The Most Powerful Secrets

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BARCELONA, Spain - In the past, many Formula One engine manufacturers released a photo of their engine when a new F-1 car was unveiled. These days, however, F-1 engines are literally and figuratively shrouded in secrecy.

Few technical details are released. No photos are permitted. Outsiders are not even allowed a peek at the engine.

This year, Mercedes-Benz took another step down the road of secrecy by giving out no technical specifications whatsoever on its new engine. Yet Norbert Haug, the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport director, did reveal some interesting insights into the Mercedes F-1 engine program at the launch of the new West McLaren MP4/17 in Spain.

Haug talked about a range of issues, including the secrecy, the embarrassing failures of the Mercedes-Benz V10 last year, changes to the new engine, the amazingly high rpms that the V10 will reach this year and why, unlike the trend of making everything lighter, the new engine did not go on a diet.

"We copied the competition," Haug said defensively when asked why no technical details were released. "Tell me one manufacturer that tells you more than we did in the past. Nobody, so why should we? The other guys were hiding their engines, so we have to do the same."

Another thing Mercedes did with its 2002 engine, called the FO110M, was make the Vee angle between the two cylinders wider. Most F-1 engines have a Vee angle of about 75 degrees, as Mercedes did last year. In 2001, however, Renault built its V10 with a Vee angle of 111 degrees (a figure never officially confirmed). The idea behind a wider Vee angle is to "flatten" the engine in order to lower the center of gravity. But there is a tradeoff because the wider the Vee the more difficulty there is in finding space between the bottom edge of the cylinder heads and the floor of the car for such things as the exhaust pipes.

Although no technical specifications, including the angle of the Vee, of the new engine were released, Haug did make some interesting general comments about the engine, including a startling revelation of its new rpm limits.

"We changed the Vee angle," he said. "We have higher revs, better power and more torque. We changed the cylinder bore, and made an improvement in each and every area. There is good potential in this engine and it is a very good base for the future. It is an important step in the right direction. We have a very competitive engine and a very light engine.

"You will see various engines revving higher than 18,000 rpm this year, and our engine will certainly among them. A couple of years ago the engine builders never would have thought that 18,500 revs would have been achievable. That just shows how much improvement has been made."

That F-1 engines can now turn 18,000 rpm is stunning. That's about three times higher than an average road car. So are 19,000 revs possible?

"Maybe," said Haug. "We already did more than 19,000 but this was not very good for the engine."

There's a trend to make lighter engines every year, but that was not a goal for Mercedes this time.

"The tendency is to make the engine even stronger if you rev higher and have better torque," Haug explained, "so your main target is not making it even lighter. It is very important where the weight in the engine is, and if you can chose you certainly put it as low as possible."

Horsepower? Naturally those figures are shrouded in secrecy as well, except to say that the 3-liter V10 will produce more than 800 ponies.

Last year's Mercedes engine was not the best in the F-1 field. It suffered some very public and very embarrassing electronic failures that left Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard stranded on the start line at five races, including Monaco, where Coulthard had qualified on the pole.

"If you do not take part in the race and you do not start, you certainly will not win the race," Haug said. "That was our problem last year."

"With the launch start problems it was a different reason every time," Haug said of the last year's stalls, "but at the end of the day it was five times. Maybe at the beginning we aimed a little bit too high; we were a little bit too sophisticated, but not because we were lazy but probably because we wanted to achieve a little bit too much. But we are very good in this area right now."

Another issue that hampered the Mercedes F-1 engine program was the ban of aluminum beryllium, a material that Mercedes was depending on heavily in its early engines.

The design for the 2002 engine started at this time last year, just as the design for the 2003 engine is already under way. The engine design, building, testing and development are a joint program between Mario Ilien's Ilmor engineering firm based in England and the Mercedes plant in Stuttgart.

"The (2002) engine ran on the first time on the dyno on Nov. 21 and since then we have made significant steps," Haug said. "We have six weeks until (the first Grand Prix) Melbourne and we still need some time. We also improved traction control, launch control and the electronics very much."

Finally, Haug said engine failures are expected as the limits are explored in preseason testing.

"You must expect during testing you will have failures," Haug said. "And if you do not have failures you are too conservative."

So, don't be surprised to see a Mercedes-Benz V10 fail. Just don't expect to learn any of the engine's secrets.

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