I want to write about something other than the FIA/FOTA war today. There will be plenty of that tomorrow.
It has been well reported that Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have exchanged fortunes from last season to this. Button has gone from the back of the grid to the front and Lewis the opposite way.
But there is a common factor in the success of both men and that is the Mercedes engine, which is made in Brixworth, about 20 minutes from Silverstone. Button visited the staff yesterday to say thank you for giving him an engine which has won six of the seven races so far and Hamilton dropped in today to say thanks for the KERS system, without which McLaren would be even further behind!
I also went there today to take a look around and to get a closer look at the only KERS system in F1 which is really working well.
Mercedes High Performance Engines is supplying three teams this year; McLaren, Brawn and Force India. Each team requires 16 engines for the season to cover the race weekends, eight per driver. It’s a far cry from the days when engines were unlimited and before they were homologated, but there is no less effort going on.
As you would expect the place is spotless, I’m tempted to say like a hospital but I’ve never seen a hospital as clean as this. We toured the machine shop and design office and went to the engine build area. There are two men in there who build the engines, using 3,000 components. It takes five days to build one engine and they check each other’s work. Quality control is the name of the game and they haven’t lost an engine yet in a race.
Of the eight engines each of Mercedes’ six drivers will use this season, roughly half of them have already been built. Engine planning is important this year, because you want to try to have a new engine for the real power tracks like Spa and Monza.
The most interesting part of the visit was looking at the KERS system which is the class of the field. The system is used only on the McLaren at the moment and weighs just 24 kilos. Of that the motor is 5 kilos, the converter pack is 3 kilos and the battery pack is 14 kilos. The rest is cabling. The cable, which connects the battery pack to the converter carries 700 volts, which is serious current to have running from one side of a car to another! There are several fail-safes to make sure that the driver doesn’t get electrocuted. The system is 70% efficient, in other words 70% of the energy harvested under braking is available to go back into the system as boost on the straights when the driver wants it. Another thing I had not realised is that Mercedes has the system primed so that it can be used out of the final corner going into a qualifying lap and then reset when the car crosses the start line and then used again immediately.
For Mercedes the whole KERS project has worked out pretty much exactly as the FIA intended it. The F1 division has innovated and come up with a system, which is being used on road cars. So amid the political chaos of the moment is an example of one manufacturer which has worked with an FIA initiative and got something positive out of it.
Despite its success with KERS, however, Mercedes supports FOTA’s position of getting rid of it for next season, to save costs. But it is not a waste for them, because in 2013 F1 will have a new engine, which will be based more on fuel efficiency, rather than capacity and all engineers agree that this engine will have to be based on the hybrid system.
The economic situation at the moment makes throwing cash at KERS difficult to justify but it will the standard in a few years time, with a system like the one Mercedes are running now at the heart of it.