Mercedes’ 2017 Formula One car has some big tire tracks to fill

Since Formula One adopted its current hybrid powertrain format in 2014, Mercedes-Benz has been unstoppable. For the past three seasons, the question hasn’t been which team would win F1 championships, but which of the Mercedes drivers would come out on top. That dominance will likely continue in 2017.

F1 introduced lots of changes to chassis-design rules for 2017, but the hybrid powertrains remain. Since Mercedes’ rivals didn’t show much progress in that area last year, the German automaker’s “Silver Arrows” are the cars to watch once again this season. The newly unveiled Mercedes W08 EQ Power+ may very well be this year’s championship-winning car.

The new F1 car marks the second use of the “EQ” designation, following the Mercedes Generation EQ electric SUV concept, which debuted at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. Mercedes plans to use the EQ name for a new electric-car sub-brand, similar to BMW i. It will also use the “EQ Power” designation for all future plug-in hybrids for its main brand, and “EQ Power+” for plug-in hybrids from its AMG performance sub-brand. It’s a good thing Mercedes used its F1 car to advertise this naming scheme, because no one would remember it otherwise.

The car itself reflects rule changes applied to all Formula One cars for the 2017 season. In a bid to increase performance and visual appeal, F1 cars are longer and wider, and designers have more leeway to tweak aerodynamic elements. Mercedes says only 17 percent of components from last year’s W07 carry over to the Wo8. It actually started testing 60-percent scale models of the new car in its wind tunnel before the first race of last season, and completed over 2,000 sessions in the tunnel.

Mercedes says the powertrain — or “power unit,” in F1 speak — was thoroughly redesigned, although rules mandate the same configuration used since 2014. A 1.6-liter, turbocharged V6 assisted by an electric motor. Electric power can be harvested from exhaust heat or braking. In 2017, cars are expected to run at full throttle 10 percent more, so teams are allotted 5 percent more fuel per race.

This season, the Mercedes lineup will once again include three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, as well as newcomer Valtteri Bottas. The Finn joined Mercedes from Williams to fill the spot vacated by Nico Rosberg, who retired at the end of last season, just days after clinching the F1 title after a fierce battle with Hamilton.

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