THE 2018 Marinello Monster Can it match the Mercedes research machine?

The 2018 Marinello Monster Can it match the Mercedes research machine?

The season begins this weekend and for us in SA, things begin to move from Friday morning early. For me and the other Supercar enthusiasts out there, it is a double whammy weekend that will keep our computer and flatscreens warm until November. The Barcelona testing is done and dusted and because the testing is only about that which the teams want to divulge to us minions (whilst collecting the real data by the zillion) there is no way we can use the exercise as an accurate measure. There is, however, perhaps one useful measurement that does come out of the period and that is the number of test laps completed along with the number of breakdowns. These stats give us an idea of those who are organised ready for the fight and those who still need to do some homework.

So….I use the first race of the year in Melbourne as the final test period because there is no more sandbagging both of the technical or verbal kind. My notes at the end of this piece cover some commentary… but here is my opening salvo for the year.

For all those dyed in the wool F1 folk who keep talking the good talk about F1 being the pinnacle of the sport… I’m sorry it’s not and has not been for a long time… and that’s because it has not been about competitive racing as the prime ingredient. It is after all about entertainment and there are two basic forms of interest in motorsport…one is the requirement of competitive racing, the other is the spectacle of it all…the build up….the RaRa…..the collective anticipation of what is to come. This year the sheer volume of pre-season info is stupendous, just take your pick of any topic and team and there are a hundred opinions of what is going to happen…but…at the end of the day that classic adage in motorsport which some may see as a bit rude covers the issue perfectly….”When the flag drops, the bullshit stops”

I guess in the F1 game we need to analyse what proportion of the entertainment envelope applies most readily….competitive racing or the overall spectacle…and I think that is answered easily because up to now when the flag drops things are pretty much same…same. Now that’s not a criticism, it’s a fact and the fact that we come back week after week filled with collective anticipation to see…’same same’… must mean that the build-up, talkies and overall ‘vibe’ of the thing captivates us sufficiently to bring us back…because it certainly is not wheel to wheel racing.

The big talking point at the start of this season is the fact that the new owners of F1 seem to see the above as clear as day and want to move the sport towards making things more competitive. To do that the most obvious thing to do, as has been done in all motor racing that has resulted in a competitive on-track endeavour, is to tighten up the rules. Of many things that could be done in order to do that, the one thing that is a must is that engine functions need to be controlled more tightly…. That needs to be done in order to have some level of parity. Merc, Ferrari and Renault have the mutters and to fully understand this attitude but not necessarily agree to it, I will start with the inception of the V6 turbo era.




When the fuel tank size restriction arrived along with no fuel stops in 2014 (along with the V6 hybrid tech),   this seemingly straightforward rule change covered more column inches on the debate covering whether we should or should not have fuel stops, than it did in covering the most far reaching change in F1 racing in a long, long time. Reading the rule for the first time I understood immediately the impact of the decision and, along with the fact that turbocharging was back in the game paired with a nonsensical token system limiting engine upgrades after day one..…this was going to end in tears. I was livid and many of my colleagues will attest to my less than complimentary commentary containing a few expletives freely given to anyone who cared to listen.

Why??….well to me it was simple and my vitriol was aimed squarely at the intelligent, experienced people in the FIA who damn well knew what the situation was to be … in a lot more detail.

Here is what I wrote towards the end of that first season:

“Given the silly token system limiting F1 engine development, the boring, continuous lead Mercedes have in the F1 power department could have been predicted by any one of a thousand good engine men. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that at the start of an era governed by new rules, someone is going to get it ‘right’ better than the rest…. and as a result of this, the least one could expect is that the rest are afforded the opportunity to close the gap”.   They were not…… and it stunted the development for Ferrari & Renault and worst, because they started with a really bad design to begin with, damn nearly crippled Honda. So Merc pulled ahead and, whilst their tokens were used to develop a good basic design, the rest used their tokens to recover not so good ones… this because they were not allowed any radical departures to do so…the Gap increased…but that was not the only issue.

