The Mercedes-Benz Power Unit enjoyed an encouraging winter test programme. What do you put that down to?
A lot of it comes down to the planning that we put in place from the moment the regulations were released. Even before that, the decision to produce a KERS system in 2009 – and continue that development in 2010 – gave us a second generation product that was designed in-house and raced by six cars in 2011. That built a strong platform of internal knowledge, capability and capacity for the Hybrid concept. Our strength in terms of analysis and simulation of the international combustion engine has also been crucial. If an issue is uncovered, we leave no stone unturned to resolve it.
How crucial has it been to maximise track time during the winter?
While running time crosses things off the list, it also adds new things on. We saw some Power Unit related problems arise over the course of each test – especially over the last few days when pushing towards higher mileage – which topped up our job list. This was actually encouraging, as it proved that we have good correlation between our long runs both on the dyno and on track.
How confident are you heading to Melbourne?
We are being cautious about reading too much into the distance completed and the performance seen during pre-season. At this moment, it’s a relentless push to make sure we minimise the risk of problems over a race weekend. It’s a big week for all of us heading to Melbourne but we’re very conscious that this is only the first race in a long season.
Will finishing the race in Australia be a challenge in itself?
This is the first time that any of us will have operated under the true pressure of a race weekend. The timing of the sessions is absolute: you cannot ask for a track extension. The precision of qualifying, for example, requires second-by-second accuracy. Then, on Sunday, we will see this new breed of car compete directly on track for the very first time. The whole aspect of race craft with the Power Unit and managing the 100 kg fuel limit will also unfold. It’s going to be fascinating but there will also be a high level of anxiety amongst teams as to how it all unfolds. Completing nearly 18,000 km of testing with the Mercedes-Benz power unit has unearthed a lot of things, but has it revealed everything? No. It’s very much like sitting an exam. You may have done all your homework, but you never know which questions will crop up…
How many cars do you anticipate will cross the line on Sunday?
I think we will all be pleasantly surprised. Formula One is full of very determined individuals. From the engineers to those manufacturing parts and the race team itself, everyone is hugely driven to succeed. The predictions going into winter testing were that it was going to be a complete disaster, with cars not even capable of lapping a circuit. When you look at the kilometres that have been achieved it is pretty impressive, so I think that concern has subsided.
Is reliability still considered the crucial factor?
It’s a balance of performance and reliability. We have to make sure all aspects of the system are set up in their sweet spot, but also that the sweet spot doesn’t aggravate a reliability issue. Throughout the season we can only use five Power Units per driver, including the hybrid systems, or face severe grid penalties. The challenge now is to gather all the data we have from testing and conduct statistical analysis to ensure that we have a high probability of success at 19 Grands Prix.