THE CAR MADE FOR LEWIS
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 sacrices potential topend power for better aero.
“There are some compromises on the car for the benet 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 benets 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.”
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