2014 has introduced what is widely recognised as the biggest technical revolution since the first Formula One season in 1950. Of course, while probably the most far-reaching, this is far from the first major upheaval in the history of the sport.
For decades engineers have been pushing the boundaries of performance, with increasingly complex regulations forcing fresh innovations to suit constantly evolving sporting and technical requirements.
The pure scale of this change, however, cannot be underestimated: “I don’t think we have ever had such a large change that was mandated in the regulations” said Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains.
The revolution of 2014, however, has different roots. As the automotive industry increasingly demands more from less, efficiency and hybrid technologies become all the more relevant. As the pinnacle of automotive technology and performance, Formula One has a significant role to play in driving these technologies forward.
For Mercedes-Benz, this fresh philosophy for Formula One and its relevance to the road has particular importance, as highlighted by Toto Wolff: “Personally, I think the changes for this season have not only been positive, but also necessary for the sport” said Toto.
“Formula One is the pinnacle of automotive innovation. As such, it has a duty to push the boundaries of technology. The new regulations not only encourage this innovation but also make the sport more relevant to the direction in which the motoring industry is heading.
“As a manufacturer team we are in a good position to see the benefit of aligning our racing activities with trends in the production car market. It’s still Formula One but we’re bringing the sport into the modern era.”
These thoughts are echoed throughout the organisation, with Formula One today providing far more than a mere marketing exercise for leading car manufacturers:
“Winning races is, of course, important to the Formula One project. But the involvement of Mercedes-Benz in motorsport purely for results on the track and the resulting marketing benefits is not enough,” explained Thomas Weber, Head of Research and Development on the Daimler Board of Management.
“In former times, it was important for me to go to a Formula One race just for fun. Now, it's part of my business. Never before have we been so close technology-wise to the technology we need in road cars today. The engine downsizing, turbochargers and hybrid technology. That's the name of the game now in Formula One.”
A brief glance through the history books demonstrates just how crucial the development of new technologies on track can be to the ultimate goal of furthering wider automotive innovation.
The term ‘KERS’, for example, entered the world of Formula One in 2009, but the association between hybrid technology and motorsport 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.
More than a century later, the Mercedes-Benz KERS Hybrid system powered Lewis Hamilton to the first ever Hybrid Formula One victory at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The lessons learned during development of the high-power-density F1 KERS Hybrid flowed directly into the technology at the heart of the SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive. The battery solution for the all-electric supercar was developed with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth, delivered 740 hp as well as an incredible 1,000 Nm of torque and set a new benchmark for energy density; as well as a 7:56 record lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife!
From a sporting perspective too, the new regulations have not only proved the mettle of Formula One as a research platform but are already beginning to bring a breath of fresh air to the sport.
“After testing, it was widely believed that only a handful of cars would finish the first race. Just a few weeks later we have seen a race that was quite simply brilliant to watch in Bahrain: one of the best in recent memory, in fact” said Toto Wolff.
“There were battles throughout the field during the entire race. This is what we go racing for and it was a strong advert for the sport: in particular under these new regulations. I think that in itself proves that we are moving in the right direction.”
“Over the years, we have seen how relatively small things filter through to the production world, not just in terms of the cars themselves but also what is seen as attractive from a technological perspective.” echoed Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical).
“We are part of that and it is what Formula One should be doing. It’s fantastic to show the world that not only can amazing technology be produced within this exciting new ‘Efficiency Formula’ but that racing is alive and well within our sport.”
For MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the heightened demands behind the wheel have already provided a platform to both demonstrate their abilities and create entertaining racing.
“Bahrain was a real racer’s race and a chance to use the skills that we’ve acquired over the years as youngsters in karting. Being able to apply them in Formula One is a lot harder but to pull them out of the bag again was fantastic. It’s one of the greatest feelings when you come out on top after a battle like that” said Lewis.
“I’ve noticed that the race in Bahrain has been very positively received and that’s really satisfying to see as I care very deeply about this sport” said Nico. “I find the criticism that the new regulations have received to be very unfair, as it’s far too early to judge such a revolutionary new formula. Unfortunately, however, those voices had been getting louder and louder.
“In my mind there was no better way, in the entire world, to silence them than by producing what has been described as one of the most exciting races in the history of Formula One. Although I was disappointed with the race result, that disappointment has quickly been replaced by happiness at having been able to do my bit for the sport I love.”
As has been the case throughout generations of Formula One, the introduction of new rules serves to encourage innovation and showcase the sport as the cutting-edge of new technology. But on top of it all, that technology is driven forward by pushing it to the limits and racing it hard.
For Mercedes-Benz, it’s never been more true to say that racing is a state of mind…