Few understood that with Turbocharger tech now not being allowed to produce limitless power at the turn of a fuel screw, the development taking place would have to be in a territory that was very different to that which engine folk normally found themselves. This was about engine efficiency, not about horsepower…that would be the positive by-product. So engine development moved into the laboratories that could develop that combustion efficiency. The link between fuel (and as we have since learnt, oil-bleed) and controlled combustion aimed at getting the last vestige of energy from a given drop of fuel in a pressurised combustion chamber, was now the requirement. Men in white coats and black rimmed glasses were now in charge and development morphed into full on R&D….and R&D needs huge $$$….and who has vast R&D capability and plenty $$$ ?…Merc…. who already had a leg up on the opposition through the FIA handing out tokens like lucky packets to the rest.

I could go into this in greater detail but suffice to say that that assessment of the situation, covered 3 years ago, proved to be spot on when Merc announced last year that they had broken the 50% thermal efficiency barrier for a petrol engine in their F1 V6 Turbo…..Interestingly no one else has so far advised that they have done so. More significant….how did Ferrari close the gap last year in one fell swoop. Let’s face it Ferrari were nowhere on engine power in 2016 and could hardly overtake anything even with DRS, the need for all in the f1 world to have some competition in the series was becoming embarrassing. Boom!!… at the beginning of last year Ferrari were back in the game….just.

More importantly how did they do it…Did they find out by slogging away through their own R&D..or did the core information find its way to Ferrari via the back door….?

Yes, the ‘token’ rules were relaxed…. but my own assessment is that that was only the conveyer belt that facilitated the latter and whilst I don’t know how it was done… whether it happened on the back of a table napkin, high level hint or least likely, a disgruntled engineer….I say it happened that way.

Has Ferrari made the engine improvements Necessary for 2018?

Has Ferrari made the engine improvements Necessary for 2018?


Now why do I say that… well because sometimes your enemy needs to be your closest friend in territories that need common endeavour…. for the ‘greater good’…. and where no one can prove different. Engine development often goes through periods of gradual consistent improvement…but here we have a situation where R&D uncovered a new direction. A significant breakthrough in controlling efficient combustion, preventing the ogres of detonation and pre-ignition in what is a lean-burn turbocharged application…a very, very different animal altogether and achieved by one manufacturer first, Merc. This is not simple stuff and requires design variation along with fuel and additive multiples that would boggle the mind. I am willing to bet that new measurement and Dyno techniques had to be developed to find and measure what these guys were looking for as well. Let’s just say that the resultant findings, however they then arrived for Ferrari, have put the two into an exclusive club….probably ready to unleash new developments based on the work being done…and now the FIA want to chuck all that good work out the window and go back to controlled engines. I can understand their collective frustration…but if new tech and resultant sophistication is resulting in continuous exclusivity for only those who can afford this level of research….is that going to help competitive racing on track? I don’t think so.

Where are Renault and Honda in all this? My Guess? They have not been part of the initial club and have done the majority of the hard yards themselves, although word has it that Honda have been given some help more recently, we shall see.

The Ominous part of this is that Merc have recently advised that their 2018 engine has been upgraded from the ground up in all areas of Combustion, Friction, Weight and in-situ reliability….and we think that the progress made by the others is going to be better than that this year…I doubt it. I have closely held belief that as a result of the history, Merc still have a full year’s development stretch on the next best in engine development department and are divulging this is stages. But not having any in-house detail, I cannot claim this to be fact …but just watch this space…

Where will this go? Well I believe a compromise is in order and I can only think that the two opposing views of what should be a 2021 engine must be a combination of the good work that has already been done by all…with the control envisaged by F1 being built into areas that will limit ridiculous R&D and take into account the freebie that has been handed to Merc. We can cover this in some more detail in future posts but for now there is one area that needs a drastic review…

As an enthusiast and a techie at the same time, I find it really demeaning that the F1 lobby at large has chosen to be so secretive about engine development and for that matter meaningful tech detail in general. I believe for the sport to be more interesting not only for us techies but to involve those non techies out there who are perfectly intelligent enough to understand logic and get more involved. Sure, I understand that tech detail and breakthrough findings such as those noted cannot be bandied about willy nilly, but in a “sport” such as this where the fundamental of the whole thing starts with the power output of the machines we follow…we don’t even know the basic data…this needs one of those expletives I used three years ago…. Never mind the easy stuff like bhp figures, does the average enthusiast out there know how much data is constantly being fed back to teams whilst cars are on track? I do not think so…. and if they did, I think they would be as concerned as I am that info is being corralled.

