In a sea­son dom­i­nated – so far – by one team, one driver has done most of the win­ning. What makes the Mercedes W05 so ideally suited to Lewis Hamil­ton’s style? F1 Rac­ing in­ves­ti­gates


Find out how Brack­ley and Brix­worth got to­gether to build the best car Hamil­ton has ever driven

Over the past four sea­sons, Mercedes have qui­etly been mov­ing all the pieces into place to dom­i­nate F1. The in­stru­ment of that dom­i­na­tion is the W05, since Spain re­named – de­lib­er­ately – as the W05 Hy­brid. And thus far, the most art­ful wielder of that in­stru­ment is Lewis Hamil­ton, al­beit by mar­gins of thou­sandths of sec­ond. Tiny mar­gins, yes, but mar­gins that have left his team-mate, Nico Ros­berg, in­creas­ingly frus­trated.

The W05 is, Lewis has said time and again, the best car he’s ever driven.

So how have Mercedes met the chal­lenges of the new reg­u­la­tions with such great suc­cess, while ri­vals – be­hind the scenes and sotto voce – are al­ready talk­ing of stop­ping de­vel­op­ment of their 2014 cars? And how is it that Lewis, more of­ten than not, can wring those frac­tions of ex­tra pace from the all-con­quer­ing W05, leading in­evitably to those equally telling mo­ments in the post-race ‘green rooms’ where even the mil­lions watch­ing on TV can feel the hushed fris­son?

The team didn’t set out to favour ei­ther driver – and, for now at least, the two of them are al­lowed to fight it out be­tween them on track. But as the W05 came to­gether, the stars aligned for Lewis, hand­ing him a car per­fectly suited to his style. Frus­trat­ingly for Mercedes’ ri­vals, this isn’t a story where any one el­e­ment pro­vides the ‘magic bul­let’. Rather, it’s a care­fully crafted collection of mar­ginal gains…

Lewis makes him­self heard

“Last year I was strug­gling,” says Lewis. “I was re­ally un­com­fort­able. I like an over­steer­ing car, but it was too over­steery.

“It took all of last sea­son to know what feel­ing it was giv­ing me. Things were hap­pen­ing and I would think the car was just not un­der­neath me. If you look at that car from the front of the cock­pit you can see the steer­ing wheel – it was high. And Nico and Michael [Schu­macher] would sit so high their heads were close to the air­box. When I got in it I said, ‘This is all wrong.’

“So I sat so low – I was maybe 40-50mm lower than they were – my vi­sion was worse. But then I have moved the steer­ing wheel much lower, the cen­tre of grav­ity is lower, Nico has fol­lowed me and now he sits as low as me. These are the sorts of things I’ve brought to the team.”

Schu­macher was one of the great­est ex­po­nents of an over­steer­ing car, so it’s no sur­prise his pref­er­ences left a legacy. But in an era with less track test­ing there’s less chance for a sin­gle driver to steer de­vel­op­ment. And Mercedes are keen to stress that the W05 was shaped by col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“Our driv­ers are so de­tail-fo­cused that both of them have great in­flu­ence over the car,”

says Mercedes’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor (busi­ness) Toto Wolff. “The ad­van­tage for Lewis has been that he didn’t feel com­fort­able in last year’s car be­cause he had no im­pact at all [on its de­sign]. He feels in the right place this year, prob­a­bly be­cause the en­gi­neers un­der­stand his needs more.”

“Michael had a dif­fer­ent driv­ing style to me and he wanted dif­fer­ent things,” says Lewis. “Nico and Michael gelled and went in one di­rec­tion, then I’ve come along and my way is slightly dif­fer­ent, and I guess we’ve cre­ated a hy­brid: Nico’s come half­way, I’ve come half­way, so we now re­quire the same things from the car.

“A key dif­fer­ence for me this year is brak­ing. We did a lot of work on the sim­u­la­tor last year analysing how hard I hit the brake, the pivot po­si­tion, the mas­ter cylin­ders, dif­fer­ent brake ma­te­ri­als and re­ally fo­cus­ing on brake set­tings. The guys came up with a piece of soft­ware that helped me with brake mi­gra­tion [where the front-rear bal­ance changes as the pedal is re­leased]. It takes a while to build those re­la­tion­ships and for the en­gi­neers to get to know what I re­quire from a car.”

