THE STEERING COLUMN: It’s Not Magic, It’s Engineering!

THE STEERING COLUMN: It’s Not Magic, It’s Engineering!

Boil it down to first principles and an engine is a beautifully simple thing. It's a machine designed to convert the potential energy of its fuel into useful work - or what we like to call power. A better engine is better at making power.

Since 2014, Formula One has been leading the charge to improve how internal combustion engines make power. We have added two electric machines - one recovering brake energy, the other an electric turbocharger - to recover energy that would otherwise be wasted. And the result is the most powerful Formula One engine that Mercedes-Benz has ever produced, beating the benchmark set by the V10 engines over a decade ago.

Not so long ago, those V10 engines were considered cutting-edge technology - and they converted less than 30% of the fuel energy into power. When the hybrid era began in 2014, that conversion rate stood at 44% - a remarkable leap forward. But things haven't stood still...

In the intervening years, engineers at Brixworth have worked on the fundamentals to continue making progress. Combustion is the first process of energy conversion - so lots of hard work, combined with a potently engineered PETRONAS Primax fuel, have driven progress in this area. Then it has been a case of minimising frictional losses, developing special lubricants to ensure power losses within the engine are minimised.

And then comes the key step: the electric turbocharger, which allows the exhaust energy to be converted into electrical energy which can then be used either to eliminate turbo lag, or stored in the battery before boosting drive to the rear wheels.

Electrical conversion efficiency is vital in these systems, just as in any hybrid or electric road car of the present and future, as is the intelligent energy management that decides where and when the electrical energy should be used for the best lap time.

Three and a half years after making its debut, the Mercedes-AMG F1 power unit has now achieved a conversion efficiency of more than 50% during dyno testing in Brixworth. In other words, it now produces more power than waste energy - a remarkable milestone for any hybrid, and especially a flat-out racing engine. Compared to 2014, the power output is 109 horsepower greater using the same amount of fuel.

When these markers are mentioned, the language soon turns mystical, referring to "miracles" or "marvels" of engineering. But there's no magic to it - this is simply cutting-edge engineering, with real world materials.

Regulations ensure there's no more Unobtainium or Neverheardofitium in a modern F1 engine - just good old fashioned aluminium, steel and their like. Parameters like bore diameter, rev limit and fuel injection are specified in the rules to make sure that if we make our engine more powerful, we do so in a way that makes it a better engine.

It's the science of achieving impressive results through detailed and diligent engineering process. And this technology is supplied to customer teams for a cost that represents between 5% and 10% of their annual budgets. In a discipline called "motor sport", that's a pretty good ratio for such a fundamental component!

Now, this same technology - lightweight, highly efficient and immensely powerful - is being transferred to the road car world. The Mercedes-AMG Project ONE uses pump fuel, is emissions compliant and still achieves more than 40% thermal efficiency.

The electric turbocharger means there is instant throttle response. And the project takes a step beyond current F1, introducing an electric front axle - using two further electric machines - to recover even more braking energy.

The Project ONE is a limited edition run of exclusive vehicles. But it is also a strong symbol: a clear signpost for the future direction of driving performance, where electric energy is used to deliver more power and less waste.

This is where automotive performance is heading in the future - and where the future of motorsport performance has already arrived in every major global series. Quite simply, hybridisation is an integral part of the future of both mobility and motorsport.

The future powertrain of Formula One will have to respond to a broad set of requirements including cost control, spectator enjoyment and sporting spectacle. A true hybrid engine, that combines engineering challenge with the desired power-to-weight ratio and improved racing, is unquestionably the right way to achieve that.

Because defining new limits, setting new standards and aiming for the best is precisely what the pinnacle of motor racing has always been about - and always should be.

To learn more about why the Mercedes-AMG F1 power unit is one of the best engines in the world, watch our video series.

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