The engine is dead, long live the power unit. Well, that’s the assertion of Mercedes-Benz which came up with it when crafting the new power unit for its 2014 Formula One car. As the automaker explains, the change in terminology reflects the fact that the power unit in the latest Mercedes AMG F1 car, which is now adds the word “Hybrid” to its title to reflect its electrification, is far more than just an internal combustion engine.

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Instead, the power unit consists of an engine and then a pair of electric motor-generators (one integrated with the main driveline and another with the turbocharger). This level of integration is in contrast to the previous setup where the internal combustion engine was developed separate to the KERS which effectively ‘bolted on’ to a pre-existing engine configuration.

The significance of all this is that in the future, when the technology eventually migrates to road cars, we won’t be asking what engine is under the hood but rather what power unit is present.

“What we are seeing in Formula One today is the next generation of innovations that will eventually find their way from the race track to the road,” Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff said in a statement. “Mercedes-Benz is leading the way in promoting the positive new direction the sport has taken.”

But vehicle electrification is not a new concept for Mercedes-Benz; in fact the association between hybrid technology and performance stretches back over a century for the automaker. The early experiments of Daimler chief engineer Wilhelm Maybach focused on combining the gasoline engine with alternative drive technologies in the early 1900s.

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However, the automaker’s first true hybrid was the Mercedes Mixte, employing a serial hybrid drive incorporating a gasoline engine and a dynamo that converted the energy of the engine into electric energy that then powered a pair of motors mounted to the rear wheels. To demonstrate its performance, a Mixte race car was developed before the end of 1907, with a 55-horsepower engine generating electricity that would then power the motors mounted to the wheels.

Today, Mercedes-Benz’s hybrid technology is dominating at the highest level of motorsport, with the W05 Hybrid driven to victory at every race so far in the 2014 F1 season.


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