F1 Winter Break
How Hamilton passed Vettel and other inside stories from Mercedes engine HQ
Posted By: James Allen  |  06 Dec 2011   |  5:32 pm GMT  |  146 comments

Mercedes has been the top scoring F1 engine maker since it started selling customer engines in 2009, with 35 wins and 104 podiums.

The Mercedes AMG powertrain division at Brixworth in Northampton opened its doors today to a small group of media to give us a behind the scenes insight into what went on during 2011 and to get a sneak peak of how the 2014 engine is coming on, which I will post on separately.

We learned some very interesting background information from senior Mercedes engineer Andy Cowell about some of the things engine builders faced in 2011.

In terms of the best way of managing engine rotation with 8 units having to last 19 races, it was interesting to see that their highest use engine did a total of 3,073 kilometres, which included three of the early season races as well as six Friday practice sessions. Teams always plan to use a new engine for Turkey, Spa and Monza in particular and these units would probably not do a third race.

It’s amazing to look back on the days when each team would bring as many as 10 engines to each race and bolt in a fresh one every day. What has come with the freeze in V8 engine regulations is a deeper understanding of the engines, which has brought amazing reliability The ceramic pistons today, for example, are lighter than those on qualifying engines of 10 years ago when they were just about strong enough to last for an hour’s qualifying session. And yet now they last 3,000kms!

Another challenge this year was dealing with simultaneous KERS and DRS deployment without hitting the rev limiter on the straights. This was done through gearing, of course, because interestingly simultaneous deployment of DRS and KERS adds an extra 1,000 revs at the end of the straight and you don’t want to hit the rev limiter because that adds 15-20% more engine stress.

We also looked at the exhaust blown diffusers, which have now been banned from 2012 onwards. Cowell showed us the telemetry graphs of a typical corner where you can see that as the driver lifts off the accelerator pedal, the throttles stay wide open, the torque is cut by retarding the ignition and the exhaust gas pressure blowing out across the diffuser is way higher than it would be on the normal overrun. The temperature of the exhaust gas is also way higher by 200 degrees. This must have been very costly in exhaust materials.

What was interesting was the subtleties with the EBD; with certain engine modes the driver could use the throttle in special ways and have an effect on the downforce in corners as a result and Cowell confirmed that this was an area where Vettel had made gains in key moments, typically the final run in qualifying.

We then looked at KERS, which is very much still part of the rules for 2012, although it will be evolved in 2014 to ERS, which will harvest far more energy from different sources and provide double the power back to the engine.

This was where you realise what a wasted opportunity KERS is as a story in F1, as we looked in detail at the way Lewis Hamilton used it to pass Sebastian Vettel in China. Hamilton deployed the KERS button for a good long burst in a place where you would never do it if you were looking for lap time; Turns 6 and 7 and yet he did so because he knew it could give him the surge he needed to get alongside Vettel on the inside for the left hander. And so it proved.

Another example looked at a defensive strategy, with Hamilton using KERS on the straight in Korea to fight off a DRS-boosted attack from Mark Webber. Clearly these were some of the areas of racing where the superior KERS worked for Mercedes’ teams

Mercedes provides exactly the same engine and KERS unit to all three of its teams; Mercedes AMG, McLaren and Sahara Force India and the benefit worked out on average at around 0.4secs per lap across the calendar with some circuits like Monza more of a gain than others.

The only difference between the engines is some of the wiring from the KERS, dependent on chassis design. This year Mercedes got its unit down to just 24 kilos and increased the efficiency to 80%, which means that they needed to harvest 500 kjoules of energy to inject 400 kjoules back in. The KERS processes 400 kjoules per second.

We looked at an engine on the dyno, which was running some development parts for 2012 and even a few ideas for the 2014 engine.

It stuck me that in a heavily testing restricted modern F1 world, engines are really the only area where testing goes on all the time. Whereas each of their teams will do around 50,000 kilometres on track each season, so 150,000 kilometres in total – Mercedes will do that much again in dyno testing.

Each one of a driver’s 8 new engines is given a shakedown test on the dyno for 150 kilometres before going off the race track to be fitted into a car.

We also learned from the Petronas engineers how they support Mercedes on the fuel and lubes side with the works team and the gains coming from fuel in particular. It sounds like there is a lot more to come from this area.

At races, Mercedes supplies each of its teams with 3 technicians, 3 engineers and 1 manager to provide track support. Some of them were on hand to show us the ropes when it came time to have a go at assembling a few parts of a V8 engine. We had to fit the fuel injectors, a heat shield and the exhausts. It’s a little hands on exercise, a bit of fun for guests.

Apparently Michael Schumacher – a keen karting mechanic – did the challenge in under 3 minutes. I took considerably longer as I failed to notice that one of the manifolds had moved and had to undo half the nuts and start again…

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Hi James,

Do you have any further insight in to this special way of using the throttle with which Vettel was able to increase his performance advantage?

I'm most intrigued!


A second throttle pedal... RBR figure everyone's forgotten about the MP4/12 by now.


U mean a second brake paddle? There was no such second "throttle peddle". The way that second brake paddle worked was to allow the driver select a side of the car to apply brakes to, thus retarding it making it easier to turn and less understeer.

That was banned, so it's out of the question.


They did have 2 first gears too!


Pulling the clutch in and blipping the throttle? Clutch would not stand that type of abuse over a race, but once in qualifying? Any other theory?


I think off throttle use has something to do with Webbers performance compared to his team mates this past season. I suspect a much more competitive MW in 2012 when EBD is out. Looking forward to some fireworks between the two.


