been under the current homologation. And that, coupled with engines actually making a difference again, should convince other manufacturers to enter the mix.

As Cowell perfectly summises, the 2014 regulations are all about putting the “motor” back into “motorsport.”

I can’t wait.

About these ads

17 thoughts on “I’ve seen the future… and it is awesome

  1. I’m actually really excited about these new engines now. I really hope we have the nice ‘throaty’ sound of the 80s f1 engines, they sounded great. Seriously impressed by the ERS stats, i just hope the 5 power units isnt too tough on the teams, dont want to see a load of grid penalties at the end of the year to go with the gearbox penalties the drivers keep receiving

  2. Thanks, Will, that was very informative — much more than we get from the auto mags.

    One question about the details of the article: you note that “only one journey is available” in today’s KERS. I’m not familiar with this usage of the word “journey”; could you describe this a bit more?

    As with sam, I’m concerned about the lifespan of the power units, especially in their first season of actual use. What happens at the end of the season, if bugs in the devices has used up the allowed supply? It would seem that any attempt to prevent additional testing over the ’13-’14 winter would be very foolish.

    Leigh reacted to your statement that in ’14 there will be more power than grip. At first that sounds exciting: they’ll finally have something that can trump the aero, so maybe racing will be exciting even without the “artificial” DRS. But on further thought, maybe this make aero even *more* important: every little bit of grip you can wring out can be capitalized on by the power unit’s output. Which way do you think this breaks?

    • The “journey” at present is the harnessing of energy under braking to the KERS unit. ERS will use thermal and kinetic energy recovery thus opening up new “journeys” for the harnessing of energy to the storage unit.

      As for your second point, you may remember that at the end of the first season of V8 usage, manufacturers were allowed to develop their engines to bring them all in line with one another. Andy was visibly still a little annoyed about that, as if memory serves Mercedes couldn’t do much to their units and had to watch the other suppliers amend their units to bring them up to spec.

      Aero will still be critically important, of course. With much more to the power units however, rear end packaging may look a bit different. Also, James Allen brought up a good point at the meeting which was that in the previous turbo era, there was no need for engine cover air intakes above the driver’s helmet. But with roll hoop regs being what they are, could we see a shift to engine cover designs similar to what we used to see in Champ Car in the last decade?

  3. I’m glad to hear that you’re excited about what you’ve seen. I’m also glad that NBC Sports is considered worthy to be included. I wonder when these advances will start showing up in cars that go for under 6 figures.

  4. Very interesting. Can you say what the large unit above the engine is? Is it part of the ERS?

    Also, talk about the new engines sounding awful is just rubbish. The 80’s turbo engines sounded great, and anyone who’s heard the onboard footage of Senna’s pole lap at Monaco in ’88 will know how good they sound. Turbo engines can easily sound dramatic – look at WRC cars for example

    Basically, any powerful engine being used at full chat sounds great – sure they’ll sound *different* but they’ll still sound great

  5. Pingback: January 12th 2013 | Open Wheel

  6. “Couple in the fact that a change in ACO regulations means…”

    That almost sounds like the LMP 2014 regulations favor F1 engines… I don’t think that is true, since the regulations will actually go back to more open format, allowing any type of four-stroke piston engine. For sure, generally the direction will go towards small turbo engines, but nothing in the regulations specifically favors F1 specs.

    I’d see it more likely that F1 engines could be just supplied to private teams unless they’re just too expensive for them. And now one can not just do Le Mans only, in practice one has to participate in the World Endurance Championship too, and two World Championships at the same time sounds pretty damn expensive to me.

  7. Great stuff will! Can’t wait to see these new “power units” in action, but especially see all you boys on NBC, which can’t happen soon enough! Dan in AZ.

  8. Can anyone dismiss my fears that F1 in 2014 will become super-efficient “economy races” the likes of which we’ve never seen before? I’m having unpleasant flashbacks to the old F1 turbo and CART turbo days…

  9. Reblogged this on |StartingGrid.org| and commented:
    It’s very rare that we re-blog an entire article on |StartingGrid| However, being that I’m a massive F1 nut, I think it’s super-important that EVERYONE knows about the change in the engine formula for the 2014 season.

    Plus, Will Buxton is awesome. ;)

  10. Really interesting stuff in here, my only worry for 2013 is that if there is a dominant car out there, come mid-season some teams may just switch their main focus to 2014; without upgrading any further for the rest of the year. I hope that 2013 doesn’t end up just being known as a “bridging” year, but I suppose we can’t control what the teams do with their budgets…

    Also, Will, I was wondering if you had any advice for me as I’m trying to break into F1 Journaliam as a career so any tips would be very well received! In any case, I look forward to hearing your GP2/GP3 commentary in the UK again this year and best of luck with NBC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s