It’s all about the car

There’s a twin­kle in Toto Wolff’s eye as he asks, “Have you ever been in the ivory tower in Brack­ley?” F1 Rac­ing has, at var­i­ous times, vis­ited that area of the fac­tory, ac­cessed via spi­ral stairs and of­fer­ing a com­mand­ing view over the en­tire site. For­merly the of­fices of Nick Fry, the com­pany lawyers and other se­nior staff, the en­tire floor is now given over to meet­ing rooms where the var­i­ous en­gi­neer­ing dis­ci­plines – in­clud­ing del­e­gates from Mercedes-AMG High Per­for­mance Pow­er­trains, 30 miles away in Brix­worth – gather reg­u­larly.

“Half these rooms are packed with powerunit people,” says Wolff. “As man­age­ment, it is im­por­tant to align the mis­sion. If you look back, Brix­worth used to be a McLaren-fo­cused oper­a­tion be­cause that was the works team. That was the team that was tak­ing wins and ti­tles. It was im­por­tant, al­though our team was not per­form­ing re­ally well in the way we were ex­pect­ing, to align them be­hind Mercedes.”

The on­go­ing aim is to cre­ate race cars that rep­re­sent a seam­less fu­sion of chas­sis de­sign, aero­dy­nam­ics and pow­er­train pack­ag­ing – a

“Nico and Michael went in one di­rec­tion – my way is dif­fer­ent. We’ve cre­ated a hy­brid” Lewis Hamil­ton

process set in mo­tion by for­mer team prin­ci­pal Ross Brawn, who steered Fer­rari to mul­ti­ple suc­cesses in the 2000s. When Brawn ar­rived at Maranello in the late 1990s, while Fer­rari were in the dol­drums, he found a dis­jointed oper­a­tion in which the cars were as­sem­bled from blue­prints faxed over one A4 page at a time from John Barnard’s de­sign of­fice in Shal­ford, Eng­land. He united the de­sign, con­struc­tion and pow­er­train func­tions un­der one roof and a re­mark­able run of suc­cess en­sued. Lit­tle won­der Wolff de­scribes Brawn as “mega-in­stru­men­tal” in bring­ing that men­tal­ity to Brack­ley.

How does this work in prac­tice? You only have to look at the ar­eas of the W05 aft of the driver to see how tightly pack­aged it is; it’s the only cur­rent F1 car to re­quire aero­dy­namic ‘blis­ters’ to ac­com­mo­date the manda­tory gear­box mount lo­ca­tions. The en­gine cover makes the equiv­a­lent area of McLaren’s MP4-29 look like the back end of a bus. At ev­ery stage the dif­fer­ent de­sign dis­ci­plines have been will­ing to trade off with one an­other to reach the best over­all so­lu­tion – F1 Rac­ing has learned, for in­stance, that the ex­haust lay­out will­ingly sacrices po­ten­tial topend power for bet­ter aero.

“There are some com­pro­mises on the car for the benet of shaft power,” ad­mits Mercedes AMG High Per­for­mance Pow­er­trains MD Andy Cow­ell. “There are some com­pro­mises on the power unit for the ben­e­fit of aero­dy­nam­ics. It’s a mat­ter of nd­ing that sweet spot, and if you’re look­ing at the to­tal car rather than just de­vel­op­ing a power unit or a car, then you have a real vir­tu­ous cir­cle.” Teams who have a more de­tached re­la­tion­ship with their en­gine sup­plier, Red Bull be­ing a prime ex­am­ple, tra­di­tion­ally tar­get aero­dy­nam­ics as a means of in­creas­ing per­for­mance. It’s be­come fash­ion­able among the pad­dock opin­ionati re­cently to sug­gest that a Mercedes-pow­ered RB10 would be a bet­ter pack­age than the W05. This no­tion is bat­ted aside aside by Mercedes’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor (tech­ni­cal), Paddy Lowe: “That’s quite an an­noy­ing story from our point of view,” he says. “I’ve got no sym­pa­thy with a team who says, ‘My en­gine isn’t good enough.’ Go and work with them – it’s a part­ner­ship. For­mula 1 is a team­work busi­ness and it’s about en­gi­neer­ing the car as an in­te­grated sys­tem. You can’t de­cou­ple one tech­ni­cal as­pect from an­other: you make the whole thing work to deliver lap time.

