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Technical analysis: Red Bull at risk of missing 2016 Formula 1 testing?

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Technical analysis: Red Bull at risk of missing 2016 Formula 1 testing?
Nov 4, 2015, 7:05 PM

The end of the Formula 1 season is fast approaching and most teams are well advanced on their 2016 challengers.

The end of the Formula 1 season is fast approaching and most teams are well advanced on their 2016 challengers.

But with an ever-lasting engine saga engulfing Red Bull, the team is at risk of missing the first 2016 test, which is just over 15 weeks away, even if it does secure a new supply of F1 power units.

In this Q&A, JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, former chief operations engineer with Williams and Force India, explains how F1 teams schedule the next year's cars and what additional pressures a change of engine supplier could put on Red Bull and the technical reasons why it might not make 2016 F1 testing.

XPB.cc Daniil Kvyat

Q: How much would the late start and possibly missing a 2016 test impact on Red Bull’s 2016 competitiveness?

Dominic Harlow: A good deal, at least to begin with, while they get used to everything. This is assuming that they do make a change of supplier, because if they do go down the Renault route (and that’s by far the safest choice) that would impact them the least because they are likely to have been working with that in mind already.

They will have had to have laid down a plan for a 2016 chassis and gearbox main case [with Renault in mind], so they’ll have set up things like the rear suspension geometry, the differential position and height with the hard points of the gearbox casing.

Then there's the cooling solution that they’re planning to use and that’s when it could get tricky. The layout of the turbo and the MGU-H also has quite an impact on the gearbox and I believe that is different between the Ferrari and the Mercedes engines - so that would all have to be changed.

Jenson Button Brawn

Q: Is there a big difference in installing the V6 hybrid turbos to the V8 engine the Brawn team bolted in at the minute before the start of the 2009 season?

DH: Yes. The cooling system is certainly more complex these days and the ERS system is more difficult to integrate with the car, so those are the two biggest issues.

But there’s also a whole load of software integration and validation that they would need to do if are changing engines, which is simply time consuming to make happen. In Brawn’s case that would have been infinitely simpler, or basically non-existent back then, as there wasn’t that job to do [in 2009] so that made life a lot easier for them.

The fastest we ever did it was at Jordan, where we signed the Toyota contract in Brazil at the end of 2004 and then made it out with a car in 2005. That was turned around in time but that was done with a more or less carry-over chassis.

Red Bull F1

Q: Would switching engine supplier mean Red Bull would have to change its chassis design much?

DH: If they change the energy store, it’s likely to affect the chassis. Whatever battery box you’ve got to bolt into the car is going to change the shape of your chassis in the area where that fits and that would change the shape of your fuel cell. None of that is trivial stuff on a chassis as it’s very hard to modify things like that once that’s all fixed.

For components like a fuel cell you’re talking multiple weeks of lead-time because the team would have to make patterns. It’s like a tailor fitted suit, you cut of the pieces out and all the pieces then have to be assembled. Then it’s got be cured, treated and tested, and you need to make two – one for each car. That is all quite time consuming and those things are starting to stack up against them.

Q: What about the logistics for the engine manufacturer? Could they suddenly supply Red Bull at such short notice?

DH: As an engine manufacturer, until you sign a contract with somebody, you are not going to start cutting metal in terms of blocks, crankshafts, rods, pistons. They are not going to have huge amounts of those things lying around anyway. So to suddenly extend a programme, particularly if it's say, Honda, could be taxing to set up another support operation.

Red Bull

Q: Would changing engine partner impact Red Bull in any other way apart from the car design?

DH: Certainly. If a team changes engine supplier then the support operation of the whole thing at the track changes. All of the pit equipment would be different – even simple things like water heaters, oil heaters and connections to the car, they all get complicated and potentially have to be reworked. On top of those changes, all of that infrastructure has to be in boxes to go to the first race in January. That would be another massive headache for Red Bull and the only way around it is to spend money to fly it.

Q: Would Red Bull have problems regarding its fuel supply if it changed engines?

DH: Fuel suppliers don’t necessarily just turn on the tap with a load of approved fuel and then ship that all around the world. You’ve got to make sure all of that is organised, including the lubricants used in the engine.

Red Bull

Q: So are we at the point yet where Red Bull are at risk of missing the first F1 test in February?

DH: You hit all sorts of deadlines and constraints. It depends whether the decision to miss a test is based on the fact that you simply couldn’t make a car turn a wheel or turning up with a completely un-optimised design in order to simply be there.

Practically speaking, if you simply want to make a car that will go around the track, that’s one thing but if you want to have a car that’s had a development programme behind it, then that’s another. Red Bull is will probably be more in the first category by the time that they’ll get themselves together.

The bigger parts of the installation that they’ve got to deal with are the gearbox and the cooling system. Both can be pretty long lead times and especially if the cooling system implies any knock on for the chassis.

XPB.cc Red Bull

Q: What is the typical lead-time for the essential components?

DH: Gearboxes can take a very long time – 12 to 16 weeks for components – and you can’t take much out of that because there are so many processes involved.

To make an input shaft to couple the engine to the gearbox and then to make a bunch of them, get them gaged and calibrated to work with the torque sensor – all of that isn’t the work of the moment.

It all takes a good couple of months and if a team starts at the end of November, then it’s pushing its luck to get everything ready for the first test.

Dominic Harlow
Dominic Harlow

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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation