Merc's 2014 F1 V6 sneak peek
OUT WITH THE 8: Mercedes-Benz high-performance director Andy Cowell (inset) recently offered reporters a sneak peek at the V6 F1 engine Mercedes is developing for the 2014 season.
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
LONDON, England, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Mercedes-Benz has given a sneak peek at the future of F1 on Friday and it sounded sweet.
The German automaker invited reporters into its F1 engine factory in central England to see and hear the V6 engine that Britain's Lewis Hamilton, for one, hopes will take him to another title when it is introduced in 2014.
With cellphones sealed in bags to ensure no pictures were taken of sensitive information and recorders turned off and put away, Mercedes-Benz high-performance managing director Andy Cowell outlined the coming revolution that he said would "put the motor back in motor sport".
The concept of an engine has moved on, apparently the word itself is consigned to the past given the amount of extra technology now involved: "We are no longer talking about an engine," said Cowell. "It is now a power unit."
From 2014 F1 will jettison its current 2.4, 600kW, V8 engine in favour of a 1.6 V6 revving to 15 000 with a kinetic and heat energy recovery system (ERS) and a turbocharger running at up to 125 000rpm.
Each driver will be limited to five engines per season instead of the eight of 2012. If a sixth is required, a 10-place grid penalty will be incurred.
Reporters, taken to parts of the factory to which even customer teams are not allowed, saw the new V6 on a dyno test bed and being worked on in sealed and dust-free engineering bays.
Mercedes has been testing it for some time - Cowell suffered a strategic bout of memory loss when asked exactly how long - and has until March 1 2014 to develop it.
POPPING AND CRACKING REMAIN
What the new unit will sound like has been the subject of much debate, with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and others having suggested it would be "terrible" and alienate fans used to the banshee wail of a V8 and its popping and cracking down through the gears.
A recording of the new unit, superimposed on a simulation of the Monza circuit, dispelled those fears. It was different, a deeper sound with the promise of being louder and clearer on track.
"It's a little bit lower in terms of decibels because of the turbocharger, but it's a sweet sound," Cowell averred. "It put a big smile on my face. I think the sound is going to be pleasant. The volume is a little bit lower but I don't think there are going to be any problems with the direction we're going."
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion who has moved from Mercedes-powered McLaren to the works Mercedes team for 2013, has said he doesn't expect to be challenging for the title in 2013. His new employers hope to be in the mix for 2014.
The rule changes could benefit those in manufacturer-owned teams, even if all Mercedes-powered teams get the same equipment.
The change from 2013, for which the rules are virtually unchanged from 2012, to 2014 will be huge and a major challenge. The formula is changing to one in which fuel-efficiency and energy conversion, extracting the maximum performance from an allowance of 100kg of fuel (140 litres), becomes vital.
Cars currently start a race with around 150kg of fuel; so in 2014 they will leave the grid lighter but finish slightly heavier. This is because of the extra weight of the new combined "power unit": it weighs 145kg against the unencumbered 95kg V8.
The 2014 unit contains 15% fewer moving parts than the V8 and should last for 4000km instead of the 2000km expected of the current and largely bulletproof V8. ERS will deliver twice the power to the rear wheels than that of KERS and harvest five times the energy.
"There will be a new quality to the racing," Cowell promised. "It will edge towards a thinking driver's formula to get the most from the car and the fuel energy. The engines will deliver more torque, especially on corner exits.
"Cars with more power than grip coming out of the corners. That's something we all enjoy."