Yes, RBR are maxmimising Vettel's advantage by playing around with engine modes and gearing.

I suspect Vettel switches to high performance mode for Q3 to nab pole. Then uses that same mode to get a good start and make a gap. He then switches to a more conservative mode for the rest of the race. That is smart driving.

Another example was in Monza when RBR short geared Vettel's car allowing for more torque and acceleration which proved useful out of the corners and for overtaking Alonso. It was clear the RBR doesn't have the straightline speed compared to others, so they went the opposite direction with the car's setup and it worked!

Question is, does Webber get the benefit of such genius? And why aren't the other teams thinking of there own engine utilisation strategies?


I think everybody is forgetting that during 2010 if not for Vettel's DNF Webber would not be any where close to him.


Sorry, this just isn't accurate. Seb had 3 DNFs in 2010, Webber had 2. They both had a DNF in Korea, so regardless of what might have happened there, it is a wash.

As for the other races, WEB had a DNF in Valencia. Regardless of the speed differential, it was his fault and he lost out because of it.

VET had DNFs in Australia and Turkey. In turkey he ran into WEB. VET knocked himself out and hurt WEB's finish and points. The only race that VET had a DNF that wasn't his fault that made any difference between him and WEB was Australia.


You're not alone!


So am I and I'm trying really hard to get info on it. I tried asking Vettel after quali in Brazil as you will have seen on TV, but he wasn't playing ball...


James, doesn't the TV occasionally provide telementry on driver's throttle and braking inputs as well as the speedometer during races? I'd imagine reporters and teams have full time access of these. Wouldn't these provide you with info on how Vettel uses his throttle to get max performance?


Great article, one of my favourites of the past year.

I am assuming that whatever Vettel does is only possible because of some design feature of the car, engine or both? If not, surely the other drivers would be doing the same thing...


Martin, I feel the need to correct you: The EBD would rather create understeer.

To make a short story long:

If weight is transferred to the front the rear gets light and you get turn-in-oversteer. KERS makes the situation worse, because it also brakes the rear wheels. The 2007 Ferrari had suffered lot from it and it effectively ruined Fisichella's career, who got into an unforgiving car that he never had a chance to get used to. Nowadays the KER-systems have been refined, they have become less aggressive, but still drivers have to alter the brake balance depending on whether they have KERS harvest energy or not.

Now the common exhaust blown diffuser shifts the aerodynamic balance to the rear, so you get rather more turn-in-understeer.

But there are more involved in a car's balance when braking into the corner: You have the KERS that effects the brake-balance, you have the EBD, that shifts the aerodynamic balance and the brake balance (the engine brakes less because it compresses less, because the valves stay open for longer), you have the car's pitch and roll that change the ride-height at every corner of the car, which also shifts the aerodynamic balance. Now put the track- and air-temperature into the equation, because these change the tire pressures, which affects the the mechanical grip and the amplitude of the pitch and roll movement, effectively also changing the amplitude of the aerodynamic balance shift. Now with that knowledge in mind you've discovered probably only half of Formula-1-data engineers' and constructors' nightmares. The more I think about these things the more I start to understand how hard it is to get a Formula-1 car right and why teams suffer so much understanding their new cars once they're unleashed.


Hi Wayne,

I think it could be a bit like the ride height adjustment system that Red Bull doesn't have. There is something, but I suspect the explanation may not be exactly what Mercedes thinks it is.

There are various possibilities as to why Sebastian gets more out of it than Mark. If you brake into a corner, the weight goes to the front, but with the EBD, there is greater downforce from under the car than previously expected. This could reduce the understeer tendency into a corner. Just as Lewis is happier than Jenson with turn-in oversteer, Sebastian might be the same. As we saw in Monza qualifying, he was quite happy getting the rear loaded up well before the apex in both the second lesmo and the Ascar chicane with his early oversteering slides.

If you look at McLaren's poor performance at Silverstone and its generally good slow corner speed at Korea (vs Webber) and Abu Dhabi, the McLaren EBD is pretty well developed too.






Thanks. We'll look into this further


I may be adding 2 + 2 and getting 5 here but is this the reason for Webber's recent comments about the expected improved performance on his side of the garage for next year - getting rid of some of the electric car games?

I would rather watch plain old car & brave driver races rather than funny background electrics that people cant see playing a major role.

Maybe this is why F1 seems to be becoming a boys club instead of men - they can get their heads around it faster.


Depends on the car and its systems. Webber is no Bogie-miner, probably this year's car just suits Vettel's driving style better than Webber's. We have seen months, when after a development step, Barrichello suddenly got faster than Schumacher, until the next development-step returned the car's handling to Schumacher's favor. Rubens once complained about that, if I remember correctly.


James, do you think how much Seb/Mark was able to get out of the Pirellis was linked to their EBD differences? I mean, if Seb's been getting his car planted with the EBD while Mark's been sliding allover a bit more as he'd not got the hang of it I'd have expected the difference they were getting in tyre performance.

I can remember Mark mentioning it in the middle of last year that Seb was getting more out of the EBD, it's therefore been less of a surprise to me to see him dominate him the way he has the last 18mths although it does raise questions around what he's been able to do and why Mark's not been able to replicate it.


I think it may help Webber the EBD being outlawed. But getting the best fro Pirellis remains the main thing. He improved a lot in the second half of the season, look at Brazil 0.1s off Vettel in quali


Hopefully the ban of EBD will bring Webber back on par with Vettel like in '10. I found it interesting watching onboard footage from Silverstone this year when the reduction was in place, and noticed Webber seemed more comfortable with the twitchy car than Vettel.


