Rural Northamptonshire tends to be perhaps well known for the cobblers. If someone wants a decent brogues’ pair, this is one place you need to come. Though there’s another, a bit more modernized industry here.
As this part in world, on Motorsport Valley’s northeastern fringe, is where about1/3rd of the teams of Formula 1 come for the engines. Around 100 2.4-litre V8s do emerge at Brixworth from the Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains each year, when they’re on the way to the new homes that are at Force India, McLaren and Mercedes obviously.
It is not very often that they let the journalists come inside the place and especially not at the time they’re developing a top-secret, all-new, and a bit-controversial turbo V6 for meeting the new regulations of next season. Later they will show one of them being tested, though for now we had to do away with our cameraphones, then shuffled into boss’s office. It’s a staff of around 400 that Andy Cowell has the charge of, ranging from mathematicians to engineers.
There’re 3 parts that this place has, according to him: the bit which looks after the season’s engines, the other bit which looks after the next year’s. One bit builds battery packs that are for electric supercar Merc SLS. He said that they worked with around thirty companies that are an hour away of this factory. The precision firms of manufacturing and the suppliers of very specialist parts, ranging from parts of aluminium pumps to valve springs is all here.
Andy said, “All we’re really doing is finding the most efficient way to convert chemical energy trapped in fuel into shaft power. And, next year, we must achieve a 30% reduction in the fuel used in a GP. If a piston heats up by one degree Celsius, it’ll expand by two microns. So we need to engineer in miniature…”
The building where this is all done is quite huge. This can be room of the supercomputers were it not for hot metal’s smell in air. Andy showed us one finger inlet follower, one curved little rocker which helps to regulate one valve’s opening. It is beautiful, as well as very polished so much so it gets slippery, due to carbon coating that’s diamond-like.
Andy also said, “Once an engine goes down the pit lane in an F1 car, it’s effectively sealed for the rest of the weekend.”
Using other words, one could change some settings, though he can’t get spanners out. Every driver gets 8 per season, that’s why it is our job that each one becomes last. The engines need to pass one exam before leaving here that mimics everything going from straight full-throttle to driving down pit lane. Then, on one Sunday afternoon, there is one team here in room of Track Support. They do take the data from cars and they play this back over one engine across hallway.
After every races batch, all engines come back here and also get stripped down. The filings in oil are then analysed, be use of powerful microscopes as well as a measuring experts’ team. Every component of engine has one metallic unique signature, so that each tiny metal fleck in that engine oil that’s used up could be then traced to that part from which it did come.
This is one act of balancing between reliability and performance. How much would you stress this? How much would you protect this? 4 litres oil needs to lap engine every 2 seconds. The cylinders do go through the cycle till 18,000 times each minute, which is 300 times each second. 25kg system of KERS– one box that’s the size of one backpack – produces only under a thousand volts. Electrons that are inside it appear to move with speed that of light. All this together makes somewhere about 750bhp-each squeezed down in a cylinders’ bundle and the exhaust pipes.
We’re then led into one room that’s not unlike any recording studio, being full of buttons and screens and knobs. Through one viewing window happens to be the artist: V6 of 2014, spinning away over a dyno. We are first outsiders getting to witness it. Obviously, it is more compact compared to a V8, though not much. It is hard telling, as it is festooned with extraction fans and tubes. One big pipe blows the air into snorkel intake of the engine, mimicking the air speed, humidity and heat of any of the given circuits any day. Sometimes, they do run such bench tests round the clock with around 3 engines all at once, and while feeding the energy from dyno back towards the building. Hot exhausts do glimmer the translucent orange as the glow-worms do.
However, it’s sealed away within the soundproof booth. That’s why we are led towards on other room where I was handed headphones, and through which V6’s sound is played during one simulation of full lap of one nameless circuit. If anyone got worried regarding it sounding turbo-whooshy or dull, give me permission to give you reassurance now: it is emphatically still Formula 1 car… albeit having cleaner tones as well as higher frequency compared to the present V8s, though still enough in making one’s eardrums flutter and especially at the time it does yap down through new 8-speed gearbox.
The Formula One? The future is bright and future’s British…