British GP: Renault technical preview
With a new track layout awaiting the drivers at Silverstone this weekend, there's been plenty of homework for the Renault F1 Team to do. The circuit is now 745 meters longer and lap times will be around the 90-second mark, some 10 seconds slower than last year. Over the past few months, the team's engineers have carried out hundreds of simulations to get to grips with the challenge ahead.
In fact, simulation work has become an essential tool for any F1 team, even when preparing for circuits we've been racing on for years. Using complex computer models, it allows the engineers to evaluate set-up options before arriving at the circuit in order to maximize the track time available during free practice.
"We received the circuit map showing the new Silverstone layout about three months ago," explains Nick Chester, Head of Performance Systems. "The first step was to digitize the map and add a driving line to the circuit, which we obviously had to estimate for the new part of the track. Then we started evaluating different settings on the virtual car, changing parameters such as wing levels, suspension settings and gear ratios to try and work out a good base set-up for the start of the weekend."
So what impact will the five new corners have on the car's set-up this weekend? "In terms of downforce levels, it's difficult to make a comparison with last year because the car has evolved so much, but we're not expecting a massive change to the set-up," says Chief Race Engineer, Alan Permane. "Our simulations show the average speed will be slightly higher at 230 km/h compared to 227 km/h in 2009, and the percentage of the lap spent at full throttle has also increased from 69% to 70%."
Of course the motivation behind the Silverstone facelift was to encourage overtaking and improve the show. So, can the simulations tell us whether the new arena section has hit the sweet spot? "On paper it certainly looks like there could be a couple of overtaking opportunities," confirms Alan. "Turn 16 is a good opportunity because there is a long drag from the low-speed turn 14, and turn 15 will be taken easily flat out. Turn 13 is also a possibility for overtaking, but it will depend how closely the cars can follow each other through turn 11 because turn 12 will be another flat-out corner. We expect turn 11 to be flat out on low fuel, but far more challenging with a heavy car."
The simulation work carried out by the team has also shown up the extra demands on the brakes compared to 2009. Although the percentage of the lap spent braking has reduced by 0.3%, the energy going through the braking system will be 2.3kW greater on the new layout with the big stops into turns 13 and 16.
Yet, no matter how accurate your simulations, there are some things they simply can't predict. Variables such as grip levels, bumps in the road and curb characteristics cannot be known until the cars take to the track, so the simulations rely on average values. Likewise, the finer details set-up comes down to driver feel and there's no computer program in the world that even comes close to an F1 driver's brain. So while our simulation tools set us on the right path, the real work will begin when practice starts on Friday morning.
Robert's Guide to Silverstone
Silverstone is one of the most historic places we visit. It's a high speed circuit -- especially the first sector -- and a lot of the corners offer a number of options for different racing lines.
The ideal set-up requires you to have a lot of high-speed stability because you need to have a good balance for a quick change in direction, particularly around the high-speed Maggotts and Becketts section of the lap. The key there is to get on the power as soon as possible to carry as much speed as you can down the Hangar straight.
Heading into Stowe, sometimes it can be tricky because the wind can play a big role on your car and have an effect on the overall grip and balance. Also, overtaking is not that easy at Silverstone because it's so difficult to follow another car around many of the high-speed corners -- you lose so much downforce that it's very hard. But maybe with this new section, which has introduced a few slower corners, it might be a bit easier to overtake.
The first corner, Copse, is taken in seventh gear at about 290 km/h. It's not quite flat, but it depends a lot on your speed and wind direction as you approach the corner. I remember a test in 2006 when there was a big head wind on the main straight and so Copse was flat out because we were about 10 km/h down on top speed because of the wind. I would be surprised if it's flat this year.
At the moment I don't know a lot about the new section that has been modified for this year's race. To prepare for the race I will search for some videos of the track on the internet and, of course, I'll walk the track on Thursday. It's always quite interesting and challenging going through new corners when you have to discover the grip levels and the best line so the first few laps we do there on Friday morning will be very interesting.
The last corner, turn 17, is quite slow, taken in second gear at about 110 km/h. It tends to create quite a lot of understeer in the car, but it's crucial to get a good exit. The danger is that sometimes you get snap-oversteer mid-corner, but because of the long nature of the corner you can gain a lot of lap time here. It's quite tricky and depending on the traction of the tires and balance you can adapt your line during the race in order to extract the maximum from the corner.