On tap this week:
- There’s no anti-Hamilton conspiracy
- Hinchcliffe finally gets podium
- Bernie’s $100-million deal
- Dixon’s betters his career numbers
- Quote of the Week: Rahal tells dad to zip it
- Wickens robbed of win
Conspiracy theorists contend that Mercedes AMG may be tilting the field in favour of Nico Rosberg, its German driver, over teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Whenever Hamilton runs into trouble with his machinery, it doesn’t take long for message boards and Twitter to fill with complaints that Mercedes is somehow sabotaging the Briton’s progress.
The reality is probably less sensational: Getting the new 1.6-litre turbocharged motor and its energy-recovery system to work perfectly is no easy feat, and having it fail is an unfortunate by-product of a brand-new engine formula.
“It’s a huge step on lots of different technology fronts,” said Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes AMG high performance powertrains. “The engine is completely different, there’s the addition of the turbocharger, extra electric machinery, and a more complicated hybrid energy recovery system – so it was a very large project indeed.”
It is clear that Hamilton has borne the brunt of Mercedes setbacks with two mechanical failures – a dropped cylinder in the season opener in Australia and an overheating brake disc during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Additionally, Hamilton was knocked out of qualifying a couple of times due to mechanical issues.
Rosberg has only retired once due to a problem, when he dropped out of the British Grand Prix while leading. He also had a brake overheating issue in Montreal, but managed it well enough to salvage a second place finish.
Essentially, the new regulations mandated teams to create a power unit that’s capable of creating more useful energy from a fixed amount of fuel. And it has been a challenge to do it perfectly.
Getting more power out of a small V-6 with a limit of 100 kilograms means the battle is about having the best conversion efficiency in the combustion chamber and optimizing the recovery of energy from the braking and exhaust systems.
When it comes to useful thermal energy from the fuel, F1 engines have now hit about 40 per cent, up from the estimated 30 per cent they achieved with the old normally aspirated V-8 motors used in 2013, something Cowell called a “monstrous step” for a formula to take from one year to the next.
But disruptive change can also bring reliability issues, something that has plagued all of the engine makers this year, not just Mercedes.
“The lower revolutions per minute, higher cylinder pressure and the reduced number of cylinders – so six big bangs going into the crankshaft as opposed to eight smaller bangs going in – creates different problems to be solved on the dynamic side and the structural side,” Cowell said.
Random Thoughts: With a third-place finish in the IndyCar race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, James Hinchcliffe scored his first podium in 15 starts, spanning two seasons. You have to go back to the second race in Houston last October to find the Andretti Autosport driver in the top three.
The podium was a long time coming for the Oakville, Ont., driver who had terrible luck race after race, despite putting in solid performances. So, after Hinchcliffe got caught out by rain and red flags in Saturday qualifying at Mid-Ohio and ended up 17th on the grid, it seemed like his frustration might continue.
It looked to be even more of the same in Sunday’s race when a first-lap incident had cars playing pinball in Turn 4, with Hinchcliffe screaming in from the back of the pack. That he miraculously made it through unscathed might be taken as a sign from the racing gods that his luck has changed.
“That start was pretty crazy,” he said. “Going down into Turn 4 there, it was like the seas parted in front of me. I felt bad for the guys that got involved in that wreck, but it allowed us to get up there a little bit.”