French GP: Renault engineering preview

Renault's Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering, and Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, give their view of the French Grand Prix Pat Symonds: "Magny-Cours is an interesting Grand Prix venue in several ways. It is well known...

Renault's Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering, and Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, give their view of the French Grand Prix

Pat Symonds:

"Magny-Cours is an interesting Grand Prix venue in several ways. It is well known for having the smoothest tarmac of any current circuit but more interestingly, this tarmac possesses quite unusual characteristics, in that the ultimate lap time of a car around Magny-Cours, and to a certain extent its handling balance, seem very affected by ambient conditions. This has kept race engineers on their toes for many years, and while the advent of grooved tyres has made the situation a little easier to handle than it was in the days of full slicks, it is still a phenomenon that is not fully understood from a theoretical point of view, but one that experienced race engineers have learned how to deal with."

"At Magny-Cours, the challenge is one of anticipating and adjusting to large fluctuations in temperature. Last year, the circuit temperature rose from 18 degrees when we first ran on Friday to 34 degrees by qualifying - over the same period at Silverstone two weeks later, the temperature only increased three degrees in the same period. Furthermore, track temperature is not just a function of the ambient temperature, but as dark tarmac retains heat so well, it is also proportional to the amount of sunshine on a given day."

"On a cloudy day, the track temperature is similar to the ambient. On a sunny day though, it can easily be 200C higher than ambient. Even 2 types of tarmac can respond quite differently and tarmac that is light in colour is less susceptible to heating from direct sunlight than one that is dark in colour. One often sees members of the teams and tyre companies checking the temperature of the track surface throughout the day, and this is even done on the day before the cars run to get information on the profile of temperatures throughout the day."

"In general terms, the hotter the circuit gets, the less grip the car has. When we select tyres for a given circuit, we must take into account the nature of the track surface, and the work the tyre must do around the lap, in order to generate an average operating temperature between 120 and 1400C. For a circuit such as Barcelona, we will select a durable hard compound, while a circuit such as Monaco will require a softer tyre with greater grip, but less durability."

"Physically, the difference between these tyres is the degree to which the rubber molecules interact with the track surface: in a hard compound, there are a greater number of cross-links between the rubber molecules, which restricts the length of the rubber molecule that can interact with the track surface. Less interaction between rubber molecules and track surface means less grip. The reverse is true for the soft compound; fewer cross-links between molecules means that longer molecules can interact with the track surface."

"In order to get a tyre performing to its maximum, we must generate operating temperatures that fall within the window mentioned above, and track temperature is a critical parameter for doing so. Throughout Friday practice, our tyre assessments are focused on resolving a simple equation that might be thought of as the Optimum Tyre Temperature is a function of both the Car Set Up and the Track Temperature. From this, it becomes clear that whatever we do with the set-up of the car, we must also take account of the track temperature in order to get the tyres working correctly."

"Above or below the tyre's optimum operating temperature, the grip provided by the tyre is lessened, and the further the tyre's operating temperature moves from this optimum, the less grip it provides. If track conditions alter significantly, or the tyre is inappropriate to the circuit's demands, and blistering can occur in extreme cases. As such, the extreme and rapid variations in circuit temperature at Magny-Cours that we have already mentioned, can seriously perturb the behaviour of the car and tyres if not managed correctly."

"Regardless of the ultimate effect on lap time, the car balance - the degree to which the car understeers or oversteers - generally changes in a consistent manner with variations in track temperature. As a general rule, the hotter the track the more the car will oversteer, and as a general rule, because the race runs longer into the afternoon than qualifying, we can expect track temperatures to be higher - and this might lead people to suppose that the car balance we find for qualifying must take account of the first stint of the race, and potentially increasing amounts of oversteer."

"However, an unsatisfactory balance in qualifying can cost the driver a significant number of grid positions, and with the ever shorter first stints under the current format, any handling imbalance is something that can be rectified at the first pit-stop - rather than anticipated the day before."

"During the race, we are very limited as to what we can do to alter the balance of the car, but we can still make small adjustments to the front wing angle - and hence aero balance between front and rear of the car - and also tyre pressures. Lower pressures at the rear will give more grip, and reduce the tendency to oversteer; lower at the front, will increase front-end grip and neutralise oversteer. Changing tyre pressures alters the mechanical grip of the car, in order to try and alter the handling characteristics for different temperatures."

Denis Chevrier: Magny-Cours and Silverstone

"Arriving at Magny-Cours and Silverstone, we are in fact coming to two very similar circuits in almost every parameter apart from their length, with Silverstone being approximately a kilometre longer than its French counterpart."

"The engine spends 61% and 62% of the respective laps at full throttle, while the maximum single periods at full throttle are 12.5 seconds and 12.2 seconds."

"Of course, we are also now dealing with two known quantities: neither circuit has been altered for this year and we have visited both many times before, including a good amount of testing at Silverstone."

"At this stage of the season, indeed, we are very much entering a period in which we visit what might be termed median circuits - they are not situated at the extreme limits of our operating range, and thus the challenge becomes one of optimising our performance rather than learning how to achieve it."

"With half of the year gone, we have been through the entire range of possible circuits, and we now have to adapt and operate as efficiently as possible, responding to and anticipating track conditions in order to ensure our car-engine-driver package functions in perfect harmony."

"Magny-Cours is a circuit that puts this need for flawless operation into sharp relief. It is not a selective circuit - instead, the gaps between the cars are often very small and, much as we saw during qualifying at the previous race in Indianapolis, even hundredths of a second can mean the difference between four of five grid spots. Thus, our ability to extract the absolute maximum from our package will be of critical importance."

"The other salient characteristic at Magny-Cours are the severe kerbs, particularly at the final chicane. These can cause problems when the car leaves the ground, and must therefore take precautions to calibrate the rev limiter properly in order that the engine does not over-rev as the cars bounce over the chicanes."

"Looking ahead to Silverstone, this is the first of the season's classic road circuits that we visit and it always proves challenging for teams and drivers alike. The engine requires slightly different characteristics to Magny-Cours, as there are a greater number of high-speed corners that the driver must tackle."

"However, the most unpredictable element of Silverstone, and one that cannot be anticipated even with all our testing, is the wind. At a venue such as Barcelona this blows in a steady axis down the pit-straight, and it is a matter of adjusting either to a headwind or tailwind."

"At Silverstone though, this wind can change direction very quickly. This means that from lap to lap, almost, the point at which you reach maximum speed changes - from Hangar Straight to the pit straight before Copse Corner."

"However, ironically, the challenge is not as severe as it seems for the engineers, because of the nature of Silverstone's layout. Effectively, this is a rectangle, meaning that a headwind down Hangar Straight will be a tailwind out of Club Corner towards Abbey; the same is true for the pit straight and the section between Stowe and Club."

ERather, this unpredictable wind direction gives the drivers the biggest problems, as they must constantly adjust to car handling that can change from corner to corner. In such conditions, judging the limit is a very tricky exercise."


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Series Formula 1