WHY MERCEDES GOT IT SO RIGHT...
As three of Formula 1’s four hybrid power unit manufacturers
contemplate another winter spent playing desperate catch-
up, Mercedes-Benz continues to look down upon them all.
ormula 1’s hybrid power unit era is
in danger of failing, and it’s because
Mercedes-Benz did too good a job in
planning for it. Sure, with a bit of help
from its friends and a following wind,
Ferrari can occasionally fluster the Silver
Arrows. But as a general trend, Mercedes’
continued towering superiority toward
the end of the second year of the formula
is applying unbearable pressure upon
shaky foundations elsewhere.
It has led to the Red Bull Racing/
Renault partnership tearing itself apart,
leaving F1 potentially minus two, possibly
three, teams. It has lent terrible
perspective to Honda’s disastrously
uncompetitive entry into the formula,
raising genuine question marks about the
long-term future of McLaren – and
making the whole thing look so difficult
that it’s hard to imagine any other
manufacturers being attracted.
The process began around 2006 for
Mercedes, but way later for the others.
And that’s perhaps the crucial difference:
Mercedes took the challenge of placing
hybrid technology in a racing environment
way more seriously from a much earlier
point than Renault, Ferrari or Honda.
On the road car side, Mercedes, Renault
and Honda were each very early investors
into hybrid R&D, Fiat less so. But in the
crossover and pollination between the
road and F1 projects, Mercedes was vastly
more co-ordinated than Renault or Honda.
Daimler-Chrysler (as it then was)
assigned its racing engine arm in
Brixworth, England, a leading role in early
hybrid concept development, working
hand-in-glove with Stuttgart’s engineering
teams. Out of that came the Mercedes SLS
AMG Electric-Drive, a hybrid-powered,
road-going sports car. Brixworth was
getting to benefit from a whole load of
automotive investment as the original
kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS)
were being devised for F1.
Starting from zero knowledge in 2006,
by the time KERS was introduced in
2009, Mercedes AMG High Performance
Powertrains at Brixworth had recruited
hybrid knowledge into the organization
and then built upon it with R&D. Renault
Sport did not buy into it as fully,
contracting in outside suppliers.
Furthermore, by 2012, as serious work
began on the new hybrid formula (using
heat energy recapture, as well as kinetic),
Mercedes the parent company had lent
hundreds of its engineers to assist the
program. Renault had reportedly
provided none to its racing arm. Honda,
by this time, was long gone from F1, only
to return later – and late. Ferrari had
some assistance from Fiat, but largely
contracted the necessary electrical
expertise in from independent specialists.
But that was just the beginning of it.
WORDS Mark Hughes MAIN IMAGE Peter Clausen Film & TV/Red Bull