Inspired by the first podium finish of its third generation in the Formula One World Championship, Honda arrives at the A1-Ring, Spielberg, for the Austrian Grand Prix to continue its progress with its two partner teams, Lucky Strike BAR Honda and...
Inspired by the first podium finish of its third generation in the Formula One World Championship, Honda arrives at the A1-Ring, Spielberg, for the Austrian Grand Prix to continue its progress with its two partner teams, Lucky Strike BAR Honda and Benson & Hedges Jordan Honda. While a large proportion of these teams' personnel will have already savoured a podium finish, for the majority of Honda's technical staff Jacques Villeneuve's third place in the Spanish Grand Prix had a particular resonance.
Many of Honda's young Japanese engineers have had little or no experience of motorsport before being assigned to Honda's F1 programme, part of its policy of training and developing engineers in the heat of competition. The personal reward they derive from this result therefore should not be underestimated. Yet there is a further dimension for Honda. Its two teams of engineers dedicated to BAR Honda and Jordan Honda are engaged in intense rivalry. Naturally the Jordan Honda engineers were disappointed they were beaten to the first podium by BAR Honda and will now be pushing hard to go one better than their colleagues.
There are of course hardened F1 campaigners leading the technical charge, chief among them Kazutoshi Nishizawa, technical director of Honda Racing Development, who describes the specific demands on an engine from the Austrian Grand Prix's A1-Ring. "This circuit is relatively high-speed and is very hard on an engine from a reliability standpoint. Over 60% of the lap distance is covered at full throttle and so one would describe it as a 'power circuit' in terms of engine performance. The mapping will be essentially the same as anywhere else and only small modifications will be needed."
'Mapping' is a term widely-used in F1 and describes the programming of the engine's Electronic Control Unit (ECU) with a package of base settings, which governs the different values affecting an engine's performance in given conditions. It is a commonly-held perception that a different map is used for each different circuit, but the reality is that virtually all circuits use a standard map, with minor correction factors applied to the various parameters as required.
For example, air density is an important parameter for an air-breathing engine. It varies according to altitude, ambient temperature and air pressure. The higher the air density, the higher the proportion of oxygen present in the air and available to the engine for combustion, which in turn produces more power for the same amount of air used. The standard setting for air density in the engine's map is preset to sea level. It is then adjusted with small correction values in the ECU software to provide the optimum setting for the ambient conditions. In the case of the A1-Ring in Austria, the circuit altitude is higher than sea level so some adjustment is required, although as air temperature and pressure varies over the weekend, corrections may be needed.
Various settings including engine speed and fuel cut settings are continually adjusted by the engineers during the course of a Grand Prix weekend. Many of these changes will be determined in debriefs with the four Honda-powered drivers to suit their individual preferences and driving styles. So although the standard ECU map stays the same from session to session, it is constantly fine-tuned by the Honda engineers to meet the needs of the teams and drivers, ensuring the engineers will be permanently occupied examining every minute detail of a map and honing it to the ideal configuration.