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Road to W12: What’s Going On at Brixworth?

With the reveal of the Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance just weeks away, both factories in Brackley and Brixworth are a hive of activity. But what exactly are we working on right now?

Well, we recently paid a visit to Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth to talk to Hywel Thomas, Managing Director, about what Brixworth is focusing on at the moment and what the atmosphere is like ahead of the new 2021 F1 season.

There isn’t long to go until the W12 is revealed, so how is everything going from the Power Unit side of things? Is it all going smoothly and on schedule?

Hywel: In terms of readiness, we’ve got plenty of engines in build at the moment getting ready for the new season. We have already got some of them together and we have also got engines running on the dynos right now, doing their durability runs.

There are also engines for our customers too, which are already with them and either in the back of their chassis and fired up, or in the process of doing so. We have got some issues with the Power Units; we know we have issues but we have plenty of plans in place to fix all of those issues. I’m sure it will all be ready for the first race.“

What’s the mood like in the factory at this time of the year, and what’s the atmosphere like ahead of this new season?

Hywel: It is an exciting time at the factory, over the winter. Exciting, but busy. We get to see the fruits of our labour and see how much performance we have put on the engine, to see what the durability of the engines are and of course, what we don’t know is what other people have been doing at their factories. So, it’s full of excitement here, but also nervousness of wondering whether we have done enough...

Obviously, a lot of hard work is going into the Power Units for the new season, but have we encountered any challenges along the way, over the winter?

Hywel: The winter is always a challenging time for us, as we prepare for a new season, and this year there have been a few extra additional things thrown at us. It’s been the first winter where we’ve had to react to a change to the regulations, which limits the amount of dyno hours we’re able to run. This means we have to make every single dyno run count and must make sure that we are entirely productive, to learn about the performance and the reliability of the Power Unit during each hour!

Also, it’s the first winter where we have prepared for only one single upgrade for the whole season. So, we have to get all of our performance into the first PU that goes to the first race, whereas in previous seasons we have been able to split that up into different packages for each PU that gets introduced. So, with that challenge, we have to get absolutely everything there for the first race and make sure it’s completely reliable.

Also, there are more races this season and the same number of Power Units, which means that each individual Power Unit needs to run across more races. We just have to make sure that we are ready for that and focus even more on reliability. We also have the challenge of a pretty short winter, as we didn’t finish racing until the middle of December and now, we’re straight back into it. So, if anything, we’ve had more to do and less time to do it in.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to adapt the way we work, what’s it been like to build an F1 Power Unit during a pandemic and what challenges have there been in that regard?

Hywel: All the work we have been doing is on the backdrop of the global pandemic, which of course adds some extra problems and some extra challenges for us. The safety for our staff is absolutely key to us. In the business we are in, we do need to have staff on site. So, we had to do many changes to the site in order to make sure that it is COVID secure, so all the testing and protocols that have been put in place are absolutely imperative for us.

We also have some members of staff that can work from home and we’ve done everything we can to get them working from home. The amount of IT and the amount of innovation that people working from home have done to make sure that they can be as effective as possible is impressive to see.

I am not entirely sure how we would have coped 20 years ago! But with the IT solutions we have, we’ve learned a lot, and, in many places, we are more effective than we have been in the past. We’ll keep evolving and will try to make the most of the situation we are in.

This season, HPP will be supplying a fourth team on the grid and therefore have to build 25 percent more Power Units, with McLaren returning as a customer. How has the team at Brixworth approached that extra workload?

Hywel: Of course, we welcome McLaren back as a Power Unit customer and in terms of day to day life at Brixworth, the most important thing for us is because we’ll be producing more engines and sending more engines to races, we don’t want to have to freeze the specifications any earlier. Because that’s time we couldn’t get back, and we really need to make sure that we are getting every ounce of performance and reliability into the Power Units.

So, that gives us the challenge of understanding how we can build the engines, can we be more effective, can we be more productive and we’ve got all the plans in place so we can build those extra 25 percent without having a huge impact on what we are able to take to the circuit.

In 2022, a more sustainable (E10) fuel will be introduced, so how are preparations going for next year and what will this mean for the HPP team working on this project?

Hywel: So, the biggest regulatory change for us in 2022 is the change in the fuel, turning to an E10 fuel that includes some sustainable ethanol. That’s a challenge for us and our fuel supplier, PETRONAS, but something we’re happy to embrace.

As well as that, we’ll have gone through the 2021 pre-season project by that point and have a better understanding of the new dyno restrictions, plus the fact we are only allowed one single performance upgrade per season.

So, we are slightly changing the way we are doing the project, to understand the impacts of those regulation changes and reacting with any relevant tweaks to make sure we are making the most of the opportunities we have.