Dominant since 2014, the beginning of the hybrid era, the present has Mercedes bewildered. The power unit of silver arrows marked the pulse in the Formula 1 over the past eight years, but the start of the 2022 season shows them weak in a subject in which they have always excelled. There is not a single reason, as Toto Wolff, the team leader points out, to argue about what has been reflected on the tracks of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where Lewis Hamilton He barely reached the third step of the podium at the opening of the calendar as his best result. The departure for Red Bull Racing (RBR) of 50 engineers from the middle of last year and the new fuelE10, appears as a set that damages those who have chained eight stars in the Constructors’ Championship, a statistic never reached before in the big circus.
The battle between Max Verstappen and Hamilton for the 2021 title trapped F1 fans to their last breath, but behind the tug-of-war the drivers unleashed was also what RBR and Mercedes held for the engineers . The biggest blow they dealt by Milton Keynes was to convince Ben Hodgkinson, head of engineering for the silver arrows– to join who was his biggest rival.
The letter with which Mercedes sweetened the loss was that it will only be able to join starting May 24. The Brit has worked for two decades at Brixworth and has been head of mechanical engineering at High Performance Powertrains since 2017. The hiring was the move designed by Christian Horner – head of RBR – when Honda announced it would be retiring from F1 and the energy drinks team had to speed up construction of a company to operate with Japanese engines.
With Hodgkinson they also changed the names of the teams in a hierarchy. Steve Blewett became production manager for RBR’s power units; Omid Mostaghimi – head of the Mercedes electronics team – has been entrusted with the role of head of powertrains, electronics and ERS [sistema de recuperación de energía]; Pip Clode went from head of the UP concept team to head of mechanical design for ERS; Anton Mayo was introduced as the chief designer of the ICE power unit [motor de combustión interna] and Steve Brodi became the head of the ICE operations group.
“We have around 900 people working in Brixworth. They approached 100 and have between 10 and 15, mostly production staff. If I were to build a new factory I would start like that too, but There is a long way to go between hiring two handfuls of people and having a complete and competitive engine factory.“, Wolff pointed out, when 10 months ago he was consulted about the offers they made to their engineers to change teams. At that moment, Andy Cowell, head of engines, also left Mercedes, although not to sign with his rival.
In total, RBR seduced fifty. Honda revised the program and although it reduced its presence in Milton Keynes it did not leave the program big circus. “I believe that a loss of this size is not insignificant to anyone. It is completely normal that the march of the whole group could create some difficulties ”, she assured her. Helmut Marko, RBR consultant.
“The hybrid era was conditioned by the superiority of the Mercedes engine. Initially, I think they were two seconds faster than everyone else, but they kept it a secret. Today the differences are not that big and Mercedes also has skilled staff in the aerodynamics area and they will soon be back to victory. I think there is a relationship between the loss of performance of the Mercedes engine and the new fuel”, Observed the Austrian.
With pre-season testing, Mercedes reflected that changing the fuel would be a challenge. “The change to introduce E10 may be the biggest challenge we’ve faced since the rules change in 2014. The development is a partnership between us and Petronas to ensure that the fuel is safe in the power unit and that it is enjoying its new power. ” Hywel Thomas, Chief Engineer. “The change is that the percentage of sustainable ethanol has risen to 10% [antes era de 5,75%]. The engine reacts slightly differently to petrol, ”he anticipated, an omen of a problem that Mercedes is experiencing at the start of the season.
The reliability of the Mercedes engine began to suffer in 2021. Valtteri Bottas changed the combustion engines at an astonishing speed and Hamilton also suffered at the end of the season and admitted on the radio that the heat engine lost performance as the miles went by. The shortages went unnoticed, but exploded in 2022. suffer the silver arrows and also McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams, the other teams that have the same engines. Ethanol has become a silent enemy and the Brixworth engineers will have to find a quick solution, because the engines that will be used until 2026 will be homologated on 1 September.