F1 W07 Hybrid
On the surface, a second consecutive winter of minimal regulatory change may appear to ease the pressure on the Formula One community. The reality, however, is quite the opposite. Progress under such conditions is a game of diminishing returns - making the quest for every millisecond of performance ever-more crucial.
"The biggest challenge for the team over the winter has been finding how we can extract more performance from what was already a very strong Power Unit and chassis concept", confirms Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff. "The regulations have remained mostly stable for another year, so the development curve has naturally started to level out slightly. But as a group of competitive racers, this is the sort of challenge we love - to find every last bit of performance.
"After the success of the past two seasons, the obvious target is to build on what we have achieved so far - to continue to win races and Championships. But you can never take anything for granted in this sport - or rely on past success. Right now, all points are reset to zero. We haven't even begun testing yet, so we have no benchmark against the competition. But we can be certain that they will be stronger than ever, so we need to do the best job out there. In Melbourne, we will see. As they say, when the flag drops...
"We gained confidence after the first Championship title in 2014 and therefore approached 2015 in a slightly different way. But our core philosophy remained the same and 2016 is no different. We are confident in our people - but we always take a 'glass half empty' approach. We remain humble, feet on the ground, pushing hard to develop everything from the cars to our wider capability as an organisation in the long term."
So, what were the main lessons learned from 2015? And how will these help the team progress in 2016? In a year of relative regulatory stability, it's all about mini revolutions...
"After a highly successful season all round in 2015, our priority has been to identify the areas in which we were weakest and to try to improve on those" says Executive Director (Technical), Paddy Lowe. "Our objective is excellence in all areas and, while we had some fantastic results last year, there are many areas in which we can still be much better. That's the kind of culture we try to instill throughout the whole organisation - one of constantly striving to reach something better. We had a number of races that didn't go to plan in 2015 - Singapore in particular - so there were a lot of things that needed improving for 2016. We are seeking optimisation absolutely everywhere.
"It's difficult to have a complete revolution when the rules have stayed pretty much the same year on year. But we aim to make minor revolutions wherever we can - even within a small context. We may look at a completely new packaging solution or suspension concept, for instance. So, while the car may look very similar to its predecessor from the outside - as is inherent within stable regulations - underneath there are quite a lot of mini revolutions that make up an overall evolution for the new season."
"It's very tough to find performance under a stable set of regulations and we were particularly pleased with how the car turned out in 2015 when we had the same situation," Paddy continues. "The team did a fantastic job - digging very deep to find all sorts of innovations in areas that might have been considered static. 2016 is another carry-over year from a regulatory point of view and potential gains inevitably become harder to find under these circumstances. This is what tests an engineering team the most and I must say that this team has been very good at that. It's far easier to find performance when you have a new set of rules, that's for sure.
"On the mechanical side, the main rule change is around the separate ducting of exhaust tail pipe and waste gate. But, in reality, that's not had a major effect. The biggest structural change is on the chassis side, where we've raised the protection area around the driver by 20mm and increased the side impact test load from 15 to 50kN. This is a substantial increase in the load that has to be taken by the chassis as that point and will give much greater protection to the driver."