I noticed the same thing too. I also recall in 2010 Webber was handling the car better mid corner until Red Bull provided Seb with an automated function (around Valencia) and he jumped in front of Webber again. Don't get me wrong Seb is amazingly talented but I think that Webber will close to within a tenth again..at least I hope he does!


I think Vettel has the edge now, but we should see Webber closer as he was in Brazil, sometimes beating Seb as he did 3 times in quali this year.


I can remember reading after the kerfuffle of Monaco 2010, where Red Bull/Vettel was claiming a damaged chassis for his woes that Red Bull changed some aspects of engine mapping to help him gain better traction out of corners.

I would be thinking that this is what they were referring to.


I don't think so if I have the history correct. my understanding was that initially with the EBD, the driver still had full control of the throttle. That meant that the driver was inclined to turn in later, compromising the corner entry speed to get on the throttle earlier. The reporting in 2010 was that Webber got his head around this earlir - it possibly suited his style more anyway - and that combined with the cracked chassis led to him dominating Vettel in Spain and Monaco. The computer controlled throttle arrived around Valencia in 2010. Renault started using hot-blowing on its own cars befor Red Bull did in the start of 2011. Red Bull only went that way around Korea, and hot blowing, which McLaren and Mercedes have been doing for a lot longer, is suggested to have contributed to Vettel's tyre failure in Abu Dhabi.

You can do all sorts of things with engine mapping to try to smooth the torque with throttle level, so that it is easier for the driver to predict the grip level and accelerate accordingly. To avoid having an open-loop traction control system, the engine modes have to be independent of the gear, so the map has to be a compromise between the first gear hairpins and the faster corners such as Casino square, Tabac and the Swiming Pool. If I recall correctly there were constraints in changes to mapping and modes, so you can't just change for every corner as the driver can with the differential and brakes, but I'm not sure of this.

Given that there was a lot of speculation about Red Bull using a ride height adjustment device and the FIA finding nothing, I suspect the Mercedes/Ilmor engineer can "confirm" what he likes, but it is really speculation based on more technical data than we have. If he knew about it, then most likely the six Benz engined cars would have it too, as they have had hot blowing much longer than Red Bull.




Hehe! You never stop do you?

Great to see so much dedication James. Good on you and lucky on us, your readers.

Interestingly to see that Petronas supply fuel to Mercedes and I guess Shell does it for Ferrari.

Who's the fuel supplier for Renault?

I just wish the engines would be more than just...engines. They should be the heart of the car and should have a say on the performance side. That's not what we have at the moment. We almost never speak about engines in the performance context or if it will influence the performance over a race weekend.


Total provide fuel for Lotus-Renault (it's hard to miss the awful red bits on their car).


"it’s hard to miss the awful red bits on their car"


Pretty obvious.



Interesting that Mobil does McLaren using same Merc engine and Force India also uses Mobil. Engine builders have to prep them slightly differently as a result


Thanks for remembering my question from a couple of months ago!


Mobil would be their default choice, based on Metcedes' own use of it, but petronas is a sponsor so...


I think you'll find it's moved on a bit.


Great article. Interesting bit mentioning Schumi - I think there should be a new rule whereby Drivers have to get out and fix their own cars when they break down... 😉


And there was a time when the rules stated you only couldn't have a welding torch in the car... 🙂


Not a bad idea. Drivers in the Le Mans 24 Hours sometimes need to fix their car to get back to the pits and carry on with the race I believe.


I think that would give Schumacher an advantage. Great idea!


Interesting piece,James.

Isn't there a limit on the number of ppl teams can have at the track and/or in the garage? Are these engine ppl that they supply counted in that?

Do *all the engine suppliers also supply ppl?


James, I've heard through the years that at certain events, the drivers will take to the kart track during the course of a grand prix week. I remember an interview with Kubica a few years ago in F1 Racing stating that Schumacher still won a lot of these races, though this was in his retirement stage. Do you have any knowledge of this?


Not during F1 race weekends


Really very interesting.

A lot of information to gain.

Thank you James.


We also looked at the exhaust blown

diffusers, which have now been banned from 2012 onwards.


Woops and there goes Red Bull's ace card, I determine we shall see those Bulls fighting with the middle field runners just like Brawn the year after they were stripped of their magic portion.

Say, it's pretty shocking to know teams used to carry around 10 engines per race, am sure drivers from an era past must be really angry with the new F1 for they never used to have this type of reliability.

Overall, 100% reliability is good for the sport but sometimes I miss those days gone by where even though a driver was leading by a country mile, you would be on the edge of your seat wondering if his engine is going to let go.

But surely it's time Mclaren pulled their finger out & started building their own engines more so now when we have Mercedes as a constructor team on the grid.

We never want to share accolades with those fellas besides if Mclaren wants to be taken seriously they should do this.

Yes it's either this or partner with Honda again. Time to have some self respect


Yes Lewis is a genius, thanks for the reminder


Well, to think that the double diffuser was Brawn's ace card is ignoring that Brawn weren't the only team to sport a double diffuser from day one.

Brawn had abandoned the 2008-Honda when the first season test showed it was a lemon messed up beyond all repair. They dedicated a whole year with 100% focus on the 2009 car using all of the Honda racing team's resources, which have been huge. At the end of the year, when Honda pulled out of the sport Brawn got the excellent Mercedes Engine and they were rather lucky that it had fitted so well into the car that was built around the Honda powertrain.

