Formula 1

Mercedes not guaranteed continued F1 dominance despite power advantage

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There is no doubting that current Constructors' champions Mercedes head into 2015 as overwhelming favourites to retain their crown.

The Silver Arrows dominated 2014 winning all but three of the 19 races and even by season's end held a commanding speed advantage over most of their traditional rivals.

Hopes for a more level playing field this year were further weakened by reports the Brixworth engine factory have found an additional 50 brake horsepower in development over the winter.

However, given we are entering the second year of these new regulations most are expecting the 2015 cars to be quite a bit faster than their 2014 predecessors and that could lead to some interesting scenarios.

Downforce still a critical factor

Sure we expect Mercedes to continue as the most powerful power unit on the grid this year, but will they have a car aerodynamically efficient enough to cope with the extra power.

Their biggest rivals in this area will be Red Bull, whose cars have created the most amount of downforce in recent years.

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Red Bull eye return to title contention

Indeed despite an inferior Renault power unit last year, the RB10 often battled for the 'best of the rest' with the more powerful Williams making up for their lack of straight line speed in the corners.

While much of their ability to compete more regularly with the Mercedes in 2015 will depend on Renault closing the large performance gap, should the new RB11 again be the quickest in the corners then given the majority of racetracks on the calendar require medium to high downforce set-ups then there is hope for a more competitive season.

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Lowe working on improvements

"Actually aerodynamics have become more crucial than ever"

Of course it wasn't just the power unit that gave Mercedes their advantage last season as the W05 was perhaps second to the Red Bull aerodynamically, but ensuring that aero performance gap remains as small as possible is a key thought for team boss Paddy Lowe.

"A lot of the talk of the new formula has been about power units, but actually aerodynamics have become more crucial than ever," he was quoted by ESPN.

"Incorporating the power unit in a car with the minimum aero impact is more important than before, not less."

Indeed the 2014 Mercedes featured several notable innovations which helped maximise the potential of what was hidden under the bodywork.

"The front suspension was a big part of the aero performance and that project was started in June/July of 2013," Lowe added.

"To make it work structurally was quite difficult. But we could see fairly early that it was feasible, so we went with that aero concept and let the structures guys loose on it."

Keeping it cool

Then there was the issue of cooling, this was what hampered the Renault powered teams so much in early development last year and particularly Red Bull who's chief designer Adrian Newey is known for his incredibly tight aerodynamic packages.

"A good part of the story has been cooling efficiencies that were achieved," the former McLaren technical director explained.

"We did it bit by bit, pushing the efficiency of each part of the cooling circuit up, and that's what brings the sizes down. Your first go at it is not nearly as good as your 27th go.

"Initially it had looked like the whole story of the car was going to be, 'How are you going to get in enough heat-exchange areas to get the job done?' By the time we arrived with a car that seemed little different to the year before in terms of radiator area etcetera, that felt pretty amazing as an achievement."

Mercedes must be aware of old weakness

Another key are where Mercedes will need to maintain key gains is in tyre wear, in 2013 the W04 was a quick car but very poor tyre preservation meant Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg often tumbled down the order in races.

This was a problem that impacted the team throughout the three years of Pirelli rubber and V8 power, however, as the Italian supplier produced a much more conservative compound for 2014 fearing the greater torque from the new V6 turbo power units, the harder compounds meant Mercedes' old weakness had lessened significantly albeit was still evident at some races.

Ensuring that is the case again this year is crucial to maintaining the advantage because a car can have all the power and downforce it wants but its no good if it can't be applied to the tarmac.

Pirelli have said the 2015-spec tyres won't be significantly different from those used last year but with greater power expected from all power units what may have been conservative last year may actually be more aggressive this.

Best all-round package will succeed

What this does prove, however, is while F1 is much more of an engine-dependent formula than it was this time two years ago, ensuring a good all-round package remains the most important thing to success.

Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and more may not have the privilege of enjoying the same power advantage Mercedes and Williams enjoy, but it doesn't mean they can't find other ways to gain an upper hand this season.

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