How have your working practices changed over the past eight years ? In 2006 we had free development so the principal challenge of that year was keeping on top of the innovations, which would be introduced at almost every race. The engine freeze in 2007 made a big difference. The envelope to work in became much smaller. The biggest challenge has however been the extended life, with fewer engines having to run more kilometres. We have had to learn how to economise our engines and use them in a more sequential way.

How have you tackled the extended engine life ? By fixing the specification of the engines and reducing the number allowed per year we naturally had to make everything more robust. Each and every part has to cope with a much longer life now, running up to 2,500km instead of just 300km 12 years before. To make sure we can do this we run the parts to 3,000km, ensuring they are more than capable of the longer distances.

Even under frozen regulations there are improvements all the time for reliability. In fact if you looked at the first V8 and the current V8 you would see that 95% of the parts have changed, with each becoming completely optimized for its function. By working on this, there is now very little degradation over an engine’s life. Before there used to be a drop off of around 15bhp from the start to the finish, now it is very negligible.

Has engine usage changed over the eight years of competition ? Yes, incredibly. In 2006 engines were developed all the time – changing camshafts, pistons, combustion chamber and so on, so it was a completely new way of working each race. Now it is much more about fine-tuning ; working with mapping, driver torque maps and pedal maps to deliver optimal and maximum torque. We have found that there are greater gains in being lighter and more fuel efficient, and not simply looking for more power, for instance. We have learnt how to gain performance in other ways through installation, and then lately in the way the exhausts and maps have been used.

So you would say engine strategies have grown in sophistication ? We have simultaneously refined our processes, but we have also explored many other avenues due to the engine freeze. The blown floors are a very good example. We could have thought about it at the start of the V8 era, but at that point we were focused on gaining horsepower. At the point when the power output was fixed at 750bhp we went horizontal rather than vertical. We looked at where the energy produced went, for instance.

The Renault RS26 V8 engine
The Renault RS26 V8 engine

Photo by: XPB Images

Of the available energy from the fuel, we saw a third goes to the crankshaft and then two thirds go elsewhere, with more than 50 % dissipated in the exhausts. We asked ourselves if we could use this energy. The next stage was to increase the amount of gas produced by the engine to ensure a steady stream of exhaust, which could be used aerodynamically. We worked on the throttle timing and keeping the stream steady – in essence we weren’t touching the engine.

We have also looked at the way we use the engine modes, such as running on four cylinders, two cylinders and then one cylinder, which delivered radical improvements in efficiency and driveability. The changes were not extreme, but the results were. Equally we have increased the capability of running lower water, oil flow and higher water and oil temperatures and have improved the fuel efficiency, allowing us to carry less liquids (water/oil/fuel) in the car, which all contribute to a lower car weight and improved laptime.

And this has all been done under an engine freeze ? Yes. The V8 was homologated in 2007 and only changes for fair and equitable reasons between engine manufacturers are permitted. It is rather the way we use the engine that has contributed to an improvement in laptime. Five or six years ago we had 72 hours to build and run a car and those 72 hours were better suited to finding horsepower and the torque required. Gradually as our strategies became more refined we looked at other areas where the engine could be used to help.

For instance, when it became clear that tyre life was a major ingredient of success, we started look at the driver torque maps to deliver improved driveability and therefore grip and tyre degradation. If the car moves around less and is less aggressive from the corners the tyres will last longer, which of course helps the overall race performance.

Have you learnt anything from working with multiple teams ? At the very start there were standard rules for the Renault engine but now there are very different ways of installing and running an engine in each team. Before, we put an engine in and said how we used it, but now we say that the engine can be used within a certain envelope and teams can choose which corner to go for. Operating temperatures, external pieces such as exhausts and air boxes can all be changed – it is a completely bespoke service for each team, but in turn, we learn more about how far we can use the engine.

Do you think we would have learnt this without a freeze ? There are many things we could have done but we couldn’t due to the freeze : for instance, we could have run without throttles and generated so much gas that the aerodynamics would be permanently engaged. Without any restriction on development, it is possible we would be at 22,000rpm and 850bhp. The more horsepower you have, the quicker you go, but there are other areas to develop... the cars are much more efficient now, and ultimately efficiency delivers results.

Renault Sport