Mercedes admit ‘a lot of heartache’ amid work on new engine

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominated the V6 turbo-hybrid of Formula 1 until 2021.

Hywel Thomas, the managing director of Mercedes’ High Performance Powertrains engine division, expects a significant amount of development and innovation from manufacturers ahead of Formula 1’s next rules reset in 2026. 

As preparations for the upcoming engine rule changes progress, Thomas sheds light on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

One of the major alterations in the 2026 regulations involves the removal of the MGU-H, a troublesome component of the current power unit. 

Additionally, the remaining ancillary, the MGU-K, will deliver nearly triple the power it currently produces. Despite attracting notable manufacturers like Audi, Ford, and Honda to join the grid from 2026, concerns have been raised by reigning World Champion Max Verstappen. 

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He warned that F1 is heading in the wrong direction and expressed apprehension about the cars requiring a counter-intuitive style of driving. 

Verstappen also highlighted the potential for a “massive development war” between manufacturers as the engines could become the key performance differentiator among teams.

As part of F1’s efforts to enhance technical transparency, engine manufacturers are required to hold show-and-tell sessions with their powertrains this season. 

Hywel Thomas, who succeeded Andy Cowell as the head of Mercedes HPP, was the first to showcase Mercedes’ 2021 engine in front of media, including, at Silverstone.

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Regarding the 2026 regulations, Thomas explained, “2026 is a very different beast. 

“The V6 section is actually very, very similar, although there are some changes in that – the biggest one being fuel flow is going to reduce and the fuel is going to change. 

“But the V6 [is] actually not that dissimilar. 

“We are removing the MGU-H – that’s gone – and that was really seen as a blocker for new entrants, so by removing that, that removes one of those reasons that new entrants couldn’t come in, so that was an important point.”

He continued, “The other side of it is the increase in the electrical system, so we’ll have 350 kilowatts [increased from the current 120kw], so making up the difference of the performance that’s lost from the engine because of the fuel reduction being made up by the electrical machines. 

“The regulations allowed us to start running V6s in the middle of last year and that’s very much what we did, and I’m sure we weren’t alone in doing that. 

“It’s a big old journey, that’s for sure. 

“There’s going to be a lot of development work, a lot of heartache, but I think we’re all probably starting at the same point because the regulations allow us to do that.”

Reflecting on Mercedes’ previous success in the transition to V6 hybrid engines in 2014, Thomas acknowledges the immense effort that went into developing the power unit. 

He expressed regret that the sport did not sufficiently highlight the technological and engineering advancements at the time. 

However, he believes the experience gained during that period serves as a valuable reference for the challenges that lie ahead.

Thomas emphasised the battery as an area of particular interest in the development of the 2026 engines, suggesting that manufacturers could reap significant rewards on the track by cracking this element of the powertrain. 

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He noted, “I think the battery is definitely an interesting area for potential development in those ’26 regulations. 

“What we will be looking at is far more of a power-dense battery, rather than the energy-dense batteries that you see in general EVs. 

“I’m sure every company is looking carefully at what they’re going to do with the battery because it’s definitely an area which, if you do a good job of it, will likely lead you to having good lap time.”