McLaren-Mercedes ‘have 25bhp more’

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Are Mobil 1 and Mercedes behind McLaren's performance boost?

McLaren weren’t quite on Ferrari’s pace early in the season but now they’ve won three races in a row.

Part of their improvement is probably down to the improvements we discussed after the German Grand Prix. But new rumours suggest McLaren’s Mercedes engine produces 25 horsepower more than any other F1 car.

I was a bit sceptical about this but a chat with McLaren’s fuel supplier brought up a suggestion of how a power increase of some extent – though perhaps not as much as 25bhp – might have been achieved.

The claims originated in the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport. Although F1 engine specifications were ‘frozen’ in 2007 there are various minor ways in which engines may be modified.

At the start of the season, when Ferrari clearly held the advantage, there were suggestions that they had exploited these opportunities for modification to improve the performance of their engine. Much the same is now being said about Mercedes’ V8.

That’s partly why I’m sceptical about these new claims concerning McLaren. Plus, it’s been almost three weeks since the last race and people are getting hungry for stories.

A 25bhp increase would be a significant advantage over their rivals. However it would not necessarily show up in the form of higher top speeds for the McLaren cars – it is often more useful for teams with a horsepower advantage to use it to run more wing on their cars for better speed through the corners, without having to worry as much about the penalty of increased drag.

I had a chat with Mark Humphries from McLaren’s fuel and lubricants supplier Mobil 1 the Friday before last. Now, I wouldn’t imagine for a second that he would freely admit to having boosted Mercedes’ power output by 25bhp. But he did have some interesting things to say about a new lubricant they introduced a few races ago, which was reported at the time.

At Silverstone we were able to put new oil in the car. Since then, it’s been a very successful couple of races. We think we’ve found something.

At the same time he played down how great the scope was for improving performance using different fuels and lubricants:

The fuel regulations are so stringent there’s a lot less you can so with changing the fuel. If you think about what changes [on an F1 car] from circuit to circuit it’s things like the aerodynamics, but not the engines. Even if you go from a high-load track to a low load track.

I found this interesting because it goes against what Ian Albiston, who works on Shell’s fuels and lubricants for Ferrari, told me at Silverstone. He said although there was only a limited amount of room to tweak fuel formulations it was worth it, and that they produced different fuels for different tracks, something Mark said Mobil 1 didn’t do for McLaren.

Mark added this final remark which I thought was very illuminating of the way F1 people think:

We often think “we’re at the limit with what can be achieved here”. But then some bright spark says “but what if we tried this…”

Engine freeze or not, engine development goes on.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “McLaren-Mercedes ‘have 25bhp more’”

  1. Keith, I posted this question on a older post. Probably you would’ve missed :)

    What possible changes a team can make to its engine between races? (considering the engine freeze rule, I guess it would be very much limited to the fuel / fuel inlets / cam and couple of other minor things)

    Secondly, is it allowed for a team to manipulate its engine in a race weekend? (say after practice, before qualifying or after qualifying before race – in parc ferme)

  2. I read about the 25bhp advantage rumour elsewhere, I think it was Pat Symonds who suggested that that extra power, however the car is configured, can be as much as 4/10ths per lap quicker. Doesn’t sound too unreasonable considering how light an F1 car is.

    This article, unfortunately, highlights a particular case in how top teams stay at the top, and bottom teams stay at the bottom. McLaren and Ferrari have other means of gaining more power through oil partnerships, whereas everyone behind them is left stagnant. The freeze may help budgets, but it doesn’t help the smaller teams at all (and it doesn’t help developers such as Mechachrome) – they just don’t have the resources and status to do much else.

    I guess that’s everyone’s job though: every rule supposes a problem, and it’s every engineers job to solve those problems, which is what makes F1 great.

    I’m pretty sure that everyone is doing engine development – it’s just not being implemented. Be sure that as soon as the freeze is lifted (and I hope it will be sooner than later), no one wants to be a year or so behind.

  3. Is the idea of introducing an engine freeze meant to co-inside with the introduction of Kers?

    That is the only way that it makes any sense, to remove a development area, and introduce another area that the cars can be pushed forward in, along with the then freed budget .

    The only problem with this concept is that, as we can see here, the manufacturers will push forward in whatever way they can to gain an advantage. And I suspect that when you try and do this seruptitiously the law of diminishing returns bites quite heavily.

    So rather than narrowing the gap between the teams this will increase the gap. Well done Max, another piece of great thinking!

  4. Mani – I did see your post, that’s where I got the idea for this one :-)

    As far as I understand the regulations governing the engine homologation are actually part of the sporting regulations and not, as you might expect, the technical regulations:

    FIA F1 regulations

    According to Appendix Six of the Sporting Regulations:

    A homologated engine is an engine identical in every respect to either:

    (i) An engine delivered to the FIA no later than 31 March 2008*.

    Other than the specific exceptions below, any such engine must include all the parts described in Article 5.4.4 of the 2008 F1 Technical Regulations and be identical to one which completed two race Events during the 2007 Championship season.

