Q and A with Bob Bell
The ING Renault F1 Team’s Technical Director, Bob Bell, has spoken to the French based squad’s official website where he laid out the implications of the common ECU that will be in place for the upcoming 2008 Formula One championship season.
Bob, you’re changing from an ECU designed by Renault with Magnetti Marelli, the Step 11, to a common one in 2008. What’s its performance like?
In relation to what we’ve been using up to now, the system has lower performance. Its capacity, complexity and functions are not on the same level. For a team like ours, which designed a bespoke system, it’s a backward step.
Will this ECU require a specific installation on the car?
Its format is different to what we’ve been using so far. Its accessories are also specific and we had to install all these new components on the car. It wasn’t an insurmountable task, but the final result isn’t what we’d have chosen if our hands were free.
So what did adapting to the new ECU involve?
It involved a huge amount of work. First of all, as we’ve just said, this adaptation required a modification of the car’s technical specifications. The installation of the ECU is not the same, and we had to change other parameters too. The different management of the electronics required the production of a new steering wheel. Linking up the additional control units also demanded a lot of effort. All this extra work meant that resources were allocated to an area other than performance. What’s more, we had to get to know how to use the new system. In 2008, we’ll have to revise our procedures completely changing from a 100% Marelli environment to a McLaren Electronics System’s philosophy. It’s as if we had to talk to the car in a new language with a new philosophy! We’ve decided to use the analysis tools and the additional control units supplied with the ECU.
How long did it take to adapt?
We’ve been preparing for it for over a year. The modifications on the R27, which will be our laboratory car during the inter-season, took around two months. For the R28 that will be designed around the new system, we started from a blank sheet. In a certain way it was easier to integrate the ECU and its accessories, but that also required more time and additional work compared to a normal design phase. It should not be forgotten that this transition needs significant infrastructure changes, as the way of using the ECU is different. We had to revise a host of parameters. For example, the way we use our test bed, our gearbox management, the tools we use for analysis and telemetry, the computer installations in the factory and in the garage as well as training our engineers. In fact, this phase of the adaptation isn’t over yet.
Is it the biggest technical change that you’ll have to cope with in 2008?
Without a shadow of a doubt!
Will teams, which used the system in 2007, have an advantage?
Has the transition gone off well?
Not really. We ran into some major problems at the start of the program. We had a lot of discussions with the McLaren Electronics engineers to overcome them and today most have been solved. But it was a difficult birth.