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.