So it wasn't mainly the double diffuser, even though it created such a huge attention it has been just a small part of the formula that makes a good race car. Red Bull have been very strong without it, beating both Toyota and Williams who also had double deckers like Brawn from the very start of the season.


The Red Bull is not good because of the diffuser alone. It's very good across the board. The closest thing we've had this year to seeing the competitive order of 2012 was the Silverstone Grand Prix; where in fact it was McLaren that lost out the most out of all the teams and was 1.5s off the pace (with Button) and 2s off the pace (with Lewis).

With the relatively few slow corners in the new Silverstone, as well as the lack of heavy braking (only Brooklands; Vale; maybe THe Loop) this should have not really been a circuit heavily affected by the exhaust blowing.


Most teams would have moved on since then.


I like it when GoFeret makes these sort of predictions. The opposite always happens.

How many times this year has he/she posted a comment in a weekend lead up article by James that Vettel won't get poll, then he does!

Keep up the good work Feret and keep talking down RBR and talking up Hamilton and I’m sure we’ll get another wonderful season like the one just past 🙂


Personally, I justed wondered what Lewis thinks of the nickname Feret? It makes him seem a bit like a weasel.


Well it seemed McLaren was most dependent on the EBD so it may be them that struggle a bit next year. Silverstone was pretty poor for them (and I was there and I was fuming)!


you just made some people unhappy by mentioning hamilton . actually i wish james could compare what hamilton and vettel did different compared to their team-mates.


"Woops and there goes Red Bull’s ace card,"

No he is still there, he still "Sees the Matrix"

He will have something for blowing the cross member or the rear wing next year, though this is more difficult to get right. I'm sure James will not mind a link to Scarbs piece on this:



A geniys who keeps driving people off the road.


Given the huge strides in reliability we've seen recently, it would be really useful -- and a massive PR benefit -- if the rules could also be changed to concentrate the outstanding engineering skills of F1 into the area of fuel efficiency.

Current cars have massive aerodynamic drag. How much better would it be if a rule change was designed to make it in the teams' interest to produce more aerodynamically-efficient cars.

The cars might look prettier too.


Today's cars are aerodynamically efficient. This is what teams spend 80% of their resources trying to improve and perfect.


No, they're not. The aerodynamics are designed to maximise grip rather than fuel efficiency. What we're suggesting is a shift towards the latter rather than just concentrating on the former.


it matters on what you define as 'efficient' certainly it is not efficiency in the meaning of "miles per gallon", in formula one efficiency means a high downforce to drag ratio. You want to have a maximum of downforce with a minimum of drag.

But like the great philosopher and refined mind Mick Jagger once said: "You can't always get what you want", so Formula-1 designers are forced to find some sort of compromise that is biased to the individual tracks, tires and strategies. So they'd sacrifice some downforce for less drag in Monza, or put the drag into Venturi's pipe and smoke it to get more downforce in Monaco.


The only way to seriously cut the drag is to cover the wheels and cockpit and get rid of the wings. In other words, stop being F1.

As for fuel efficiancy, I believe that a big increase in the efficiancy of the whole powertrain is a large part of the 2014 rules.


I've been suggesting, to whomsoever might listen, for the last few years that what F1 should do is impose a fuel cap. This should start at, say, 150kg per race, and reduce by 5% each year. That would focus minds on achieving fuel efficiencies that almost certainly would trickle down to the general motor trade. It would also, as you suggest, eventually result in teams taking a long hard look at just where they place the balance point between downforce and aerodynamic efficiency. I have no idea if it would work, but surely worth a try?


That's exactly what the 2014 engine formula is about. Fuel flow regulated. I'm doing a follow up piece on it with insights from today at Mercedes


I don't think that this is the same. Limited fuel flow effectively means you put a cap on peak-performance. With a fuel cap of x kg per race you don't cap the peak performance, but the average performance: With a fuel cap, only the airflow/pressure will limit your performance, so if you could burn enough fuel to get 1500 bhp out of the engine - you're free to do so. With a limited fuel flow, you couldn't, even if you had enough oxygen at hand.

A fuel cap instead of a flow cap would be a nice alternative to the ever reloading KERS - you could use the boost-button anytime and burn as much fuel as you like to pull an overtaking move, a gap or defend an overtaking move, but you'd be forced to save it later and maybe fall prey to someone that has been more conservative. That could be a recipe for very interesting races, where strategy is made on the race track not at the box - having said that: Thank god that refueling has been banned!



I did not quite understand your statement about KERS being a wasted opportunity.

Can you just clarify that for me, please.

Thanks and regards,

Alain (from France)


In terms of letting people know about it. The Hamilton move was a really clever use of KERS in an unexpected place to take the lead of a GP


It would be really good if FOM could find a way to have those KERS battery icons in all the on-board shots, and most of the exterior shots too. And same for DRS too, in qualifying at least. It is really sad to only see just a part of a lap on one of two cars with the telemetry.


I like the flashing sidepods, myself 🙂 Still don't really understand why something like the LMS LED's on the side solution wouldn't be doable, that can't weigh too much more. Put them somewhere close to the cockpit, so the driver can see them too!


A light on top of the car...


Watching the Race of Champions at the weekend, the power boosts on the VW's was very well displayed and really helped show what was going on...obviously much easier on a road car with big windows and a well lit stadium...


maybe the sidepods could glow or flash when KERS is being used.


Well @ james that is forgetting Vettel was on a wrong tyre strategy that was why Hamilton was able to get by if he was on a 3 stopper Hamilton wont have been anywhere near him as he was on a conservative strategy.


