‘Wait and see’ will characterise F1 in 2022, says Mercedes

Mercedes HPP’s MD on the F1 freeze

Mercedes F1 team member pushes a Petronas fuel barrel

New fuel is another challenge for F1 teams in 2022

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The new rules may not require the clean-sheet approach to power units as demanded of the chassis department, but as Mercedes High Performance Powertrains managing director Hywel Thomas explains, those who deal in power have also faced their toughest challenge since the hybrid era began in 2014. “Our power units have been very much an evolution every year since 2014,” says Thomas. “If you base it on parts count, this is the biggest change we’ve done since 2014.”

The power department has faced two specific challenges: an engine development freeze and the introduction of E10 fuel. Then there’s the integration of the power unit into an all-new chassis shaped around ground effects for the first time in F1 since 1982.

Hywel Thomas“This is the start of the big freeze,” explains Thomas (right). “The engine and associated parts” – the turbocharger, MGU-H, exhaust system, oil and fuel – “are frozen from the start of this year [March 1] until the next PU cycle [in 2026]. In the ERS box we can change a few things until later in the year [September 1], but you only have one upgrade, so if you don’t do it now you are losing a bit of performance at the start of the year. That’s had a big impact. If we miss it at the start of the year that’s it for several years! Also, you might think of them as incidental but there were a few things on mandated sensors from the FIA as well, which actually have ended up being quite serious things to accommodate. So there was a lot of PU action going on!”

E10 is the first significant change in the fuel rules since 2014. “It’s 10% ethanol and it’s second-generation biofuel ethanol,” says Thomas. “There’s goodness in that but it has displaced different componentry within the fuel – and in terms of performance, let’s say the engine preferred some of those components that have come out!” How much power was lost? The F1 jungle drums report Mercedes has already clawed back however much it lost – said to be 20bhp…

It’s not the first time the team has lived with an engine freeze: one was introduced last year. What was more unexpected were the reliability problems that undermined Mercedes’ intense battle with Red Bull in 2021. It still seems strange asking such a question of a team that has delivered eight-straight constructors’ titles, but does Thomas and his team feel on top of reliability now?

“I’m always nervous to say yes or no! We had a few things crop up that we weren’t expecting last year, and we had to react quickly. It has forced us into a different approach in a few areas. We learnt from a couple of specific failures, made design changes and they’ve been baked in.”

‘Wait and see’ is also a running theme in Brixworth, although Thomas does make one tantalising prediction: “What we will see is a large change in the performance of the cars from the start of the year to the end of the year, as people learn about them – from our side how the car’s working in relation to how the PU is working. Things will progress quite a lot, so there is a good chance that a team that starts really strongly won’t necessarily end strongly. My gut feeling is that people might make different strides at different times.”