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.