The cars should have lights on them to show when KERS is used. I've said this before on here. I'm a broken record. It's a good idea though. I wish they would implement it.


I think blaming the tyre strategy is possibly the wrong area. Vettel had a KERS problem for the entire race, rarely having more than 30 per cent capacity. He got done off the start as wasn't able to capitalise on Lewis's poor performance on worn soft tyres - if you recall he was eventually passed by Massa just before he pitted.

Doing the undercut, as Rosberg did, might have been a better idea, but if you compare Vettel and Button, Vettel beat him easily even with the KERS problems.

Red Bull wouldn't have selected a slower strategy to change to - they would have changed to the best strategy based on their track position, which was determined after they knew that both McLarens were behind Vettel. The key to that would have been being behind at the start.

Hamilton's pass might have been in an unusal area, but there was only one point earlier in the lap that you might consider it, and the back straight was always going to be a vulnerable area, so it is not surprising that a driver with Lewis' instinct would go for such a gap. With a working KERS, Sebastian would have been 10 seconds up the road as after the first stops he wasn't in traffic, so it is pure lap time lost.

A more interesting analysis might have been Lewis vs Jenson into turn 1. The speeds are greater there, so the KERS benefit to overcome drag is less.




Of course that was the background to how he caught him, but the point is that's how he used the device to pass in an unusual place


How is engine development frozen but parts are sitting on the Dyno being tested?


They are allowed to develop for "reliability"


Hamilton passed Vettel because Vettel's tyres were finished because RBR screwed up his strategy and Hamilton was 1.5 seconds a lap faster on fresher tyres.

KERS schmers, DRS schmeRS.


Hamilton's tyres were 7 laps fresher, that is why Vettel was caught. But this item is about how Hamilton passed him, which was clever and involved KERS


i enjoyed reading this as I do other articles of yours that I don't comment on.

I am sure you know this anyhow but just wanted to post to re-affirm that, while the narrative of clever and racing are areas non-fans and detractors don't accept when applied to Hamilton, those of us who enjoy his driving appreciate the odd article that expouses what we see.

This coming from Mercedes just confirms the insider knowledge that does not always get released to/via media - for me Korea was Hamilton's best drive this season (& it was encouraging for it to come towards the end of a bad year) but if we analyse too deeply the reasons for this then it just breaks too many preconceptions - better to focus on the one error he made in the race- (an error he probably would have had an opportunity to rectify had the second Mclaren stepped up just that bit more).

Did Mercedes provide any information for Rosberg/Schumacer or even Paul/Sutil? I ask because Schumacher for instance carried out a lot of overtakes/defensive driving it would be interesting to know how use of kers compares amongst drivers - obviously, not every instance but specific headline instances like with Hamilton's 2 examples.



I also don't think enough was made of the RBR kers which, as I understand, was a' mini-kers' that didn't deliver the full power output allowed but was smaller and lighter. This often put them (read: Webber) at a disadvantage in racing situations.

What I would like to see is a 2 or even a 3 lap 'reset' time for kers rather than each lap as we have now (ie 14 seconds for 2 laps rather than 7 seconds each lap). This would increase the strategic element of using it significantly.

Might also mean you could ditch DRS! Hey, there's an idea in it's own right... 🙂


@ James - All things being equal, are you saying that Hamilton would not pass Vettel without KERS in the same point of reference on the track?



Hamilton could *never* pass Vettel unless he had a significant mechanical advantage, which he did at the time. Namely KERS and grip.

Interesting article James but the Hamilton thing has holes all through it.


Hi James,

Both RBR cars did not have working KERS in the first few races this years, did they?


They had a KERS Lite system, I wrote about it in Australia describing it as a 'Start Only' system. They denied it but one of the key guys later admitted it was broadly true.


A masterful piece of writing James. Some of your insights are the best around, proper journalism. Thank you.


Yes interesting insight James. Obviously more to come from that direction. Really would be interesting to know exactly what Vettel was doing in Q3, but I expect the engine boffins are already aware of the possibilities.


I would feel confident that everyone of the masterminds inside the sport (other than RBR) are trying to figure out Seb's tricks too! 🙂


Good stuff James. Have you any idea how much new engine development is going to cost?

I would assume that part of the reason RB and Ferrari have quit FOTA is to enable them to spend huge bundles on the new engine race, which must be well under way now.


RB don't build their own engines...



Thanks – great article. One wonders, say 10 years down the road, will engines in F1 still be made with something called metal, or will they be using some sort of new material, sitting in some lab somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. I do remember when the ceramic pistons came into F1, didn’t last very long, but now, it seems forever.

In your view, how much of this new Tec on the engines finds its way into our road cars, and how long does it take to make that sort of break through?


Ceramic engines would be interesting. As they don't conduct heat (wasted energy).

From memory didn't Toyota look into this (not the F1 team) that produced twice the HP of a conventional engine.

The problem was it was too brittle.

"In the early 1980s, Toyota researched production of an adiabatic engine using ceramic components in the hot gas area. The ceramics would have allowed temperatures of over 3000°F (1650°C). The expected advantages would have lighter materials, no or reduced cooling system, and hence a major weight reduction. The expected increase of fuel efficiency of the engine (caused by the higher temperature, as shown by Carnot's theorem) could not be verified experimentally; it was found that the heat transfer on the hot ceramic cylinder walls is higher than the transfer to a cooler metal wall. Obviously the cooler gas film on the metal surface works as a thermal insulator. Thus, despite all of these desirable properties, such engines have not succeeded in production because of costs for the ceramic components and the limited advantages. (Small imperfections in the ceramic material with its low fracture toughness lead to cracks, which can lead to potentially dangerous equipment failure.) Such engines are possible in laboratory settings, but mass production is not feasible with current technology"


Well those were the 80s. Materials research and manufacturing processes have come a very long way since then and ceramic materials are sure worth another look.

