There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the phrase ‘party mode’ already, or heard teams, drivers, commentators or others refer to different engine modes. If you haven’t then you’re almost guaranteed to hear about them a lot over the Italian Grand Prix weekend, because the so-called party mode has effectively been banned and it’s the main talking point at Monza.
F1’s modern engines are very complicated V6 turbo-hybrids and there are various ways the engine manufacturers can adjust the performance of the traditional combustion engine, as well as the energy recovery systems that handle the electrical energy and deploy it as power.
From Monza, the engine modes that govern the combustion engine side of things are being ‘normalised’. This means from the start of qualifying to the end of the race, drivers can’t change these engine modes. The party mode was born two years ago, as it was the name Lewis Hamilton gave to the highest power engine modes that get used in qualifying. These modes can only be used very, very rarely because they require an enormous amount of the engine’s capacity and do a lot of damage to the life of the engine as a result.
For Mercedes, as you may have heard, the team’s party mode is Strat 2. This is often used at the end of Q2 and for both laps in Q3. As Mercedes engine boss Hywel Thomas says, it turns the engine settings up “to the max – the engine is screaming, the engineers are wincing. All the charge comes out of the battery”.
This is why the FIA’s decision to demand teams only use one mode through qualifying and the grand prix is effectively a party mode ban. It would not be possible to use the highest power modes all through the race and therefore teams have to qualify with a lower mode.
The settings relating to combustion engine modes are really complicated. There are many parameters that determine the performance of the ICE, and the main ones you might hear about are how much fuel and air is being used for the combustion process, injection timing and boost pressure. But it also impacts fuel temperature, oil pressure, the pressure in the pneumatic valve system, and the wastegate (which is part of the interaction between the exhaust gases and the turbocharger).
Essentially it all adds up to putting the absolute maximum through the crankshaft, which is the engine’s backbone.
You may have heard of the likes of Hamilton and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff talking about the engine mode rule change providing a benefit for them during races. They say it’s because they will have to run the engine at lower power on Saturdays, but will be able to run the engines at higher power than normal on Sundays.
This doesn’t mean Mercedes was holding back performance in races just because it didn’t need to use that performance until now. It’s all to do with how complicated the way of managing engine performance vs reliability is done.
Manufacturers define their power modes and engine mileage limits long before the start of the season. There’s a carefully constructed plan of how the engine can be deployed, and it’s all done to make sure the engine has the performance it needs at the right time but can also last for its full life cycle (which should be around seven race weekends).
Until now, that plan has had to consider the damage done by using the highest power modes in qualifying, and certain parts of a grand prix. One estimate is that one lap with the party mode is worth five laps in a normal race mode. There are probably five laps of the party mode over a normal race weekend – at least three in qualifying, the first lap of the race, and certain points of attack during the race itself.
So, by eliminating the party mode from use through a race weekend, the engine is probably gaining 25 laps of ‘life’ compared to what the manufacturer had initially calculated. That means they have been able to think how much more powerful the engine mode can be made for the race itself.
It’s a little bit like how you’d manage your phone if you were out of the house. You want to manage the battery as best as possible but you also need to use your phone for certain functions. The less you use the most power-draining apps, the more battery you save. You could then just be conservative and make sure you get home with plenty of battery left – or you can use other, slightly less powerful apps for longer, and run the phone close to zero.
Hopefully that makes sense, but if it doesn’t feel free to send me a tweet (@SMitchellF1) If you have a question and I’ll do my best to answer it.
The modes that dictate the hybrid side of the engine will still be changeable. These modes deal with the electrical energy and manage the recovery of the MGU-K and the MGU-H as well as the deployment of up to 120kW (161bhp) from the MGU-K.
They are used in three phases: recovery, neutrality, and deployment. Recovery means drivers are saving more electrical energy they are deploying and are charging the battery. Neutrality means the driver run this setting every lap because energy deployment and recovery are balanced. Deployment is when a driver uses the electrical power for a performance gain – either on a qualifying lap, at the start of a grand prix, or in attack/defence during the race.
The ERS engine modes dictate a lot of the strategy we see from drivers in a grand prix and this was something the likes of Valtteri Bottas were worried would be a negative impact of an engine mode ban, because being able to attack or defend with more or less power can be crucial. Without that dynamic, Bottas feared races would become dull.
But you will still see and hear drivers using or discussing different modes during the race because the ERS side of the engine is unaffected by this FIA technical directive. They just won’t be changing the elements relating to the combustion engine.