The development race Upgrades, updates, developments - call them what you want, they mean performance in F1 and the development race off the track is just as fierce as the battle on the track. In fact, the intensity and rate of progress ...
The development race
Upgrades, updates, developments - call them what you want, they mean performance in F1 and the development race off the track is just as fierce as the battle on the track. In fact, the intensity and rate of progress has snowballed in recent years with teams now forced to crank the development handle all season long to remain competitive. Already this season, the development push has seen over a second of performance added to the R30 since the first race of the year in Bahrain.
"As the years have gone by, teams have realised that the in-season development battle is as important as the new car design," confirms Technical Director James Allison. "We're basically putting a new package on the car for each race, and the size of package is equivalent to what we would have added every three or four races in years gone by. All the teams are doing this so we have to maintain that high level of intensity throughout the year, which means people are working harder and working to timescales that we would never previously have contemplated. For example, the front wing we will run this weekend in Valencia is already the eighth version this year, and it's only race nine."
So why has this new wave of development intensity set in? Well, a contributing factor is undoubtedly the new technical regulations introduced at the beginning of last year. We may be eighteen months down the road, but the regulations remain sufficiently young to allow significant gains to be found from one week to the next, especially in the wind tunnel. Plus, with engine development frozen, the burden of finding additional performance falls almost entirely on the chassis side of the team.
"Because all the cars on the grid are improving at an incredible rate, we've had to adopt a philosophy of adding each improvement to the car as we find it, rather than saving parts up for a big update," says James. "The moment you find an improvement, every second that passes when it's not on the car is lost performance at the track."
Churning out those developments is the work of the factory staff, the unsung heroes who have been working flat out behind the scenes since the R30 car-build began last November. "The workload is felt at all levels in the team," confirms James. "The factory takes up the continuous, unrelenting pressure of delivering the new parts, and the race team pick up the baton at the track. The factory's response to the challenges we face is always fantastic, but there's a limit to the amount of work you can expect from people. So you need to strike the right balance to keep the development rate high without overcooking people's workload."
Ironically this new age of technical productivity has coincided with a significant reduction in track testing. Rather than pounding around Barcelona every other week, the team is now reliant on an array of factory tools to recreate the track back at base.
"Obviously CFD and the wind tunnel are incredibly useful for predicting how our aero packages will work at the track. These tools predict the size of the gains that eventually unfold at the track within errors that are substantially less than 0.5% of the total downforce on the car. For the mechanical parts we rely on computer simulations, which we then validate on our chassis rig," confirms James. "We also have a suite of endurance rigs that can subject components to loads and forces to make sure they can cope with the F1 environment. These tools allow us to turn up at the track confident in the knowledge that our latest parts are reliable and will perform as we expect."
As the year unfolds, the factory also has to absorb the design of the 2011 car in tandem with the development the current car. "Throughout the year the percentage of the resources that you add to the new car increases at the expense of the current car," concludes James. "It's always a difficult choice to decide how much to invest in the future, but we've been working on the 2011 car since January and still managed to sustain a very high rate of development on the current car, which is a real testament to the hard work of everybody in the Renault F1 team."