In Formula-1-engine manufacturers have banned "exotic materials", so don't expect too much innovation there.

I guess that ceramic materials may be better suited to "range extender"-engines (generators) for plug-in-electric-hybrid cars, as these engines may operate with constant revs on their sweet spot.


We have had Ceramic brakes in F1 for some time, and they are now in most top end cars as standard. There was a short program on a F1 about a carbon fibre prop shaft been tested and compared to a metal one on TV recently, and it showed that it was a lot strong and better suited to the job, than the metal one. Plus a lot lighter. Also from the program easier to make it appears.

It may sound pretty stupid and hard to get ones head around it, but a carbon fibre engine block? If you take it back to originals then a piece of cloth can become an engine block.

As I have a few grey hairs, I do remember when normal cars had an aluminium head on a steel block, which made up the total engine. People said it would never work, but now most cars have this.


I have another post on that



I very much look forward to reading that, and seen what is coming down the line in new materials for engines. I have noticed some concepts used in F1 have made it across to road cars. Paddle shift for one.

Back to another question, do you know why or what was sprayed on the front wings of the Ferrari in the last race. Only it seems that Ferrari did this, when they showed other teams pit stops, they didn’t do this. So was this to stop “marbles” from sticking on this new front wing, which happen to Lewis’s car a few races back.


Interesting article in general but the comments that Red Bull are gaining from the EBD in particular.

Has anyone estimated how much pace will be lost with EBD as how much more it will affect Red Bull than the other teams?

Also, the comment that Vettel gains the most from this in Q3 is intriguing - does that mean he does something special with the throttle to gain time, or does it just mean the Red Bull car makes the most of the technique?


I suspect it means that they have a Q3 engine mode available which gives extra downforce, but carries penalties either in engine wear or excessive exhaust temperature which means it can be used only for a couple of laps.

I too would be very interested in hearing more on this - but as James made clear above, he's still trying to find out the details.


Basically engine maps are now locked in once you leave the garage in Q1. Whatever the engine does; you cannot change anymore.

You can change fuel modes but this is just to feed more fuel for more power or decrease fuel for less; or depending on cooling requirements. You cannot turn on/off the off-throttle stuff after Q1.


But that was outlawed from Germany onwards, so the modes had to be the same in Q and race.


This was something I was never clear on. Is there a single engine mode used across both qualifying and the race, or a number of presets that the driver can switch between, in the same way that fuel mix, brake bias, etc, can be changed on the fly?

I guess what I'm getting at is, could you have a 'Qualifying' engine mode which, though available in the race, would not be used?


Daft question here, but what exactly is limited? I thought drivers could still alter modes within the car during the race to save fuel etc? Could it be something as simple as Red Bull have a fuel setting that is more extreme than other teams that would never get used during the race?


But the drivers can still select different fuel maps during the race, can't they? I never did quite understand what the difference was between a mode and a map.


There are special techniques which you can use, to drive the car in a way that you benefit the most out of the additional downforce of the EBD.


Could it be something as simple as rebalancing the car? I don't know how much work can be done on the wing settings between the end of qualifying and the start of the race. Presumably EBD would make the car tend to understeer? However, what Red Bull could do that others couldn't is the big mystery!


Hi Stephen. To be 100% honest with you; being an engineer myself (or I used to be one, anyways) I was rather surprised that there was much to be gained with the advent of off-throttle blowing; because the whole point is that the system is giving 100% the whole time.

But what I did notice in early 2010; as did several others such as Mark Hughes and Pat Symonds; was what some drivers did before off-throttle blowing. Before off-throttle blowing, if you had your foot on the floor; then you had more downforce. Lift; and you have less downforce. Rear downforce, that is.

Rear downforce is good mainly for 2 things - stability; and traction. Traction being grip to accelerate in a straight line. With stability there's not much you can do; as you're usually lifting on entry; or braking. With no off-throttle; on entry; you just have the downforce that other cars have.

But what happened was that some drivers; of which the most extreme was Mark Webber; was that he started braking very late, very deep into corners, and getting the car turned very quickly; and stamping on the throttle; basically a "late apex" in racing nomenclature. What this does is it maximizes the time you are on throttle on the exit; and so you gain traction there. That was one of the reasons that Mark was kicking Seb's arse last year.


The EBD increases the performance of the floor as an aerodynamic surface, so the balance depends on where the centre of pressure of the floor is relative to the rest of the car and the centre of mass. Even without the EBD, Red Bull demostrated that it had a pretty good floor in 2009. The EBD just makes it more effective.

I suspect it is more a matter of feel and performance of the floor as the car pitches under braking. Feel is a big thing, and certain changes help particular drivers more.




Judging by Silverstone the loss of the EBD will effect McLaren more than anyone else. However, all the teams have known it was going since about May, maybe even earlier, so the 2012 cars have all been designed around not having it, making such comparisons and estimates futile.


Yes, taking the EBD off the Mclarens at Silverstone, made their deficit to the RBR's, the same as in winter testing, 1.3 secs iirc.


Not totally futile - it would certainly be interesting to a techie like me - but the received wisdom is that Red Bull had concentrated more on the EBD than other areas so have the most to lose and the most work to do on other areas to catch up.

