German GP: Renault engineering preview

Renault's Pat Symonds, executive director of engineering, and Denis Chevrier, head of engine operations, give their view of the German Grand Prix Pat Symonds: "One often hears Formula 1 engineers, and others, talking about tyre degradation....

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

Pat Symonds:

"One often hears Formula 1 engineers, and others, talking about tyre degradation. But exactly what is it, and why does it matter?"

In simple terms, there are two main factors affecting race strategy: the amount a car is slowed down by carrying a heavy fuel load, the 'fuel effect' (usually represented as a penalty of x seconds for 10kg of fuel), and the amount the car is slowed down as the tyres 'wear'. Tyre degradation is a complex subject because not only does it vary circuit to circuit, but also year to year at any given circuit, and even day to day. The reason for this is that there are three fundamental types of tyre degradation."

"The first of these is linear degradation: this is similar for both front and rear tyres, and dependent on their wear. In other words, if tyre performance is such that the car loses 0.1 second of lap time between the second and third laps, it will also lose 0.1 second between laps 22 and 23. During a race, the level of linear degradation can vary from nothing up to 0.15s depending on the circuit and the conditions. Linear degradation does not cause any change in the car balance, provoking neither understeer nor oversteer."

"The second type of degradation is graining. This is a phenomenon that has become much more prevalent since the introduction of grooved tyres, although even slicks can suffer from it. Graining occurs when the surface of the tyre grips sideways and rolls up due to the shear force on the rubber. It is very easy to spot as the rolled-up rubber remains on the tread. In most cases, graining is seen laterally on the front tyres although on some circuits, it can occur longtitudinally on the rear tyres. This happens when there are a lot of traction events, such as in Canada."

"However it is much more common for it to be seen at the front at circuits such as Imola which are 'front-limited' (where the front tyres are under greater stress than the rears). Tyres are prone to graining when temperatures are low and the rubber is perhaps stiffer than is ideal for the conditions. The result is an increase in understeer, but as the tyre wears, the graining disappears (the 'loose' rubber is cleaned off the tread) and the tyre behaves normally. The performance curve created by graining is illustrated by the second line."

"The final type of degradation encountered is the type we will be more concerned with at Hockenheim. Blistering is so-called because the tyre does literally form heat blisters which are then ripped off the surface. This is commonly seen on the rear tyres, and is generally due to a combination of high acceleration and hard cornering forces through long, slow and medium speed corners.

"With this type of degradation, the tyre behaves normally at the beginning, suffering only from linear degradation, until it gets to the point when the rear tyres blister, which can be quite sudden. The car then starts to lose lap time through oversteer and a loss of traction caused by the loss of rear grip."

"The propensity of the tyre to blister is very much a function of the core temperature of the tyre, in other words the temperature of the rubber below the surface. While the surface temperature of a tyre can build up quite quickly, particularly through the tyre sliding, the fact that rubber is a good insulator means the high surface temperatures do not penetrate quickly to the core. Core temperature increases occur more from the work the tyre does and these temperatures, even under arduous race tyre conditions, can take 8 to 10 laps to stabilise."

"A blistering tyre therefore will behave well until the core temperatures reach the critical point, and the tyre starts to lose its tread as the blisters occur. Blisters are generally of similar size, and 'bad' blistering is therefore the consequence of a higher number of blisters on the tyre."

"Since the circuit revisions at Hockenheim, the demands the circuit places on the tyres have changed significantly. The new tarmac has significantly higher grip levels than the old surface, and the nature of the circuit is radically different: previously composed almost exclusively of heavy braking and traction events, it now includes a much higher number of medium speed corners."

"As such, the set-up compromise required has altered radically, and the circuit now requires much higher downforce levels. The result is much higher speeds through the stadium section (an average rise of 16%), and for the tyres, the numerous acceleration phases out of these corners have made Hockenheim a 'rear-limited' circuit."

"Once these factors have been taken into account, our data analysed and the delicate choice of tyre compound and construction has been made, we then hope that the only unknowns left are the ambient factors. However, the weather is such that it can make a finely-balanced choice look like inspired genius, or over-ambitious miscalculation."

Denis Chevrier:

"Given that we are now reaching our twelfth circuit of the season, Hockenheim does not stand out in any particular sense. The profile of the circuit is at the upper end of the average mid-season circuits: the engine spends 63% of the lap at full throttle (season average is 55%) and the longest continuous period is 14.9 seconds (against 13 seconds on average)."

"The salient characteristic of Hockenheim is that it includes numerous periods of acceleration from low speeds, exiting the slow corners. These demand an engine that accelerates strongly, and power throughout the rev range - ie, torque - is more important than the peak power that can be achieved. Indeed, the technical definition of torque is the product of the power produced, and the engine speed at which it is produced."

"These frequent accelerative phases also mean the engine is frequently under relatively light loads. The loads the moving parts must withstand are intermittent, rather than continuous, and this makes the circuit easier for certain among them, such as the pistons."

"In order to best adapt the engine to suit these circuit characteristics, we work to optimise the driver's control by concentrating on driveability and power delivery."

"However, while torque is important, the single longest period at full throttle is sufficiently long that obtaining a competitive top speed is still a crucial factor. This need for top-end performance, while not predominant, does nevertheless mean that building a 'Hockenheim special' is out of the question."

"Temperatures at Hockenheim are often very high, but we have already had to deal with this factor at circuits such as Sepang - this is not usually a major challenge for the any car-engine package at this stage of a season. Indeed, temperature is a phenomenon that can be quite easily simulated and, as such, reproduced and predicted with relative accuracy."

"Although we will be introducing an engine development in these high temperatures, it should not pose a problem for us. The homologation procedures are particularly stringent this year, and we also tested in high temperatures last week in Jerez."


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