Winter testing for the 2015 Formula One Season began this past weekend at Jerez, Spain, where Mercedes unveiled its 2015 race car, the F1 W06 AMG Petronas Hybrid. Last year saw the beginning of a brand new technical rules package for the sport. Gone were the screaming V-8 engines of prior years, replaced by a twin turbo charged V-6 engine enhanced with multiple complex systems designed to recapture as much of the energy of combustion as possible.
Mercedes did everything right in designing its new power unit and came to the competition with a package that was as much as 100 horsepower more than its competitors at Ferrari and Renault. Its cars swept the field, winning every pole but one and the vast majority of races. Mercedes managing director Andy Cowell says the new car is more about evolution than revolution.
Where last year was a case of “Can we do it?” we are now faced with a different challenge: “How do we improve it?” We have been working hard on all areas of the Power Unit to increase the conversion efficiency of every single system—trying to make our package more thermally efficient and produce greater absolute power. The focus in this respect has been on combustion efficiency and frictional losses, be they in core parts of the ICE or the ancillary aspects of both ICE and ERS.
Will Mercedes be the dominant team again this year? After the first day of winter testing, there is certainly a good chance that they will. The W06 compiled 300 test laps, while the McLaren — powered this year by an all new Honda power unit — struggled to get in 10 laps. It’s not unexpected that Honda, which was away from the sport for almost a decade, will struggle a bit at first, but winter testing is all about gathering data about how the car performs with various fuel loads over long stints. At this point, McLaren and Honda are just trying to get the car to complete a single lap without issues. It could be a long season for them and their star driver, 2 time World Champion Fernando Alonso.
This year, the teams will be allotted only 4 power units for the 19 race season as opposed to 5 last year. That means the engine makers have to struggle for reliability as well as power. As Formula One tightens the impact of the rules, the engineering challenges become ever more difficult to overcome.