The feeling I got all season was that the main area the Red Bull wins out is aero performance while the McLaren has better chassis dynamics. I don't know who else is working at RB but relying too much on Adrian Newey at the expense of the mechanical handling of the car may cause them problems if there aren't aero tricks they can exploit.


For starters, the chief aerodynamicist at Red Bull is Rob Marshall. Newey has more of an architecturl influence that covers mechanical design as well.

F1 is very aerodynamics dependent. There are chassis variations that lead to tyre use, but performance wise the effect is pretty small. In an article that Frank Dernie was involved in, he said that the best way to improve first gear corner traction was to improve downforce. Suspension design is relatively unimportant. F1 cars run wishbone angels to the horizontal that are determined by the aerodynamic design, not the mechanical effect. They are nothing like what road cars have, primarily because the camber control is relativel unimportant. The biggest suspension component by a long way is the tyre.

There are mechanical philosophies that influence tyre usage and that shows up most in extreme conditions. Red Bull - to quote Webber - chose to go a different direction for dry track tyre management and that is why the wet track performance hasn't been as good as it was in China 2009.

The McLaren aerodynamic philosophy requires greater ride height control than the Red Bull or Ferrari need. Therefore the McLarens jump around more under brakes, and this possibly contributes to the relatively slow pace early in races - especially for Button, compared to how he goes at the end. The hard springs, and the camber and toe-in also work the tyres more, so it is probably a case that this helps turn the hard tyres on more. This choice is about heat management and through that getting performance over a stint rather than one lap pace.




Well, each team will know roughly how much time the EBD gave them and so how much they lose with its ban, but since many of the cars were designed around the feature they wont lose exactly that much time and the new ones will be optimised around a different concept, which is where my futile comment comes in. I should also point out that the EBD gives its best effect in slow to medium speed corners but we've seen Red Bull open its wing in qualy through high speed corners where nobody else could and they wont lose that kind of performance next year.

Considering the performance of the RB at Monaco, Montreal, Singapor and Monza, bumpy tracks with high kerbs, there's nothing wrong with their car mechanically. If anything McLaren have got weeker in that department.

Anyone that thinks Red Bull might struggle next year is in for a shock.


love these pieces of journalism, especially in the close season.


Interesting piece.

James, one of the things this illustrates really well is how far Mercedes have come as an engine manufacturer. They have for some time had the best engine in the pit lane, but their reliability wasn't always at the top of the table. I remember Raikkonen in particular having several failures.

I think it also is worth remembering that Ross Brawn stated after Jenson Button won the Monaco GP in 2009 that his power unit was the first Formula 1 engine ever to have won three races. If that is the case, that in itself is a major engineering feat.

I think that the KERS story has been under exploited, but I do remember in the F1 press in 2007 it was talked about a lot, with some hope that it would improve the show. I feel the reason that it has been out of favour in F1 is down to the teams attitude towards it in the first season it was available. This is shame, because it really is an amazing technology that it is relevant to the wider motoring world.


Mercedes didn't have problems with their engines when run by Ilmor.

Hakkinen was champion in 1998 and 99 using their designs.

Wasn't it after Paul Morgan was killed that Mario Ilien left Ilmor and Mercedes took over that their engines kept breaking down? As the competition got better, Mercedes were pushing development harder and they kept exploding. Or as Haug used to say, hydraulic failure! I think also the banning of Beryllium caused some problems too.

Then the FIA got involved, reduced the revs, reduced what could be done with an engine design and they haven't had a problem since..


I agree there is a lot more to come from KERS or ERS in the future. Come 2014 the F1 engines will be underpowered with the deficit being made up from the ERS presumeably continuously. Energy will be converted from various sources in the car so the systems will be significantly changed from the current ones in F1, and are more relevant to the road cars of the future. Some of course already have it, but it will become more highly developed and widespread.


That's an interesting fact about the Mercedes engines and in my opinion Brawn wouldn't have won the championship if they had used Honda engines for 2009 but few payed attention to the engine switch everyone focused on their diffuser.


The problem with KERS is that its so badly underspecced to start with that they had to raise the base weight of the cars by 20kg this year just to make it viable, it just doesnt produce enough power for long enough to offset the weight and packaging penalty.

The 2014 rules will have double the power for, I believe, double the time from various sorces (not just rear braking like now) and thats how it should have been from the start.


Nice article, as always James. Hope to see and hear more of you on our UK screens soon??

My guess for the 'special use' of blown diffuser - something similar to Mclarens fiddle brake? Eg blowing more on left side (cylinders exiting in left exhaust) on left hand turns, and the right bank for right handlers? Would this be permitted in the regs?


Seems a pretty emphatic answer. Which regulation applies to prevent this?

I see these, in the engine section:

5.5 Engine throttles :

5.5.1 The only means by which the driver may control the engine throttle positions is via a single chassis mounted foot pedal.

5.5.2 Designs which allow specific points along the pedal travel range to be identified by the driver or assist him to hold a position are not permitted.

5.5.3 The minimum and maximum throttle pedal travel positions must correspond to the engine throttle minimum (nominal idle) and maximum open positions.

5.6 Exhaust systems:

Engine exhaust systems may incorporate no more than two exits.

None of those to me would prohibit a creative interpretation of 'driver throttle control'?

Is there another regulation (maybe in another area) you see that makes you so certain?


Great article as always James. Hope to see more of you on our uk screens next year??

My guess for the special mode could be asymmetric blowing? Similar to the Mclaren fiddle brake. So, blow heavier on the left exit cylinder bank for left handers, and the right exit cylinder bank for right handers.

Would this be permitted in the regs?


