Mercedes engine chief Hywel Thomas looking forward to “an exciting time”, as F1 PU focus shifts to 2026

Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
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Mercedes hopes to get back into their winning form with their 2024 challenger, the W15. With a design that is more in line with their competitors there’s been a lot of changes on the outside, but on the inside the focus has been more on the reliability-side of things, Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) Managing Director Hywel Thomas explains.

“At this stage of the regulation cycle, there are limited opportunities for us to develop the Power Unit. We are permitted to make reliability upgrades where necessary, and to have a single software release each year, so we have been working on that. We have taken the opportunity to update the PU in both of these areas.

“Despite the freeze, it is a big reliability challenge for all power unit manufacturers. Not finishing races is so detrimental to the final championship standings, so reliability is always a huge focus. And, of course, we are always looking at performance, and seeking out those milliseconds that are left to find within the regulations.”

Last two years have been abysmal when compared to the huge success Mercedes experienced between 2014 and 2021, with just a single victory in 2022. So a different challenge for the Silver Arrows, but one that has pushed the teamwork between Brackley and Brixworth [the PU department] to new levels.

“It has been about making sure all of us have all our pieces of the jigsaw,” Thomas explains. “We are responsible and accountable for our own pieces. From our side it is about making sure we deliver a reliable product where we can find performance. We must make sure we are not limiting what the car can do. That is where we work in close collaboration with the team in Brackley to explore how we can use the engine to increase performance.

“We need to be open to pushing our own boundaries. We are always looking to help, to determine what is our part of the puzzle? What is our part of the problem? There is that saying: ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.’ That is what we are trying to do – to be part of the solution. It means everyone is energized to think that, when the car does get to where we want it to be, they have been part of the journey. Until then, we will take as much learning with every step as everyone else. That is what being part of the team means.”

Originally the limit for power units was set on only three per driver, but with 24 Grands Prix and 6 Sprints, the FIA has decided an additional power unit is allowed for this season. This however doesn’t mean that having a reliable engine is suddenly a piece of cake, according to Thomas.

“We know that a power unit will not produce the same number of kilowatts at the end of its lifespan as it does at the start. We also know that not finishing races is hugely detrimental to your points scoring so reliability is crucial. The recent change to the regulations to allow us to have four power units across the season is helpful. But we know that with the longest calendar in F1 history, our ability to create the most reliable and performant product possible will still be tested.”

HPP does not only provide power units for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, but also for customer teams Aston Martin and Williams, but Thomas explains the same effort is put in these customer engines.

“There is a huge amount of pride in every single power unit we put together, in every installation that we do, in every race weekend that we support. There are a lot of people representing HPP embedded trackside at those teams. We take pride in being able to provide a PU that allows those teams to compete at the sharp end of the sport.”

With the 2026 regulations taking up more and more of the focus of the team, there are exciting times ahead, the 51 year old Briton says: “The regulations in the next couple of seasons deliberately restrict us, as more and more ofthe engineering and operational staff become part of the 2026 project. It is an exciting time.

“It is excellent to have rules that have attracted new manufacturers and have a clear real world relevance. They are applicable to what is going on at Mercedes-Benz and in our research and development areas; for example, we have a 50-50 split between the combustion engine and the electric vehicle side, and that’s a fascinating prospect. It’s a chance to showcase our talent, our innovation, and the possibilities the sport can bring. It’s great, and people walk around with smiles on their faces as they tackle this project. We have been busy doing experiments and getting our teeth stuck into it, knowing that the final product will end up on the race track being judged by millions every other weekend.”