“You can’t look at a lap time and say, ‘He’s quick down the straight there­fore he’s got a great en­gine, but he’s slow in this par­tic­u­lar high speed cor­ner, which shows his aero­dy­nam­ics are worse,’ be­cause clearly you can trade down­force for drag. That’s a game we’ve been play­ing in F1 for many years and it’s a game that’s go­ing on to­day. Some teams with the same en­gine are run­ning a lot more drag than oth­ers.”

The mes­sage to ri­vals: put up or shut up.

Get­ting a big­ger budget

You’d be for­given for ask­ing why Mercedes have only re­cently started flex­ing their mus­cles prop­erly af­ter buy­ing a ti­tle-win­ning team then spend­ing four sea­sons show­ing only in­ter­mit­tent prom­ise. It’s a ques­tion the board asked them­selves, but find­ing an­swers wasn’t easy.

“There were lots of in­gre­di­ents pre­vi­ously in Brack­ley, but some were miss­ing,” says Wolff. “Ross Brawn said in the past that there was a gap be­tween the ex­pec­ta­tions of Ger­many and what Brack­ley knew was pos­si­ble. The prob­lem was that Mercedes bought the team ex­pect­ing to win ti­tles with the same budget as Wil­liams. Ross said clear set­ting of those ex­pec­ta­tions or get­ting ac­cess to the right re­sources was miss­ing.

“I made a due dili­gence about the com­pany and the first thing I said to Mercedes was, ‘What are your plans? What’s your tar­get?’ They said, ‘Well, we want to win the world cham­pi­onship.’ I said, ‘You won’t do that on the same budget as Wil­liams be­cause my tar­get there was to be fifth.’ They said, ‘No, we have $30mil­lion more.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but we pay the driv­ers…’

“I said, ‘Let’s do it prop­erly. This is what we need. Or let’s re­set the tar­gets.”

Dur­ing the team’s solo year as Brawn GP, it had to un­dergo a bru­tal down­siz­ing af­ter years of growth un­der Honda’s own­er­ship. As Mercedes it be­gan to grow again – there are now 800 staff at Brack­ley and 400 at Brix­worth – and Brawn was able to re­cruit se­nior de­sign en­gi­neers with pedigree, such as Bob Bell, Aldo Costa and Ge­off Wil­lis. The additional in­vest­ment se­cured by Wolff helped fast-track de­vel­op­ment of the

“The na­ture of F1 is, if you want bet­ter tech­nol­ogy you’ve got to go and build it yourself” Paddy Lowe

W05, and its new pow­er­train, un­der the new tech­ni­cal struc­ture ini­ti­ated by Brawn – but the team’s new-found com­pet­i­tive­ness came too late for Brawn, in whom the board had lost faith.

More bang per buck

Mercedes have spent more on R&D than ever be­fore in the run up to 2014; ex­actly how much is un­known out­side the clois­ters of Brack­ley and the board­room at Stuttgart. In­evitably that has led to sug­ges­tions that they have cir­cum­vented the Re­source Re­stric­tion Agree­ment, par­tic­u­larly with re­gards to the ex­per­tise they can tap in to from Stuttgart.

In­sid­ers ro­bustly de­fend that, point­ing out that a lot of the per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity ad­van­tages Mercedes have en­joyed came about through Brix­worth’s de­ci­sion in 2010 to in­vest in sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion KERS tech­nolo­gies rather than re­turn to the one used by and co-de­vel­oped with McLaren in 2009. That gave them a huge head start in de­vel­op­ing not only the en­ergy har­vest­ing and stor­age tech­nolo­gies, but also the com­plex con­trol soft­ware that gov­erns the in­ter­play be­tween the new hy­brid sys­tems. “The na­ture of F1,” says Lowe, “is if you want bet­ter tech­nol­ogy you’ve got to go and build it yourself.”

“Re­cently I’ve been re­flect­ing a bit more about the jour­ney to this point,” says Andy Cow­ell. “We’ve ben­e­fit­ted from hav­ing a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the guys at Brack­ley

and from the de­vel­op­ment work we’ve done pre­vi­ously on KERS in this fac­tory. A lot of the key fea­tures, hard­ware and soft­ware, are cre­ated, im­ple­mented and bug-fixed in our very close cir­cle of in­flu­ence. So none of it has re­quired a crazy amount of in­vest­ment in terms of hard cash go­ing out the door or be­ing spent on cap­i­tal equip­ment in­side the fac­tory, or on huge num­bers of people.

