Renault's Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering, and Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, give their view of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Pat Symonds: "When we engineers arrive at a given circuit, we do so armed with a database of...
Renault's Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering, and Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, give their view of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
"When we engineers arrive at a given circuit, we do so armed with a database of facts and figures that allow us to evaluate the performance of our cars and devise the appropriate set-up. These figures are termed sector sensitivities and they detail how different factors affect car performance in the three sectors of a given circuit. While we study many different parameters, the four primary factors are downforce, drag, grip and engine power."
"Looking at Interlagos, it is a track with two similar sectors comprising a long straight and few corners (S1 and S3) and a much twistier middle sector, which accounts for roughly half the total lap time. Sector 1 begins at the timing line, and includes three corners: T1 taken in 2nd gear at around 95 kph, T2 taken at just under 160 kph in 3rd gear and T3 which we exit at around 240 kph onto the short back straight where the sector finishes."
"S2 includes eight of the circuit's twelve corners, which range from T5 taken flat out at 240 kph to T10 taken at just under 80 kph. The final sector begins between T11 and T12, and comprises only one real corner (T12 at 110 kph) and the uphill acceleration out of this turn, through a number of flat out kinks, to the timing line."
"When setting up the car at Interlagos, we must balance overall lap time with sufficient speed along the main pit straight that we can overtake other cars and also protect our position. In general, we aim to achieve a maximum speed of approximately 320 kph at the end of the pit straight. However, if we choose to alter this top speed, then the sector sensitivities allow us to calculate the impact this will have on our overall lap-time. This can be illustrated by looking at two extreme settings."
"For example, if we were to reduce our top speed along the straights by between 5 and 8 kph by using more downforce, then the simulations show we would lose only a few thousandths of a second in lap-time, but the way this loss would be derived is very interesting. This change would lose 0.06s in S1 and 0.15s in S3 owing to the two straights, but gain back 0.2s in S2 through the numerous corners. At the other extreme, if we were to reduce downforce in order to improve our straightline speed by 10 kph, then we would lose 0.25s over the complete lap - losing just 0.005s and gaining 0.15s in S1 and S3 respectively, but losing a very significant 0.4s in S2."
"Lower downforce settings bring benefits in straightline speed and lap-time in S1 and S3 respectively (the low number of corners in these sectors means the time losses through the turns are proportionally smaller) but come at the price of a high time penalty in S2. Altering downforce levels always involves balancing gains and losses owing to the increase or decrease in parasitic drag that this inevitably brings."
"When we examine the contrasting nature of the circuit sectors, it is logical that an increase in grip would bring its main benefit in the second sector, which has the highest number of corners. A theoretical 5% increase in grip (which is much larger than could be found by switching between two raceable tyre compounds) would see overall lap time reduced by 1.25s, with 60% of this improvement (0.75s) coming in the second sector - three times the gain obtained in the first and third sectors (0.25s each). Contrastingly, increased engine power would bring greater benefits in the first and third sectors. A rise of 5% (around 45 bhp) would provide gains of 0.2s in S1 and S3, and just over 0.1s in S2."
"So why are these figures useful to the engineers during a race weekend? Essentially, they provide the basis for comparing performance between the team's cars and our competitors during the race weekend. We know roughly where our level of performance is relative to that of our competitors and can therefore evaluate any differences in speed or lap-time using these figures."
"For example, if we are very quick in S2 and not in S1 and S3, with low straightline speeds, then we are running too much downforce. If these speeds are competitive however and we remain extremely quick in terms of overall lap time, then this would indicate we are running lower fuel than our rivals. The database of performance sensitivities provides the race engineers with the reference points they require to make informed choices as they search for the most competitive and race-able set-up."
"For the engine-builder, the first singular characteristic of Interlagos is that the circuit is located approximately 700m above sea-level. The atmospheric pressure, which is usually situated at around 1000 millibars, is therefore reduced to around 920."
"For any atmospheric engine, this reduction in air pressure brings with it an inevitable loss in power, as for a given volume of air, the percentage of oxygen - and therefore the potential for effective combustion - is lower. At Interlagos, the engine loses approximately 8% of its total power from the basic atmospheric pressure and the humid conditions which we often encounter at this circuit can also have an additional negative impact on performance."
"In terms of layout, the circuit includes no very slow corners - the slowest of them, Turn 10, is taken at around 80kph. This means that the engine is not used at very low revs and that good levels of torque between 80 kph and 220 kph are important to launch the cars out of the many corners in the twisty second sector."
"Equally, the cars need to be able to change direction quickly and effectively while accelerating in this sector. As such, an engine which responds quickly and predictably to the driver's throttle inputs is an important advantage, as is smooth power delivery in order to maintain car balance.
"In order to perform effectively, a strong torque curve must be combined with good levels of traction, particularly on the exit of Turn 12. Obtaining this good traction is complicated by the notoriously bumpy track surface in Brazil."
"As well as making life difficult for the drivers under braking by de-stabilising the car, the bumps can cause the rear wheels to lose contact with the track, thus potentially inducing over-revs while the car is under hard acceleration. This means that the safeguards implemented to prevent over-revs are particularly important at this circuit in order to ensure good engine reliability."
"Finally, the small number of high-speed corners, coupled with the reduced engine power caused by the atmospheric conditions and the relatively short lap, means that both fuel consumption (2.4kg per lap) and the time penalty for carrying extra fuel (0.27s) are both comparatively low - both values are located below the season averages (3.0kg and 0.37s respectively)."