Un­der the skin of the car that pow­ered Lewis Hamil­ton and Mercedes to a 2018 cham­pi­onship dou­ble


The ti­tle-win­ning Mercedes W09, with spe­cial Gor­gio Pi­ola anal­y­sis


No. 74

Abit of a diva” was Toto Wolff’s now-in­fa­mous as­sess­ment of Mercedes’ 2017 car, the W08. A cham­pi­onship win­ner, no less, and yet it was prone to the odd mood-swing; the long-wheel­base con­cept strug­gled to per­form on the full gamut of cir­cuits on the cal­en­dar, es­pe­cially com­pared with the more amenable and rapier-sharp Fer­rari SF70H. Al­though a con­sid­er­able and con­sis­tent fac­tor in the ti­tle fight, the Pranc­ing Horse wasn’t quite as ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing mo­ments of sheer bril­liance to that year’s Sil­ver Ar­rows. So, if only Mercedes could man­age more of them…

With the threat of Fer­rari loom­ing larger than ever, Mercedes needed to build on the suc­cesses of the W08 ahead of 2018. The W09 was built on the the­ory of evo­lu­tion, not revo­lu­tion, and re­tained the same wheel­base. Mercedes wanted to en­sure the whole pack­age was sim­ply a stronger, faster and more con­sis­tent ver­sion of the pre­vi­ous model.

Con­tin­u­ing with a sim­i­lar de­sign phi­los­o­phy, Mercedes em­ployed the same dis­tinc­tive ta­pered nose sec­tion to take ad­van­tage of the in­creased air­flow to the front of the floor, al­beit re­fined to in­clude a smoother tran­si­tion to the front bulk­head. The ag­gres­sive front sus­pen­sion was also kept, with the front wish­bones raised as high as pos­si­ble to min­imise block­age to the side­pod in­lets, re­duc­ing the im­pact on cool­ing.

While Mercedes looked to op­ti­mise an al­ready suc­cess­ful con­cept, that’s not to say they were ret­i­cent to make larg­er­scale changes. Tak­ing a leaf from the Red Bull play­book, Mercedes raised the W09’s rake [the ra­tio of the car’s front to rear ride height] by just un­der half-a-de­gree, to coax ex­tra per­for­mance from the dif­fuser. The aero­dy­nam­i­cists in Brack­ley tight­ened up the rear body­work too as the shark fins atop last year’s car dis­ap­peared, mak­ing sure the in­ter­nals were pack­aged as closely as pos­si­ble to bol­ster the aero ef­fi­ciency of the car. Tweak­ing the sus­pen­sion lay­outs also as­sisted with aerodynamics, while the halo’s in­clu­sion re­quired a quick chas­sis re­design in or­der to ac­com­mo­date the new load paths de­ter­mined by the FIA’S new crash tests.

Un­der the corset-tight en­gine cover, the Mercedes High Per­for­mance Pow­er­trains team pro­duced their best work yet. Tasked with coax­ing more grunt out of the most suc­cess­ful pack­age of the mod­ern turbo era, they over­hauled the en­gine in­fra­struc­ture to im­prove dura­bil­ity – the 2018 rules al­low­ing a max­i­mum of three power units per sea­son – while the en­gi­neers also had to boost the power out­put to cover off the threat of Fer­rari. That said, the start to the sea­son was ten­ta­tive, and it took un­til the fourth round for Mercedes to record their first vic­tory of the year when Lewis Hamil­ton took ad­van­tage of a Valt­teri Bot­tas punc­ture to win in Baku.

Ex­tract­ing the max­i­mum from the tyres seemed to be the big­gest bug­bear in the early stages. The “diva” still proved highly strung in high-stakes sit­u­a­tions and rear tyre wear was a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s ex­cel­lent early form in qual­i­fy­ing also sug­gested Mercedes could no longer claim to have the best en­gine – for the first time in the V6 hy­brid era.

Keep­ing the rate of de­vel­op­ment through­out the sea­son al­most con­stant, Mercedes’ en­deav­ours grad­u­ally de­liv­ered more suc­cess. In­stead of plonk­ing on a mas­sive up­grade at Barcelona, they pro­duced a se­ries of small changes to the aerodynamics, yield­ing a sec­ond suc­ces­sive win for Hamil­ton. In Aus­tria, the side­pods were tight­ened up fur­ther – al­though a strate­gic mis­call and sub­se­quent fuel pres­sure prob­lem for Hamil­ton ended his hopes of a win.

It was in ex­tract­ing the max­i­mum of per­for­mance from the Pirelli tyres where Mercedes placed the bulk of their at­ten­tion, as the team iden­ti­fied a new weak­ness in work­ing with the new wider tyres first in­tro­duced for 2017. The mov­ing goal­posts as Pirelli revised their com­pounds for ’18 en­sured Mercedes had to re­cal­i­brate again.

With a leave-no-stone-un­turned ap­proach, Mercedes in­creased their mo­men­tum with the W09, and the pru­dent, pa­tient up­date strat­egy, built on con­tin­ual gains, started to pay real div­i­dends – es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half of the


No. 74


sea­son. At Spa, af­ter the sum­mer break, they rolled out their big­gest up­grade pack­age: Brix­worth turned out a boosted power unit, while Brack­ley pro­duced a new wheel de­sign, with raised sec­tions to help draw ex­cess heat from the tyres.

That de­sign was aug­mented with a sys­tem to blow air through the wheel, and the air brought into the rear up­right hub to cool the brake assem­bly was also used to ex­tract heat from the rear wheels. Keep­ing the rear tyre tem­per­a­tures down was key to Mercedes’ dom­i­nance at Sin­ga­pore, a cir­cuit on which they had of­ten strug­gled. Hamil­ton’s pole lap there was one of beauty, and the abil­ity to thread his W09 through the nar­row streets with such per­fec­tion owed much to this im­por­tant tweak. Mercedes con­tin­ued to chalk up vic­to­ries be­fore their novel solution was rum­bled, and they reverted to a more con­ven­tional setup for Austin and Mex­ico, to counter the pos­si­bil­ity of a Fer­rari protest. Al­though both driv­ers suf­fered in­creased tyre degra­da­tion with­out the sys­tem, the team con­tin­ued to test it in prac­tice, mak­ing changes to the in­ter­nal flow in the wheel assem­bly ahead of Brazil.

There Mercedes clinched a re­mark­able fifth con­sec­u­tive con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship crown. With those many months of con­tin­ued fine-tun­ing, de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion, Mercedes once again turned their diva into a star.

SPEC­I­FI­CA­TION Chas­sis car­bon fi­bre and hon­ey­comb com­pos­ite Sus­pen­sion dou­ble wish­bones, pushrod-op­er­ated tor­sion bar (front), pull­rod-op­er­ated tor­sion bar (rear) En­gine Mercedes-amg F1 M09 EQ Power+ V6 turbo-hy­brid En­gine Ca­pac­ity 1600cc Power ~1000bhp Gear­box Mercedes eight-speed se­quen­tial semi-au­to­matic Tyres Pirelli Weight 733kg Notable driv­ers Lewis Hamil­ton, Valt­teri Bot­tas

RACE RECORD Starts 42 Wins 11 Poles 13 Fastest laps 10 Other podi­ums 14 Points 655

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