• IN WORDS: James and Andy Talk All Things W09

Formula One cars may have gone through an evolution, rather than a revolution, for the 2018 season, but there's still plenty of technical detail to delve into and discover.

The 2017 season marked a major shift in the direction of F1's aerodynamic regulations. Alongside wider tyres and continued engine improvements, the cars were the fastest they have ever been in the sport's history. And they're set to get even quicker in 2018.

Tweaks to the aero rules, the introduction of the Halo, softer tyres, the reduction to three engines per driver and the relentless nature of F1 development has kept the team very busy over the last few months - but work on the new Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ started before its predecessor had even broken cover.

"Formula One teams are always managing two things at once," explains Technical Director James Allison. "They are pursuing a Championship with a car that was conceived well over a year before. And at the same time as they're racing, they're busy trying to dream up the next one. So the new car has been on the drawing board since before January 2017."

This prompted a fair few challenges along the way. James adds: "We were in a proper Championship fight last year - a fight that for most of the season looked like it was going to go down to the last race.

'That Championship of course had a very strong call on our efforts. The challenge was to ensure that all the things we were doing on last year's car were going to have both the opportunity to win us the Championship and also move the performance forward in a way that would be inherited in our new car.

'We wanted to make sure that, when we were investing our efforts to ensure that we were winning last year's Championship, those efforts were such that they would benefit us in '17 and have a positive legacy in '18. Time will tell whether we juggled well or not.

'Another big challenge was one that is borne largely on the shoulders of our team-mates in Brixworth. Going from four Power Units to three is a significant increase in the durability required from the Power Unit and the determination not to surrender power in exchange for that durability is significant. The halo was also a lot of work, but it is dwarfed by comparison with these main efforts.'

The design of the W09 is more 'elegant' compared to last year's car, with the team being more confident in the direction they are taking. 'Last year's regulations were brand new and we weren't quite sure which direction they would take us in,' James explains.

'So last year's car had a certain amount of wiggle room to adapt if we had found that we needed to move around certain aspects of the car. This year, being a little more sure of what we're aiming for, we've been able to commit more fully to certain concepts.

'We have the packaging much tighter and have taken things to more of an extreme. That's where a lot from the elegance comes from. It's funny - the thing that you loved and that you poured all your heart into the year before, instantly looks out of date when you compare it to the new one - and that's the lot of every racing car that's ever been produced. Nothing goes out of date quicker than an old racing car.'

We have the packaging much tighter and have taken things to more of an extreme. Thats where a lot from the elegance comes from. James Allison

While the exterior changes are the most obvious, the engine has gone through considerable modifications for the new season. Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, explains: "The amount of change on the Power Unit for this year is quite considerable and driven by a number of requirements.

"The biggest challenge we've got is lifting our durability limit with the challenge of racing just three engines per driver per Championship and two ERS systems. That's a 40 per cent increase in the life of the hardware this year compared with last. We focussed on trying to increase the life of the hardware without losing performance."

As James mentioned previously, the car is packaged more tightly in 2018, to provide a further boost in performance and improve aerodynamics. "We've been working very closely with our colleagues in Brackley, trying to understand the best overall integration in the chassis, the transmission and the aerodynamic surfaces," Andy adds. "We've also been working on efficiency and friction reduction."

Engine allocations slims down from four to three for 2018, for a number of reasons. 'This is to try and reduce the Power Unit cost for the customer teams as well as the total cost of what we're doing. Right now, we're seeing quite a significant development investment, but further down the line both the works and the customer teams will be better off.

'If an engine lasts 40 per cent longer, you don't need to make as many units for the same amount of development running. This will have a positive impact on the performance development work we have to do at the factory, but it will also reduce the supply price to customers and the cost of us racing over 21 races of a Formula One Championship.

'So we will all benefit from it once it is implemented. And it is impact a well-proven formula to reduce the costs. If we go back 14 years, we first introduced the idea of the V10s and then V8s having to last a whole Grand Prix weekend and we ultimately ended up with eight engines per driver per Championship. All of that has helped to contain costs.'

F1's regulatory evolution for 2018 has certainly kicked up plenty of talking points, but will it shake up the pecking order? Only time will tell...