Niki Lauda has admitted that Mercedes is still learning new things about its 2014-spec F1 engine and the intricacies of balancing performance with reliability.
The grand prix scene gets a technical shake-up this season, with the turbocharged V6 replacing the eight-year old V8 formula, and the sport's three suppliers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault – are currently in a race against time to provide powerplants for the first test, at Jerez, later this month.
Each has commented on the progress being made, although the rumour mill suggests that Mercedes may have the early advantage in terms of performance. Each, however, has remarked that reliability may be the key to the opening phase of the season, and Lauda confirms that there appears to be a fine line between success and failure.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport
reports that the Three Pointed Star is testing its new engine on a special test bench, with the V6 turbo installed alongside the latest hybrid technology, transmission and cooling units in a cut-down version of an existing chassis, with the radiators fitted to 2014-spec sidepods and the rear bodywork as permitted by the heavily altered regulations.
Cooling looks set to be a key factor in both the performance and reliability of the new engines, according to Lauda.
"We are constantly learning new things,” the three-time F1 world champion commented, “Suddenly you have to take care of things like water pressure or intercooling. Oil and water must be in a precise temperature window. If they go just a few degrees above a certain limit, it tears up everything."
The Austrian is hoping that, by having three customer teams running alongside the works squad – with Williams joining Force India and McLaren for 2014 – Mercedes can accelerate its data acquisition and development. Renault also has four teams this season – with Toro Rosso coming on board to join Lotus, Caterham and world champion Red Bull – while Ferrari continues to supply two customer squads – Sauber and newcomer Marussia – alongside its works effort, but Lauda is confident that Mercedes will do its best to ensure that the information flows both ways.
“Four customers means four sources of information,” he noted, “The [customer teams] have no comparable means of testing, so their cooling is based on information provided by the engine partner. Everyone has their individual problems, but I will make sure that all of this is brought together as, that way, we can learn faster and respond."
The same report suggests that Red Bull boss Christian Horner, possibly concerned by Renault's progress in preparation for Jerez, had suggested that the 28 January test be postponed by one week.
"Nothing has changed," Lauda insisted, "Everything is going ahead as planned in late January, but we all have a big task ahead of us."