You'll see me on screens in Australia, it's a light commitment, I enjoy it and it fits in with the stuff I'm doing here and digitally. I've not gone after a full time TV role in UK

Grayzee (Australia)

And we welcome you with open arms..........we don't have too many genuine F1 insiders down here. Great insights once again.

Can't wait for March!


*we don’t have too many genuine F1 insiders down here.*

James would make it a total of 1. The others are just name droppers and wannabees.

You're most welcome here James.



Any word of how Cosworth will survive come 2014. With Renault revealing how much it is costing just be an engine developer / supplier. I struggle to see how Cosworth can make it pay even now let alone in the future.

Anything coming from the 'pure' fantasy guys...


Will be tough for them. Need to get the 2014 order book filled in order to commit the money. Otherwise we could end up with Merc, Renault and Ferrari each supplying 4 teams.


James: Are there any news on the PURE-Project by Pollock and the Mecachome guys?


James - have you ever written a post as to why RB have not maximised their use of KERs? In particular, early on in the season it frequently (magically) stopped working.


Adrian Newey Sr of RBR did mention early on in the season that they are an aero team, not KERS team, hence it took them time to get on top of issues to make it a fully functional KERS.


How about a piece on the elephant in the room James? McLaren are bound to look to develop an engine for 2014 or thereafter given that their aspirations for engine technologies seem to align perfectly. Lightweight, powerful, fuel efficient and low capacity engines - or am I inadvertently giving away state secrets?


Hi James

Great article which has raised a couple of questions for me:

1) Do you think Vettel's extra EBD use, is that due to him having more feel/car control and so able to exploit it, or that he got his head round the system before anyone else/Mark Webber was able to?

2) Presumably if McLaren go it alone on the engine side they would also have to engineer their own KERS system as well? I always got the impression in 2009 that they promoted their system as theirs rather than Mercedes Benz's... How much does KERS cost compared to the engine development these days?


reply @ 2)

No need to make their own KERS as well, don't need to come from the same manufacturer.

Look at RBR, they used Renault engines but dev'd their own KERS.


I've heard that Mercedes' KER-system is just a relabeled system built by Zytec.


It's a huge undertaking to do their own engine. Huge egg on face if it isn't class leading from the start and that's surely too big a risk

VW/Audi are the ones to watch out for. They could do it if they wanted to and McLaren would be the right fit.


Does it really benefit Mercedes to loose Mclaren? James any more insight on Honda, surely they would only come back supplying a top team? Unless they eased their way back in with Mugen!!




Hi James

Do you think there is merit in the opinion that Vettel's speed this year is down to him being able to understand how to get the most out of the car with driving style, especially considering that he manages his tyres better than Vettel and perhaps being able to use the throttle more efficiently to generate better downforce than webber?

Is it a mark of him being able to grasp the technical aspects of what it took to get the maximum out of the RB7, especially in qualy, and in the early parts of the race.

There seems to be so many areas where he was better than Webber, starts are another example, I can't remember him getting a bad start, but with Webber it was almost every race.

What I am trying to get at is that he perhaps has a better understanding of the fundamental engineering concepts and this enables him to manage the car better as a whole?

Or is this something we might only find out years from now in his autobiography when they publish interviews with race engineers from Red Bull ... 🙂


Like all top quality drivers he is adaptable, not just to new tyres but from lap to lap according to the grip levels etc. This era F1 is all about coping with change


Sorry, first paragraph should read,

"Do you think there is merit in the opinion that Vettel’s speed this year is down to him being able to understand how to get the most out of the car with driving style, especially considering that he manages his tyres better than WEBBER and perhaps being able to use the throttle more efficiently to generate better downforce than webber?"


Yer I thought I missed something lol


James, great article, thanks.

With regard to Vettel's EBD, there is always the possibility that he simply had a better EBD program than Webber. In an electronic world it would be difficult for Webber to know if they are using the same EBD program/settings. I'm not a fan of both drivers but it's obvious from the outside which driver gets the most team loyalty.

I do think that Vettel is the better driver of the 2 but not to the extent that this years results would lead us to believe.

Next year will be an eye opener.


I'd say the gap between them is quite large, and far bigger than that in the 2010 points standings, where car reliability helped Webber get close but still lose out.


I think you are giving KERS and Hamilton way too much credit for that pass. Vettel's tires were dead is why Hamilton got by so easily, we saw it all year long. That was the same race Webber passed the whole field as well.


nice thread.. some clever people contributing too..

nice work James...

I find the technical differences amounst the driver styles of drivers fascinating... and under publicised... more please.. since you re did your website.. i think earlier this year... i have noticed a bit of slide toward general f1 reporting and away from technical and unusual posts like this, that i really used to enjoy... you have redeemed yourself of late with some nice work, and this insightfull piece is just brillant..


I would LOVE to see an article that describes the differences between one side of a garage and another .. is the aero staff different? .. fueling, tire management, etc? Are they run like two different teams altogether?

I feel that there's a great story to be told in how the modern F1 team is structured for a race weekend with competing drivers.

As fans we often suppose that they all pull for the same owner but occasionally you see evidence otherwise. A fresh example is qually in Brazil. Vettel had it won and had the pole season record. Why did RB let Webber make an attack? He ALMOST got Vettel, and would have if Vettel had not improved again.


35 wins since the start of 2007, not 2009


Greetings and the best wishes for 2012.

A bit un-related, but how do you see Mercedes GP team getting reading for the 2012 season.


SK Anand


Early days without seeing the new cars but they should be closer to the pace in 2012, but I don't see them closing the gap to Red Bull - should get some podiums

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