Friday, 13 August 2021

How Mercedes has (technically) overturned the World Championship in two Grand Prix.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport/Steve Etherington
There is a World Championship. Far from being taken for granted in this modern era of Formula 1. Hamilton versus Verstappen (195 to 187 points) and Mercedes against Red Bull (303 to 291 points). To the sound of reversals and changes of hierarchies. Beautiful!

After a start to the season that showed us Red Bull's superiority even though the first race went to Lewis Hamilton, thanks to a better understanding of the W12 and a few too many problems in making the updates brought to the track by Red Bull and the power unit work from Honda, the Mercedes car has returned to the level, if not ahead, of the RB16B between Portugal and especially Barcelona.

At Portimao, Red Bull brought a hefty aerodynamic update to the track that struggled to get to work properly.
Illustration By: Rosario Giuliana
However, in the following month of racing (or a little more), Red Bull managed to overturn the world championship, thanks to some aerodynamic updates brought to the track that also made it possible to fully exploit the potential of the Portimao package; not to be underestimated then, the recovery in terms of power thanks to the second Honda power unit introduced in the French Grand Prix.

More power and more reliability. Thanks also to the change of specification of one of the macro-components of the PU subject to quota, the turbocharger it's believed, approved by the FIA after the competitors, including Mercedes, had also given their approval.

Only with further updates between Monaco and Baku did the situation improve, with the RB16B taking off against the W12.
Illustration By: Rosario Giuliana
Steps forward that have allowed the Japanese engineers to compete on equal terms, and even slightly more, with the Mercedes PU.

Always focusing on Honda, after the Verstappen accident at Silverstone, there was a strong concern for the Power Unit.

After being sent to Japan, replacing some non-quota components, it had been checked at the counter with the "ok" for its use in the Hungarian Friday  Free Practice; in the event of a negative result on some component, plan B were already in place to use the first power unit with the replacement only in case of battery problems, the most 'worrying' element, and the control unit.

On the other hand, the Hungaroring track, although it has become more power-sensitive with the current cars than a few years ago, is not so stressful for the macro components of the power unit and above all the horsepower of difference between PU 1 and PU 2 would have much less impact than in Spa-Francorchamps or Monza, two of the next three circuits (Belgium, Holland, and Italy) on which it will race.

The good results obtained in Friday's Free Practice allowed Verstappen to keep the best performing second unit (that of Silverstone) in his RB16B.

However, after a disappointing qualifying (all Mercedes front row), a further cold shower arrived for the Dutchman: a 'worrying' crack was found on the engine. Keeping that ICE in the car for the race meant taking too much risk.

But so Plan B was blown. Blame parc ferme and the upgrade in terms of turbocharger specification. In fact, to avoid a penalty on the grid, it was necessary to mount elements of the same specifications used in qualifying.

Could Honda have just replaced the ICE, keeping the second turbocharger unit and MGU-H in the car? Surely. However, this choice is never made because the 'reserve' ICE engines arrive on the track already with the turbocharger and MGU-H motor-generator mounted and checked, this to allow a faster replacement and with fewer subsequent checks.

Updates in a key part of the car for Mercedes at Silverstone. The goal is to improve rear flows and consequently aerodynamic efficiency.
Illustration By: Rosario Giuliana
Moving on to Mercedes, after the Austrian double-header the mood was not the best. They knew they still had a few cartridges to fire, but they felt cornered as never happened in recent seasons; even more so than those fought against Ferrari. Red Bull seemed in full control of the world championship, both with Verstappen in the Drivers' and the team in the Constructors'.

But the Silverstone - Hungary brace has (again) changed the cards in this splendid world championship. 

"We have a number of things that will make our car faster in the next races. We hope that they prove to be enough," former Technical Director, James Allison from Austria, said.

They arrived in the next GP, at Silverstone, expanding a setup window that up until that Grand Prix was quite small. But the results had not yet been fully hoped for on the track. The first weekend of the Sprint Race is also in the way, with only one hour of free practice available before entering 'qualifying'.

For this reason, Mercedes considered what the novelty package showed as 'encouraging'. In Hungary, the missing potential was unlocked through better understanding.

Updates studied in the wind tunnel mainly between March and April, given that since May the world championship winning team has spent full time on the 2022 project.

The low-downforce rear wing used by Mercedes at Silverstone. It is the consequence of the positivity of the updates brought to the track, even if they have not shown their full potential.
Illustration By: Rosario Giuliana

But this was not the only novelty, as always anticipated by the English engineer: "We are also planning updates regarding the power unit, in terms of 'delivery'. The engineers are working to allow the power unit to express something more." 

In Hungary,  Mercedes brought an electronic upgrade to the track focusing on its power unit, as well noted by FUnoAnalisiTecnica in the onboard analysis. Nothing new from the hardware point of view but only a more 'unique' mapping that has allowed the world champion team to return to command on the engine side.

According to a competitor, this step forward was also possible due to a track that was not so stressful for the macro components of the drive unit. It will be interesting to see, and Spa-Francorchamps is already a good track for that if Mercedes is so aggressive on the 'unique mapping' even on more critical tracks for the engine; however, considering the allocation advantage Hamilton could have over Verstappen if the # 2 Honda power unit is inoperable.

According to the information, has collected, Mercedes could count on an advantage of 10 HP over Honda and 25 HP over Ferrari at the Hungaroring. 

The latter, as anticipated two months ago, will bring an update to its power unit on the track in the second half of the season which, according to what has been collected, should halve the current gap with Mercedes. This is the goal.

In conclusion, if the steps forward made by Mercedes on the engine side, we associate those made at Silverstone on the aerodynamic side plus the introduction of the new rear Pirelli tyres, one more variable and to be taken into account in such a sensitive F1, we can understand how this 2021 world championship is a real roller coaster. Not only of emotions but also of performance.

Written By: Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Illustrations By: Rosario Giuliana

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