Two circuits, 12 days, thousands of kilometres. The winter programme may have offered a glimpse of Formula One in 2014, but Melbourne provides the acid test. For the first time, 22 V6 Hybrid cars will take to the track simultaneously. For the first time, teams must adapt to operating two of these revolutionary machines as opposed to just one; and in a significantly condensed time scale. For the first time, the drivers must achieve a race distance under the close attention of their competitors.
As widely demonstrated during pre-season, running a 2014 Formula One car is a challenge in itself. Double that challenge in terms of providing both drivers with competitive, reliable machinery, and each team must be absolutely on the button in terms of preparing and running their cars efficiently and without error. This is where experience within a team will come to the fore in Melbourne, with history predicting a high propensity for attrition.
Of the last 10 season-opening races, eight have been held at the Albert Park circuit and two in Bahrain; the venue used for two of the three 2014 pre-season tests. Of these 10 Grands Prix, five have been affected by at least one safety car period. In that same time scale, there have been 62 occasions where a car has been declared as ‘not-classified’ in the race result.
Digging a little deeper into the figures, exactly half of these 62 were the result of a mechanical failure; averaging just over three cars per race. 12 of those 31 mechanical retirements were classed as engine (seven) or gearbox (five) failures; two of the focal areas in terms of reliability under the 2014 regulations. Hydraulics (five) and transmission (three) are next on the list; elements once again directly linked to the complex Power Unit.
Each system of the Power Unit – from the ICE to the turbocharger and ERS – is so intrinsically linked that complications with one will fundamentally affect the performance of the car as a whole. Now factor in an all-new gearbox design, the fly-by-wire braking system and significantly increased cooling demands. Add the lesser, but nonetheless present, risk of failure from one of the thousands of ‘known’ components and achieving reliability appears a daunting feat. While it has always been the case that a machine is only as strong as its individual parts, this rings all the more true in 2014.
Fundamentally, however, rising to these challenges epitomises the ethos of Formula One. The task at hand may be greater than ever before but innovation and cutting-edge technology are at the heart of the sport. For decades, engineers have been pushing the boundaries of performance, extracting the absolute maximum from the technology at their disposal and exploring every avenue of development in the pursuit of automotive perfection.
The association between Hybrid technology and motorsport, for example, stretches back over a century for Mercedes-Benz. Early experiments of Daimler Chief Engineer Wilhelm Maybach focused on combining the gasoline engine with alternative drive technologies in the early 1900s, with the company’s first true hybrid, the Mercedes Mixte, following shortly afterwards courtesy of fellow Chief Engineer Ferdinand Porsche.
Pre-season testing saw teams complete a combined mileage of 36,979 km during 12 days of track time; an impressive 74% of the total amassed during the winter of 2013 (49,946 km) in the final season of the V8 era and a notable achievement considering the scale of change. A race weekend is, of course, an entirely different beast, but the principles remain the same. Efficiency is the driving force behind the 2014 regulations but the reliability of each and every component within the car will be crucial to allowing that efficiency – and in turn performance – to be maximised.