Mercedes reveal the ‘pounding’ problems their power units faced

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, November 2022.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, November 2022.

Mercedes’ Hywel Thomas has detailed some of the challenges faced by the team’s power unit department during 2022.

2022 represented a huge challenge for the engine departments of Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, and Renault, due to the introduction of an engine freeze that coincided with the introduction of a new fuel mixture.

A move to a more sustainable E10 fuel, increasing the ethanol content of the mixture, gave the manufacturers a major headache as they battled to compensate for the dip in power, while also trying to unlock as much performance as possible – the engine freeze prevented any performance-related development being undertaken.

Mercedes appeared to be one of the hardest hit by the changes, with the factory team and their customers seemingly struggling for outright power against their rivals early on in the season.

Hywel Thomas: There was disappointment when we first hit the track

Hywel Thomas, managing director of Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains in Brixworth, joined Toto Wolff and Mike Elliott for an end-of-season review of the 2022 campaign.

“We came out at the beginning of the season with some wobbles on the power unit,” Wolff said.

“We didn’t like certain aspects of the deployment or the drivability of the power unit. And, whilst in the frozen environment, [Thomas] and [his] team were able to really add on performance, cope with the difficult environment of a bouncing car that was breaking the engine and still we were super reliable and the engine was performing very well towards the middle of the season and the end.”

Thomas chimed in to explain the challenges that the engine department had to overcome over the course of the season.

“At the beginning of the season, the two big things that we had was, firstly, the PU was going to get frozen and it was going to be a hardware freeze,” he said.

“That’s what we were going to be using for the next three years, and so we had a really big development programme over the whole of last year and through that winter, and just trying to make sure we landed that. It was a real big effort, a really, really big effort.

“Then the second thing we had was the change in the fuel regulations, which we knew was going to be a hit for us and we expected it to be a hit for others. But it’s the same as the chassis world, with those two quite large changes, we just didn’t know where we were going to end up.

“When we hit the track, I think there was a bit of disappointment and some things that we could certainly put right. We knew we couldn’t do it through hardware, which has been our way of developing things for the past however many years.

“So we had to really go back and reconsider how were we going to develop ourselves out of that position and, after the first race or so, going back and saying our part of this is to get some more performance and get some better drivability and we need to add that at the same time the car is being developed and that’s how we’ll get out of this position.”

Mercedes improvement was delicate balancing act as PUs took ‘a pounding’

This was no easy task, given that performance-related development was expressly forbidden – meaning any gains would have to be made through reliability fixes and software tweaks.

“We all had to look around and figure out how to do that in this new world,” Thomas explained, before revealing that the porpoising problems on the chassis and aerodynamic side had the side effect of slamming the power units into the ground at high speed.

“That became the excitement of the season, seeing how we could change the way that we could develop this PU to get more performance even though the hardware is frozen.

“It was really ‘well, we’re going to have to do small gains every week’. Just every weekend. Just keep picking off a little gain.

“At the same time, don’t compromise the reliability. That’s what we were seeing and we’re, in some ways, a little bit fortunate that you can see some of those numbers on the dyno. You can do the tests on the dyno. You can see we developed a little bit more energy and we can say ‘OK, we are taking that to the circuit’ and it’s comforting to be able to watch that and see that working.

“The other thing, by that period of the season, it was becoming very clear that the engines were taking a hell of a pounding. The bottom of the engines, seeing some of the parts that were off the race engines, it’s quite a surprise to see exactly how hard they’re being hit by the ground.

“When you saw Lewis and George looking a bit uncomfortable getting out of the cars, the PUs were doing much the same.”

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