Q&A with Mercedes Technical Director James Allison

© Daimler AG

Mercedes released a Q&A session with Technical Director James Allison where he talks about the team’s 2020 challenger – the W11 and more.

Question: James, we’re presenting our new Formula One car today, the Mercedes-AMG W11 EQ Performance. What did you focus on in the development of the new car?

James Allison: The regulations stayed largely the same for the new year, so for us it was all about trying to make sure that we don’t run out of development steam on a package that worked pretty well for us last year. If we had continued merely to add flourishes to the 2019 baseline, we would have found some gains, but in all likelihood diminishing returns would be kicking in by now. We wanted to change aspects of the concept of the car – aspects that would be completely impossible to change within a season – to give us a more fertile platform for the new season. We tried to make a few wellchosen architectural changes to keep the development slope strong even though the regulations are now a little bit longer in the tooth.

Question: Where have we made those changes?

James Allison: On top of the conventional fare of winter development we made three investments: One at the front, one in the middle and one at the back of the car. At the front we have accepted more structural complexity around the uprights and wheel rims in order to provide a higher performance assembly overall. In the middle of the car we have followed the pitlane trend by moving our upper side impact tube to the lower position and banking the aerodynamic gain that comes with this layout. At the rear of the car we have gone for an adventurous suspension layout in order to free up aerodynamic development opportunity. All three investments were improvements in their own right, but their real effect is to mobilize a raft of secondary aerodynamic gains both during the winter and, we hope, across the season to come.

Question: What else have we done to improve the new car?

James Allison: We have worked – as we would always – on every square millimetre of the car to try and find improvements in this stable set of regulations. We have been well rewarded by the amount of downforce we’ve found since the last race of last year, giving us faith that our three projects have provided a sound foundation to build performance that would not have been possible on the 2019 car.

Question: A big topic last year was aerodynamic efficiency. What steps have we taken on that front?

James Allison: Aerodynamic efficiency is one of the most prized features in every season. A car that is the most aerodynamically efficient at a given circuit is the one that uses the shape of its bodywork to best effect to improve the laptime. Over the course of last season, the term “Efficiency” was sometimes used somewhat misleadingly as a proxy for discussing straight-line speed. True efficiency is provided by the package that delivers the largest, most driveable amount of downforce at the correct level of drag. Our aerodynamic work, guided by circuit simulation is designed to deliver this, and we show up at each race with a bodywork setup that we believe is the most aerodynamically efficient choice for that track. Nothing much has changed in the regulations and so the car will be running at very similar drag levels to last year. What has changed, of course, is that our efforts over the winter have increased the aerodynamic efficiency of the aerodynamic package, rewarding us with a car that generates a lot more downforce in exchange for that drag.

Question: Last year’s car was struggling in hot temperatures. What have we done to mitigate that?

James Allison: We’ve improved the cooling package. We’ve created more face area – so more actual radiator area in the car – which is a difficult thing to do mid-season without incurring quite a lot of penalty. But between the years you can do it and it won’t cost you except a little bit of weight. We’ve also benefitted from an investment that HPP have made on our behalf. They’ve worked to raise the operating temperature of the engine which eases the cooling burden on us because the hotter the fluid, the less radiator you need to cool it.

Question: In 2021, we will see the biggest regulation change in F1 history. Does this effect the development of this year’s car?

James Allison: No team can ignore the size of the change that’s coming in 2021. We’ve had an unusually large number of significant regulation changes over the last few years but all of them are minuscule compared with this. So necessarily we are spending a fair amount of our effort trying to figure out the best way to attack 2021 while ensuring that we simultaneously mount an effective 2020 campaign. Juggling these competing pressures is going to be a really big deal this year. One way or another, every F1 team wrestles with this dilemma in every season, but it is amplified in 2020 by the momentous scale of change brought on us by the 2021 regulations.

Question: What impact does the shorter winter testing have on the pre-season preparation?

James Allison: If we do a good job with our designs and if we’ve done a good job in our bench testing and preparation of the car, then we should be able to get through our programmes in those six days in an organised fashion. But if we find ourselves battling an unexpected reliability issue then it will very quickly hollow out our programme and leave us quite short of experience by the time we get to Melbourne. This has given us increased impetus to ensure that we’ve had a good off season in the factory so that when we hit the track everything works, leaving us to focus on making it fast. We are all very aware that 12 months ago we only really hit our stride on the eighth of eight testing days and are keen not to repeat the experience!

Question: What importance does the shakedown play?

James Allison: The shakedown has always been important, but it is particularly precious this year. It’s our last chance to make sure all is well ahead of the first official day of Winter Testing. If all goes well in the shakedown, then we will be well placed to roll out the garage at nine o’clock in Barcelona and just start hitting the laps. With a shorter winter testing programme, that last ticking everything off at the shakedown is proportionally more important so we are determined to squeeze every drop of goodness from it that we can.

Question: It’s almost impossible to say anything about the competition without having seen any of the other cars being driven in anger. But how would you predict the competitive picture to play out?

James Allison: We had a very golden start to last year where we managed to secure a lead in the championship that made it very difficult for our opposition to make any inroads in the second half of the year – but in that second half, both Ferrari and Red Bull certainly closed us down in terms of competitiveness. We’re expecting 2020 to pick up right where 2019 left off with a three-way fight from the outset. There will be no room for making mistakes.

Question: Last year, we launched a car that was aerodynamically quite different to the car we brought to the second week of testing in Barcelona. Will we see a similar evolution of the W11?

James Allison: No, we will be more conventional this year. We will still have upgrades for Melbourne that will come in the second week of testing, but the entire new car approach of 2019 won’t feature. Last year, the regulations were changed quite significantly, and they were decided quite late in the year. Under those circumstances, doing a launch car and a week two car gave us the chance to build the maximum amount of learning into our Melbourne car. With the regulations being more mature this year and with the opening stab of the 2020 development already being at the same level as the finish of last year’s car, repeating last year’s approach would not make sense.

Question: The Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance will be the fastest Mercedes Formula One car we have ever built. What does that mean for an engineer?

James Allison: I love it when the cars set new records with each passing season. I really like the fact that records that have stood for many years have fallen in the last two and that Formula One cars of current generation have smashed every record that existed. I find it slightly sad to think that 2020 is likely to be a high-water mark for some years but I will just enjoy it while it lasts.

Source: Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

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