    The exceptions are:

    a) the homologated parts of the intake system up to and including the air filter, fuel rail and injectors, ignition coils, engine mounted sensors and wiring, alternator, coolant pumps and oil pumps need not be identical to the parts used during the 2007 Championship season;

    b) three different designs of intake trumpet may be homologated no later than 31 March 2008 and used freely during the homologation period;

    c) parts solely associated with engine installation in different makes of car and which have no direct performance benefit, which may be changed from time to time during the homologation period with the consent of the FIA.

    Once homologated in accordance with the above, and subject to (iii) below, no changes may be made to the design or construction of the homologated parts for the duration of the homologation period laid out in Article 28.5 of the 2008 F1 Sporting Regulations.

    * Or at the first opportunity in the event that a competitor has no engine available which has completed two race Events in the 2008 Championship season.

  5. I’m sorry, I doubt very much that a change in oil and fuel formulations could result in 25bph, I don’t care how light the car is or how high-tech and close-to-the-edge your set power curve is.

    I think the truth is that they’ve found a formula that better suits their new-curve-per-gear selectors, and that they’re just plain good at using it.

  6. A little off topic, but fuel-related anyway: Can someone tell me if there were further news about Renault’s claim that Ferrari can refuel faster? Is there any regulation about the speed at which fuel can be put into the tank?

  7. I find it hard to believe that McLaren’s advantage is that great. Bearing in mind how Massa was able to murder both McLaren’s at the start three weeks ago in his Ferrari, but McLaren have certainly improved in terms of performance, that is without doubt.
    Following on from the bitterness and disappointment of last year, McLaren are a team that does not lack motivation.
    I fully agree with the previous posts about how the engine freeze will do nothing to hurt the top teams, but everything to destroy the smaller ones. All it can lead to is more small teams buying Ferrari, Mercedes, and Toyota engines just to be able to compete.

  8. I just can’t see McLaren having that big of a horsepower advantage. However, I would say that they do have a horsepower advantage at the moment. This really showed up in a big way at Montreal, where they ran a low downforce setup and basically allowed the engine to take over. Hamilton was easily 3-4 tenths per lap faster than everyone else on the track there.

    While the tire situation may suit Ferrari this weekend, the fact that there will be long straightaways and, as Martin Whitmarsh suggested, downforce levels similar to Hockenheim will be used, I think the Mercedes ponies in the back may give the Silver Arrows a compensating boost.

  9. Keith, thanks for the reply! but I’ve another doubt on this, say if a team has a very brittle engine (as the one Ferrari seems to have this season – hopefully not :) but I guess they are one of the teams suffering engine problems frequently this season) – to make it simple, I’m exaggerating this – say an engine incapable of lasting for two race weekends!

    What is the fate of the team? is it written off for the season? or can the team do anything to overcome such a trouble?

  10. I think the Ferrari/Shell comment about making different fuels for different races is just a lot of hype – and this article does seem to confirm that the fuel regulations are very strict on that.
    Though I am sure that a different fuel mix may give some extra power, 25hp does seem a little optimistic. Maybe the Mercedes engines are just better at burning all the fuel than the Ferraris?
    I am surprised in a Championship where all the teams have to use the same tyre supplier that they are allowed to use different fuel suppliers. Its a wonder that Max/Bernie/Ferrari haven’t accused McLaren/Mobil of cheating – maybe they are waiting for the silver cars to get ahead of them in the points again. Just a thought….

  11. The latest story is that McLaren have been using a mass damper since 2005! (which they have code-named a “J” damper) . It sounds to me like this device was being developed by Cambridge University , obviously using McLarens input on the effects to their cars , and has now been perfected (possible explantion to McLarens recent form) and the licence for production has just been sold to Penske racing shocks. Renault have been aware of it , but because of the scandal involving Phil McKereth etc. could not get involved using it. Because I’m not a McLaren fan , my immediate thought is to think they have gained an unfair advantage , but I guess behind the scenes all the bigger teams are continually doing similar things , it just depends on if they get caught or not and if they have stepped the mark or not regarding the rules.

  12. Alianora La Canta
    21st August 2008, 11:16

    qazhub, there effectively is a rule limiting fuel input, since there are only two types of refueller permitted in F1. Refuellers where there is no pressurisation and all movement of the fuel is due to gravity are permitted, and indeed are the type normally used in practise sessions, when time is less of an issue.

    Pressurised refuellers are permitted but only if they are unmodified versions of the unit supplied by the FIA-approved supplier (which has been Intertechnique ever since refuelling’s reintroduction in 1994). Intertechnique itself is forbidden to provide any unit capable of more than 12 litres per second for safety reasons.

  13. Thanks Alianora! If this has been correctly implemented, then it would not be so easy to cheat the official refueller. But on the other hand competition has became so fierce that we’ve seen a lot of “creative” solutions lately…

  14. Jean – thats a bit scandalous! Better not tell Ferrari, eh? Mind you, if McLaren have been using it since 2005, they haven’t always had an advantage. Perhaps thats whats stopping Renault from saying too much.
    I bet Ferrari have an ‘S-damper’ or similar too…..

  15. JEAN: What a story, mate!

    Any link? Could be worth…

  16. Aren’t all the teams using these J-dampers/’inerters’ now? Last I heard Force India were trying one. Here’s some more:

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