Mercedes has been dominating F1 this season, and a big technical secret why has just come out — they split their turbo in half.
Let me start by explaining that turbos are very simple, but they have an inherent compromise. They consist of two spinning turbines: the one in the back takes in hot exhaust gas and spins really, really fast. The front one takes in cool, fresh air and is spun by the hot exhaust turbine. The compressed fresh air gets forced into the engine making more power and the hot exhaust gas shoots out the back of the car. The compromise is that you want the compressed air going into the engine as cool as possible, but that's very difficult since it's right next to a turbine run off hot exhaust gas.
As Sky F1 reports, Mercedes has split its turbo in half. The turbine that takes the hot exhaust gas is at the back of the V6 and the turbine that compresses the cool air is at the front of the engine. The two are linked by some kind of complicated shaft running through the vee of the engine. I mean, I say it must be complicated, because no one else has figured out how to do this, so it's got to be complicated.
There are two key advantages for this, as Sky F1 explains. The first is that the cool turbine up front stays cooler since it's now far away from the hot exhaust turbine in the back. This means that Mercedes doesn't need as big an intercooler to keep the compressed air going into the engine cool. That means they can package the car tighter around the engine, making it more aerodynamic.
Mercedes can also package their transmission closer to the center of the car. The gearbox sits behind the engine, and now it has more room since there's only half a turbo back there taking up space.
It's a remarkable example of sacrificing some simplicity for the sake of improved packaging and efficiency. It's all very F1, and thanks to the sport's mandated freeze on engine design, it's a Mercedes-only specialty.
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