Whether passenger cars or Formula 1 race cars: The heart of every car beats under the body in the form of the drive unit.
I am Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. In the motor forge, "Power Units" are developed and built for the company's own Formula 1 cars – and in future also for the road. Here I explain some technical details of the Formula 1 engine and tell how I motivate my team again and again to peak performances.
I am one of about 500 employees in Brixworth, England, the seat of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. This is where the engines with which Lewis and Valtteri drive in for the World Cup qualify for our team. The power units for the Mercedes partner teams of Williams and Force India are also produced in Brixworth. Our engine for the current season is called the F1 M09 EQ Power + and is a state-of-the-art piece of technology with a lot of passion.
For a V6 combustion engine, 1.6-liter engine displacement may seem a little unimpressive at first glance – but thanks to high-pressure direct injection and turbocompressor, we get 1000 horsepower to top the front. And that's not all, because since 2014, there have been significant advances in hybrid technology in Formula One.
The great thing is that the hybrid element not only acts on the kinetic side of the car, so in the form of brake energy recuperation, but by heat recovery even more power out tickles (also known as e-boost). When the riders go full throttle, our F1 engine has excess energy. We get this energy back with a generator, which we call MGU-H. The abbreviation stands for Motor Generator Unit Heat – "Heat" as "Heat". This is what distinguishes an F1 engine from most passenger cars, where excess energy is dissipated via a so-called wastegate.
Performance plus: Hybrid technology
But back to our F1 M09 EQ Power +. We transfer the heat captured with the MGU-H as electrical energy into a large battery in the car. With this energy storage and the second electric machine is connected, the MGU-K. "K" stands for "kinetic". This electric motor with a power limited to 120 kW (160 hp), which is limited by the Formula 1 regulations, is in turn connected to the crankshaft via a gearbox. We can use this additional power when the drivers are driving at full throttle. When braking, the electric motor slows down the car via recuperation and feeds energy into the battery – so that enough power is available again at the next acceleration.
Another major advantage of the hybrid technology is the ability to visibly close the turbo lag – ie the delay from pedaling the accelerator to full power delivery. For example, while the drivers drive through a bend, we use our MGU-H to drive the compressor. So when Lewis and Valtteri go into the bend with half throttle, the MGU-H keeps the compressor going. As soon as the driver returns to full throttle, the power is immediately available again. Thus, the torque delay – that is, the power delay – is almost zero for our engine. In a car, this technology is called e-boost.
So far the theory. So that everything works smoothly in reality, we put a lot of work into engine development. My team and I are responsible for ensuring that the interaction between the combustion engine and the electric machines on the racetrack goes unnoticed by the drivers. Because no F1 driver likes it when the power delivery is a surprise. It does not matter if it's too late or too early a surprise.
It is our job to make sure that the power delivery is reliable – and consistent. So that every time, after the same curve, when the accelerator pedal is kicked, the power output is the same as in the previous lap. We do everything so that the connection between the hybrid system with the two electric motors and the energy from the battery, perfectly harmonized with the highly turbocharged internal combustion engine.
Pedal to the metal?
Formula 1 is something special. In a normal car, the driver pushes the accelerator pedal for less than five percent of the drive time until it stops. It's a different story in F1 qualifying: 70 percent of the time when the driver pushes the accelerator pedal all the way down – that's why we're optimizing the engine to full power. , If we have worked well, the drivers can concentrate on what their main task is: to control the car on the track. In other words, brake to balance the car in the corner and accelerate without wearing the tires.
We are in constant communication with the drivers. Every time Lewis or Valtteri gets out of the car, we have a debriefing. We go through a standard list of questions: What was the driving style? Was the performance consistent? Are the control elements for the drive always clear and understandable? We compare the answers and comments with our data and then look at what we can still optimize. Our clear goal is to make things even better next time – to claim the next victory.
We deliver high performance powertrains to win championships – this is our mission statement in Brixworth. Anyone who wants to win championships must never be satisfied with what he has just created. I always look at what we have achieved and say to myself: "Yes, but next time we can make it even better." Our employees are pulling in the same direction: As we fought for every kW with full vigor. It motivates every single person when we find new solutions to very complex problems under time pressure. To solve a problem quickly, without additional weight, without additional friction and thus without losing any performance. That's what really excites people. That's like a kick.
Royal class for the road: Mercedes-AMG Project ONE
A bit of Formula 1 we now put on the road. Together with my team, I also look after the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE, our road vehicle with Formula 1 technology. The Hypercar basically has the rear of a Formula 1 vehicle – including the 1.6-liter V6 hybrid engine. In contrast to Formula 1, however, there are two more 120 kW (163 hp) each of the e-motors on the front wheels, and the battery capacity is around four times that of the F1 M09 EQ Power +.
However, the battery size or the additional electric motors are not the biggest change for us as a developer. Much bigger is the challenge in another area. Because unlike Formula One, we do not have dozens of on-site engineers typing something into their laptops – and no radio messages that could help drivers calibrate the setup in the short-term.
All these activities must be carried out by the control units themselves – in every weather and in every temperature range. Our customers should not have to do more than with any normal car: go to the car, open the door, get in, press the start button and start driving – the rest is done by the electronics on board. And all without losing the spirit of the Formula 1 engine. I really can not wait to see the car in the street.