BRIXWORTH, England (Reuters) - Mercedes-Benz offered a sneak peek at the future of Formula One on Friday and it sounded sweet.
The German manufacturer invited reporters into its F1 engine factory in central England to see and hear the V6 power unit that Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, for one, will be hoping takes him to another title when it is introduced in 2014.
With mobile telephones placed into sealed bags to ensure no pictures were taken of any sensitive information, and recorders also 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, the word itself 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 Formula One will jettison its current 2.4 litre V8 engine, producing 750 horsepower at a maximum 18,000 rpm, for a 1.6 litre V6 revving at 15,000 rpm with a kinetic and heat energy recovery system (ERS) and turbocharger running at 125,000 rpm.
Each driver will be limited to five per season rather than eight engines at present. If a sixth is required, a 10-place grid penalty will be incurred.
Reporters, taken to parts of the factory that even customer teams are not allowed access to, could see the new V6 on the dyno test bed and being worked on in sealed and dust-free engineering bays.
Mercedes have been testing it for some time - Cowell suffered a strategic bout of memory loss when asked exactly when - and have until March 1, 2014 to develop it.
What the new unit will sound like has been the subject of much debate, with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and others suggesting in the past that it would be “terrible” and alienate fans used to the banshee wail of a V8 on the limit and popping and crackling down through the gears.
A recording of the new unit, super-imposed on a simulation of the high-speed Monza circuit, dispelled those immediate fears. It was different, a deeper sound with the promise of being louder and clearer when heard on track.
“It’s a little bit lower in terms of decibels because of the turbocharger, but it’s a sweet sound,” declared Cowell.
“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 champion who has moved from Mercedes-powered McLaren to the works Mercedes team this season, has said he does not expect to be challenging for the title in 2013 but his new employers definitely 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, when the rules are virtually unchanged from last season, to 2014 will be huge and a massive 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 (equal to 140 litres), become key.
Cars currently start a race with around 150kg of fuel on board, which means that in 2014 they will leave the grid lighter but finish slightly heavier than before. This is because of the extra weight of the new combined power unit, weighing in at 145kg compared to 95kg for the old V8 on its own.
The 2014 unit contains 15 percent fewer moving parts than the V8 and should last for 4,000 km compared to roughly 2,000 for this year’s largely bullet-proof engine.
ERS will be able to deliver twice the power to the rear wheels than the KERS system that will be used in 2013 and harvest five times the energy.
”There will be a new quality to the racing,“ promised Cowell. ”It will edge towards a thinking drivers’ formula to get the most from the car and the available fuel energy.
“The engines will deliver more torque, especially on the corner exit. Cars with more power than grip coming out of the corners. That is something we all enjoy.”
Editing by Mark Meadows