Ex-Mercedes Formula 1 technical director Paddy Lowe has revealed the team tried to mask its engine superiority in 2014 fearing its power advantage would lead to a rule change.
Mercedes began the current V6 hybrid era in dominant fashion winning 16 of the 19 races, finishing with almost 300 more points than nearest rivals Red Bull.
Lowe, who had joined the Brackley-based team as technical chief the previous year, said it became clear in pre-season testing that there was a huge gulf in performance between itself and the rest of the grid.
Although Mercedes engine chief Andy Cowell had concerns over the power unit’s fragility, Mercedes soon realised the scale of its advantage.
“I’ve seen Andy’s descriptions of it, much of which we didn’t really know at the time because they were busy with the work, not telling everyone what their problems were,” Lowe told F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast. “It was a very, very tough period and they had absolutely no confidence.
“But I think as we got to the first test, certainly into the second test, it became more clear that some others were in desperate disarray, mentioning no names, and that we were in reasonably good shape.
“Then we came with another upgrade in the Bahrain test, which was literally a bolt-on extra that was suddenly another seven or eight tenths in horsepower. That was an enormous day. And we knew at that point that we were in some quite special territory.”
Mercedes would secure pole position and victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but this caused concern amongst the team’s senior figures who felt its dominance could lead to rule changes being introduced to close the deficit.
This prompted Mercedes to decide not to run its engine at full power in qualifying to disguise the performance of its power unit.
“It was exciting but you had other stresses,” Lowe said. “So imagine the scene: You’ve got Toto and the board of Daimler who are worried about the negative politics of looking too good.
“You’ve got Bernie running around ‘saying this is all a nightmare, these engines are terrible’. Well, the thinking was if Mercedes had looked ridiculously good, then something would be done about it.
“This led to a lot of tension on the pit wall. In qualifying, we would never turn the engine up for Q1 and Q2. It was run in a sort of idle mode.”
Lowe said he and team boss Toto Wolff would often debate how far they should turn its engine mode up to claim pole position, admitting they didn’t extract the maximum from the engine for most of the season.
“The debate would then be how much to turn the engine up for Q3,” Lowe recalled. “I’d be getting it in the ear from Toto: ‘That’s too much, that’s too much’. And I’m thinking, ‘but if we don’t get pole, we’ll look like a right bunch of mugs’.
“So what number to pick that would do the job and knowing you didn’t want to err on the wrong way? So that was a big part of the discussion on Saturday afternoon. Nice chat to have.
“Actually that went on quite a long time. Through most of 2014, that engine was never on full power for qualifying.”