So, just how easy is it to make a short list of the key pieces of data that would be of most use, make those part of the non-negotiables in the contract with F1 teams, create apps for us at home to work with the stuff and bingo you have opened a new door in the interest level….. but you have also made the players acutely aware that their work is going to be more public…that raises their level of accountability to us the enthusiasts.

As an example, when the V6 turbo era started we had a fuel usage monitor broadcast during the race…that’s gone….probably because it embarrassed a few teams but the Aussie Supercar guys give running commentary on fuel fill as part of the unfolding strategy…it makes it interesting. That’s just one tiny example and I think the F1 folk should take a serious look at divulging good real time tech data.

Also F1, take 10 minutes to watch the ‘Hino Hub’ the Supercar lads do before a race and do so just to get an idea of how simple it is to make techie stuff digestible. Talking to ex racing drivers and the odd personalities on the pit apron as the f1 gang do, gets boring after the second race of the season.

This how we could start the tech commentary on the probable Merc/Ferrari stand off…….

  “folks from what we now know on the mechanicals of these two teams Both Ferrari and Mercedes are within spitting distance of that magical 1000Bhp mark in combined mechanical and E power, Ferrari declaring 960 Bhp and Mercedes 980 . Now we know those are the max figures that these two can run at in qualifying trim and for the race strategy may decide to run just enough on the envelope to meet their race plan as it pans out…But here is the joker in the pack…the Merc IC engine is doing that at an efficiency some 4% better than Ferrari. That translates into either a reduced fuel fill for Merc….or the ability to run at banzai power for longer and stay within the fuel usage window…..let’s get commentary from Ferrari on how they plan to run the race and  when they are going to get to that magic 50% efficiency number.”

 C’mon guys that sounds more to the point than discussing track temperatures and tyre compounds….aside from the drivers….motor racing is primarily about the tech stuff is it not??


So finally we get to 2018 and what’s happening this season. Firstly the Melbourne layout has not been an easy track for Merc and in a successive series of races the real threat from the silver cars has seldom come to the fore before Bahrain. So I will use the first race as a final test session before getting into predictions of any sort. That does not stop me from making comment. Merc have not shown their hand yet and Wolff has continued with the diversionary tactic of telling us how fast the rest are to avoid having to make too much comment on his own outfit…they will be up there and if not fastest, will be close. Ferrari look good mainly because between the drivers and varying conditions they have been consistent and reliable…as well as fast. The Red Bulls could be the cars to watch for Melbourne, they have done it before and Verstappen is a hungry man. The best to come?….Alonso… he has so much of a point to prove I’ll give him half a second a lap free, he is going to wring that McLaren’s neck and would not be surprised to see him as high as the second row. In all Honesty the scraps I want to see play out this year are firstly the McLaren Vs Red Bull fight simply because they are both running customer Renault engines and secondly, just how fast are the Torro Rossos with their Honda engines compared to McLaren last year? Biggest surprise in testing to me was the Haas, very quick on “slow” tyres. Can’t wait to get answers to all these.

The Car that will show the biggest improvement over the 2017 counterpart – This team will want to redress the negative publicity of the last few years more than anything in pit road.

The Car that will show the biggest improvement over the 2017 counterpart – This team will want to redress the negative publicity of the last few years more than anything in pit road.

All in all… in the mid field a more competitive season this year and from my earlier comments we need to see whether those boffins in white coats have maintained the Merc supremacy at the top.