“It’s been hard work – the in­di­vid­u­als have put in a colos­sal num­ber of per­sonal hours. The to­tal num­ber of soft­ware en­gi­neers is not great. They’re very clear-think­ing guys who have been work­ing on it since day one, have built the hard­ware up around a vi­sion, and have then writ­ten the soft­ware to man­age it.”

Mercedes are the only team to place the turbo’s com­pres­sor and tur­bine at op­po­site ends of the en­gine, giv­ing a se­ries of benets in­clud­ing a cooler flow of air through the inlet. Ob­vi­ously the chas­sis de­sign­ers at Brack­ley knew about this from first prin­ci­ples, while Brix­worth’s cus­tomers only found out dur­ing 2013. “How other cus­tomers ex­ploit that is up to them,” says Lowe. “That’s the essence of a works team re­la­tion­ship. But in­evitably they [the cus­tomers] will ben­e­fit from some of our in­no­va­tions.”

Nei­ther are the team ashamed of ad­mit­ting to sourc­ing help from Stuttgart. Pre-sea­son, they en­coun­tered a prob­lem with cool­ing caused by cor­ro­sion in the pipes. “Some of our most in­tel­li­gent guys were work­ing on it,” says Wolff, “but when we con­tacted Stuttgart they said: ‘We know that prob­lem – we had it on the road cars, here’s a so­lu­tion.’”

“From a tech­ni­cal per­spec­tive,” says Cow­ell, “it’s been a case of look­ing at the reg­u­la­tions, look­ing at the tech­nolo­gies that are per­mit­ted, do­ing some sim­u­la­tion work to look at the per­for­mance author­ity of those, and then set­ting some BHAGs – Big Hairy Au­da­cious Goals – and not giv­ing up.”

On-the-edge aero­dy­nam­ics

Op­ti­mum cool­ing also has an aero­dy­namic ben­e­fit be­cause the ra­di­a­tors re­quire smaller cool­ing aper­tures, and Petronas are be­lieved to have de­liv­ered much more ad­vanced lu­bri­cants – ones that re­main ef­fec­tive at a higher tem­per­a­ture, there­fore need­ing less cool­ing – than some of their ri­vals. That, along with the em­bed­ded na­ture of the pow­er­train en­gi­neers, has en­abled the tight pack­ag­ing of the rear half of the car, but it’s the front end that dic­tates the qual­ity of the air flow and here Mercedes are en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of the in­vest­ment they made in their aero re­search fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing 2012.

Two changes to rules gov­ern­ing the nose have had far-reach­ing ef­fects, most vis­i­bly in the height and shape of the nose. But the re­duc­tion in width of the work­ing ar­eas on ei­ther side of the FIA­man­dated flat sec­tion has meant those ar­eas must work harder to claw back down­force. The W05’s front wing is a so­phis­ti­cated piece of de­sign in it­self, but to op­ti­mise flow around the nose and re­duce tur­bu­lence in the so-called y250 area around the car’s cen­tre­line, the mount­ing points are very slim. Mercedes’ pre­ferred so­lu­tion didn’t pass the crash test first time and has only re­cently been in­tro­duced.

“That’s the ex­cit­ing thing about en­gi­neer­ing,” says Lowe. “The strength of a piece of steel is amaz­ing. There’s a re­mark­ably small amount of steel that will join a car to­gether. An aero en­gine is held on to the wing of a 747 by a cou­ple of bolts, and when you see it, it’s slightly be­yond com­pre­hen­sion. But that’s the ex­cite­ment about en­gi­neer­ing. We’re just push­ing ahead with per­for­mance in the nor­mal way we in­vent it.

“We haven’t got a lot of re­cov­ery to do. We’re in in­ven­tion mode…”

At ev­ery stage, the dif­fer­ent de­sign dis­ci­plines have been will­ing to trade off with one an­other ro reach the best over­all so­lu­tion

The front wing op­ti­mises flow around the nose to re­duce tur­bu­lence, us­ing slim mount­ing points. Its first it­er­a­tion failed crash-test­ing and it was even­tu­ally rolled out in China this year

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