F1 2014 has been pretty good so far. The first few races of the year have provided fans with plenty to talk about – and with the new quieter engines you can even hear what the fans are saying! It has been a very mixed year for the actual teams though.
Obviously Mercedes are enjoying the fruits of their investment over the last couple years – as are most of the Mercedes-powered teams. I say most because there are huge differences in fortunes so far between Williams, McLaren and Force India – especially compared to their respective performances over the last few years. Who would have predicted that Williams would get Pole Position and be threatening race wins this year? And who would have predicted that Sahara Force India would be outperforming McLaren again?
I was lucky enough to be enjoying a drink and dinner with @WillBuxton who is a very knowledgeable chap about these sorts of things the other night. We were at the Brooklands Hotel enjoying dinner after the Henry Surtees Brooklands Team Challenge event and it doesn’t take a lot to get Will talking about his favourite subject. Apparently the reason that the Mercedes car is so good this year is partly due to the superb power delivery from the engine but the differentiator between Mercedes AMG Petronas and the other Mercedes engined teams is more down to two key benefits that Hamiltion and Rosberg have over the other drivers.
Firstly the Mercedes team have come up with a really effective way of managing the cooling requirement of the car (and this year’s cars need a lot of cooling) which means that the aerodynamicists have had pretty free ride in designing the rear of the car. The other teams have until now had to compromise the aero design to fit in the with engine and cooling requirements – I say “until now” as it appears that Williams have worked out how to replicate the Mercedes cooling and their recent results reflect that. How long until Force India and McLaren work it out too?
Secondly, the new hybrid engines power recovery systems have made a big difference to the way that drivers have to use the brakes – unless you drive for Mercedes AMG Petronas. The new MGU-K system harvests kinetic energy from the rear wheels under braking. It stores that energy in batteries until the drivers wish to use the ERS extra horsepower. Apart from the enhanced cooling requirement that this demands, it also means that F1 drivers are having to adapt their braking style.
In previous F1 Cars, the driver simply stamped on the brakes as hard as they could to slow the car as quickly as possible and then immediately start to lift off the brakes . In a 2014 car, the drivers have to work with the MGU-K system that effectively acts as a brake on the rear wheels, harvesting all that energy rather than simply converting it into heat and noise which are wasted. For most of the drivers this means they have to activate the brakes/MGU-K system with an initial brake push, then they have to lift off quickly whilst the MGU-K system harvests the energy and slows the car down – and then crucially they have to be ready to push the pedal again to actually get the car down to the speed they want, rather than the speed that that results from the system braking. All of the above has to done in mere split seconds and with a brake pedal that has hardly any travel.
Where the Mercedes team have a massive benefit is that the software guys have worked out how to make all of the above work really quickly, really efficiently and delivering a braking control experience that the drivers were already used to. So whilst all 22 drivers on the grid are having to adapt their driving to make the most of the power delivery of the turbo engines, the best of the ERS system AND the new braking requirements, Lewis and Nico don’t have to worry about the brakes as they just use them as they always have.
Once again, I wonder how long until the other teams’ software guys get it sorted – especially as they have a testing opportunity next week at Silverstone after the Grand Prix – where they can test these sorts of things without worrying about too much about race set up etc.
We were very pleased to be running the Brooklands event with our friends at Mercedes-Benz World on Tuesday – whilst simultaneously hosting media and fan events for Red Bull Racing at our Milton Keynes Circuit. What was very apparent to the Daytona team in Milton Keynes on Tuesday is that the Red Bull team were very relaxed amongst the fans and the media. It was Daniel Ricciardo’s 25th Birthday on tuesday and he had to spend the morning driving around with helium balloons attached to his kart – but he didn’t stop smiling and nor did Christian Horner or Adrian Newey.
So whilst the Renault engines woes this year have put paid to Red Bull winning yet another championship, the people at the team are still smiling – and working just as hard at their racing and at their PR.
We have also hosted events this year for Sahara Force India – and are sending one lucky Daytona customer to be their guest at the aforementioned Silverstone test, courtesy of our partners TW Steel. Whilst I am lucky enough to be popping up to the F1 Qualifying on Saturday, I must admit that I am slightly jealous of our prize winner as he will be getting so much closer to Force India next Tuesday than I will on Race Weekend.
Whatever happens this weekend, lets all hope that Mercedes continue to let their drivers race – the Hamilton-Rosberg duels have been a big highlight for me.