Q&A with Hywel Thomas
Managing Director of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains.
Question: Hywel, a new season comes with a new Power Unit, can you tell us more about the Mercedes-AMG F1 M13 E Performance?
Hywel Thomas: Naturally, our 2022 PU builds on the generation of championship-winning Power Units that have been produced at Brixworth since the start of the regulation cycle in 2014. Each season, it’s about finding more performance, more reliability and taking the overall package of the Power Unit further. Plus, we have had an all-new chassis in which to install the PU, with all the challenges and opportunities that provides. For 2022, it has been a wide and deep project, and we have changed more parts of the PU for this year than in any season since 2014. Because it’s been such a significant change, we modified our overall approach to design and development; we started earlier and had more points along the journey, where we could experiment with some of our technologies. And it wasn’t a case of spreading the same amount of effort over a longer period, it was about having a very high level of activity over a longer period.
Question: There’s a new Power Unit freeze regulation for 2022 but also beyond, what exactly does this mean?
Hywel Thomas: 2021 was the first season in this regulation cycle where we had to freeze the performance specification of the PU at the start of the season. In 2022 we’ve been allowed one final performance upgrade, most of which needs to be delivered at the start of the season, and the ERS system upgrade must be introduced before 1st September. But this doesn’t only have an impact on 2022, because the performance specification will remain frozen until the start of the next regulation cycle in 2026. The project we took on for 2022 was large, and it is a very broad upgrade across the different elements, to get every last bit of performance, efficiency and reliability. There are also some FIA-imposed measurements, particularly in the ERS system, that we had to accommodate as well.
Question: What opportunities have the new chassis regulations created from Brixworth’s perspective? Has this created challenges for the Power Unit?
Hywel Thomas: It’s always an interesting project when there are such significant changes to the chassis regulations. The chassis team have been working very diligently and swiftly through the new regulations, so they can understand where the opportunities lie, and which areas are lap time sensitive. We make changes to the PU, that allow the chassis team to best exploit the regulations. We might want to rearrange the installation slightly or change the PU layout to get more flexibility in those lap time sensitive areas. The other side of this is we never really know how much performance, in terms of chassis performance, we are going to find. We have some very good simulation tools and of course we use those to make estimates of where the chassis will end up, but we don’t know for sure. And that means we won’t really know precisely how the PU will need to be used and the way it needs to react while out on track, until we are running on the circuit. We have to cover quite a lot of possibilities to make sure that PU is ready for whatever turns up at the end of the experience.
Question: How closely has Brixworth been working with the team in Brackley ahead of the 2022 season? What have been the key milestones for this collaboration?
Hywel Thomas: When there is a big regulation change, it means the links between Brixworth and Brackley need to be stronger than ever, to make sure we are exploiting every area on the chassis and PU. I think the collaboration this year has been extremely strong and that’s vitally important, especially in a year where so much has changed. Naturally we also work closely with our customer teams and the great thing about that is, we have additional sets of very talented engineers looking at the regulations and seeing opportunities in the way the PU is installed in the chassis, the way the PU is laid out to help them work on the chassis. The collaboration with Brackley is at a different level, but the customer teams do have an important input, and this all helps make the PU better.
Question: The new E10 fuel, 10% of which is made up of sustainable ethanol, debuts this year. What impact has that had on the preparations?
Hywel Thomas: In some regions, people will be familiar with E10 fuel, as it has appeared in the pumps quite recently. We’ve got 10 percent ethanol in the fuel and it doesn’t necessarily sound like a big change, but it is quite a significant one in the way the fuel and the PU interact. So, it’s been a sizeable challenge, but I think it has been a good development phase for us and working so closely with our partners, PETRONAS, that collaboration with them is vital. I know we’ve tested more candidates and gone through more development loops this year than we have for a number of years and have found some interesting developments. It’s a second-generation sustainable ethanol, so a small but important step in the right direction in terms of sustainability.
Question: Do we expect the performance and way the Power Unit operates to change in 2022 with the new rules and changes to the fuel?
Hywel Thomas: I suspect the way the PU operates over a lap will not be the same as last year. While it’s difficult to really know the lap time difference, generally the car will perform differently, generating downforce and performance in a new way. The drivers will want the PU to do different things at different times through corners and potentially from one corner to the next, because of the car characteristics. The amount of full throttle time, the way the drivers approach and exit corners, won’t be exactly like they used to be and this will also have a knock-on to how we harvest energy and deploy it. We’re going to have to be reactive, to make sure we are delivering whatever the driver is requesting. Over the course of the year, given the regulation changes, I think the development of the overall car package will be quite strong, so the way the PU works at the start of the season won’t be the same come the final races of 2022. We must include that ability to be adaptable into the PU from the start of the season, because of the performance freeze. Because of these unknowns and the amount of change, testing and track time before the season begins really will be crucial. There are great simulation tools, getting us in the right area, but nothing can match bolting the PU into the back of the car and going around the circuit.
Question: How excited have you been to grapple with the challenges of these 2022 regulations?
Hywel Thomas: As we’ve gone through this cycle, there are obviously huge changes in regulations on the chassis side and on the PU side, and these all add up to opportunities and challenges for an enthusiastic engineering team such as the one that we’ve got in Brixworth. We love to analyse, consider and then do everything we can to deliver the best products. I think there is real excitement to see the PU and the car working together and see what happens when we hit the track. The big lap time and most obvious changes are on the chassis, but things like the E10 fuel, the freeze until 2026, those are some really, really important elements to get right. So that little bubble of apprehension is even larger than usual… Have we done enough? Have we left no stone unturned? That’s at the front of our minds, which is exciting and scary all at the same time. But that’s why we’re involved in F1.
Question: And on car launch day, how are you feeling, personally, about the first shakedown of the W13?
Hywel Thomas: I’ve been fortunate enough to go to a number of launch days over the years and it never stops being hugely exciting. For all of us, who are so involved and invested, that is quite emotional, to see the chassis and PU go down the pit lane as one for the first time. To hear the engine, to sit back and reflect on all the components that are working in there together. All the people, the hard work, the effort. It’s always slightly mind-blowing, and it’s a lovely moment to message back to the factory, telling them the car has hit the track.