Renault Sport F1
Chinese GP technical Feature: Sound of the trumpets
Race Three of the 2012 Formula One World Championship sees the sport land at yet another unique venue from the two races held thus far. Despite having various apparent similarities in their design and layout, Malaysia and China are actually quite different.
As Renault Sport F1’s Head of Track Operations Rémi Taffin explains, by far the biggest challenge for everyone in tackling the Shanghai International Circuit is the track’s long straight.
“The back straight in China is over 1km in length and the time spent at full throttle is between 17 and 18 seconds. It’s really similar to what we have in Monza with the Parabolica because you have a long high-speed corner opening onto this straight. It is a long time to be on open throttle; with a top speed around 320kph, the straight is one of the biggest challenges of the track.
“It isn’t the only area of full throttle though, because of course you have the start finish straight and other areas. In total we’re at full throttle for 53% of the lap, which in total is about 50 seconds, which last year saw a pole position time of 1:33.706 for Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull-Renault.”
The strains on the engine in China are however singularly unique, with the final sector extremely severe on the engine, but the first two sectors relatively easy going.
“Obviously this has an effect on the engine,” Rémi continues. “The main thing is when you have a long period at full throttle you get every single part in the engine being loaded for a long time, which means it cannot breathe out for a while, like it would be able to at a track like Melbourne where you have a few slower corners splitting the straights at regular points. As a result we have to ensure that the moving parts are not being stressed too much under full throttle. We tune the engine a bit differently to other tracks.
“Specifically, we need to look after the pistons, for example, because they are a critical part and have to deal with a critical percentage of the load to the engine. We apply specific settings to look at this part, mainly the ignition timing that we could tune for that straight or for parts of the straight to make sure that it’s an easier strain for the engine. Obviously this is more the case for the race than in qualifying, where we are pushing at full power.
“The temperature is also an important factor, as the oil temperature will help to keep the moving parts in good health. It’s OK in China because the ambient temperatures are not too high, so we more or less lean towards the safe side of the operating window. We tend to take very few risks in China.”
One risk which cannot be avoided however is the air quality in Jiading Province, where the Shanghai International Circuit is located. The track is surrounded by factories, and this is naturally something which Renault Sport F1 has to factor into its equations.
“We’ve just come from Malaysia which is very hot and humid, but in China it is usually cold and the air is very dirty. There are a lot of factories around the track, many of which produce concrete and this can create problems with cement dust in the air.
“We have been working on this for some time, though. The compression we have on the engine is capable of dealing with any track on the calendar. Five or six years ago we might have had problems at tracks with very fine dust, causing high wear on the engine, but today we have a filter which is capable of trapping all that dust or airborne particles. So now it’s not really a problem and we aren’t afraid of going anywhere.
China, then, presents a totally unique challenge in Formula 1. Not only are the weather conditions and air quality completely individual to Shanghai, but the track itself is quite unlike any other. For that reason, determining actual set-up is not the decision of a moment.
“We are still allowed to change the trumpets on the engine so that we can tune the engine whether it is high or low air temperature, but we also tune with the trumpets to try and tune the engine towards top end power or torque. For example in Monaco you want a lot of torque so you’d compromise top end power. In China, you have a problem, because you want top end power like in Monza because of the straight, but you also need the torque because you want to get the first sector right and you want to give the driver the torque he wants for the slower corners. The track isn’t really like anywhere else... because from Turn 10 to Turn 1 it’s like Monza, a power track. For the rest of the track it’s like Monaco or Hungary and is all about the Torque. Because of this mix and the weather conditions, we won’t know the exact engine set up until we get there. It’s a pretty interesting week.”