Every so often in Formula One, a team comes up with a completely revolutionary design which gives them a massive advantage over the competition.
In 2009, Brawn GP developed a double diffuser which significantly increased downforce and allowed Jenson Button to win six of the first seven races before other teams started to catch up. The lead he built in the championship was so large that although Button did not win again that season, he was able to take the Drivers' title.
This year, turbocharged engines have returned to F1, and Mercedes has come up with an innovative design that has given the team (and to a lesser extent, its engine customers) a significant advantage on the track.
The innovation is that the two parts of the turbocharger, the turbine and the compressor, are split rather than packaged together, as per usual. Sky Sports' Martin Brundle explains it well in this video:
In hindsight, this trick seems relatively simple, although it is obviously not—otherwise Mercedes would not be the only manufacturer to come up with it.
In Motor Sport Magazine (via Sky Sports) Mark Hughes detailed the numerous advantages of this turbocharger design, including less turbo lag, more power available from the Energy Recovery Systems and greater fuel efficiency.
He also notes ancillary benefits such as smaller sidepods—meaning improved aerodynamic efficiency, since the air going from the turbocharger to the engine does not require as much cooling—as well as a better centre of gravity for the car.
I wrote before the season that teams designing their own engines and chassis would have a significant advantage this season. While that has not been the case for Ferrari, it certainly has for Mercedes.
Force India, Williams and McLaren all have the same Mercedes power unit, and all have improved significantly relative to last season. However, they had access to the power units much later than the Mercedes design team and so were not able to find all the same aerodynamic advantages that the Silver Arrows have.
The biggest advantage for Mercedes, though, might be the engine homologation rules. From February 28, engine development has been frozen, aside from fixing reliability issues or generating cost savings (and then only with the approval of the FIA).
This means that Renault and Ferrari will be unable to copy the Mercedes design until next season.
While some fans may be worried that Mercedes' running away with the championship will be as uninteresting as Sebastian Vettel's winning streak at the end of last season, the 1988 season is probably a much better comparison.
That year, McLaren had the best car by far—the MP4/4 won 15 of 16 races—but the championship battle was anything but boring. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost duelled back and forth and the Drivers' title was not decided until the second-to-last race of the season.
With any luck, we will see a similar tilt between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this year—even if Mercedes does have the Constructors' Championship wrapped up by the summer break.
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