V separate iry-Chatillon and Enstone 453 kilometers as the crow flies. In the small French town, a good 20 kilometers south of Paris, around 500 employees develop the V6 turbo engines for Formula 1 cars from Renault and Red Bull. The French factory racing team has its own in Enstone, located in Oxfordshire in the central south of England Headquarters. First, Benetton created Michael Schumacher's world champion cars here, then handed them over to Renault, who in turn sold to Lotus, but have been reigning in the Enstone factory since December 2015. Another 500 employees work there, devoting themselves to the development of the chassis, aerodynamics, suspension, transmission and electronics of the yellow-black racing cars.
Sirotkin tests in the simulator
We stroll across a courtyard, past forklifts, it's drizzling. Luca opens the doors for us today at the Renault factory in Enstone. The Italian - brown-gray hair, beard, light blue shirt - leads us into the simulator. Two men sit in front of computer screens in an anteroom. Sometimes the monitors draw straight lines, sometimes curves with short intervals, sometimes with long ones. Next to it is Sergey Sirotkin's manager, who watches his pilot at work through a glass wall. The Russian is a Formula 1 test driver at Renault and is currently unwinding his lanes in Silverstone, 35 kilometers away. Virtually, of course.
Sirotkin is sitting in a racing car that has no front suspension or wheels. Six projectors, arranged like the branches of a Christmas tree, hang from the ceiling in the middle of the room, throwing the suspension parts and wheelson the curved wall. From Sirotkin's point of view, they stick to the chassis as in reality. For the viewer, it seems as if a graphic error, like in the old Playstation days, has falsely hidden the nose. Three hydraulic stilts on each side move Sirotkin back and forth in his car depending on the curve. 'We use the simulator primarily as a development tool for our car, and not so that the drivers can train,' says Renault engineer Chris Dyer, who has snuck in almost unnoticed in the meantime. “We're trying a few different solutions for the Grand Prix in England today. But we are already dedicating ourselves to the simulator in 2017. “
Good keyword. This season there is probably nothing more to gain from the revived French racing team. The late decision to take over Lotus didn't necessarily boost the pace of the 2016 race car. Renault only scored six championship points in eight races. The French will probably only get past ninth place in the Constructors' Championship with a lot of luck. So it makes more sense to check off the current season, although there are still 13 Grand Prix to drive, and to jump into vehicle development in 2017. The major rule reform with wider and up to five seconds faster cars could be the golden opportunity for Renault to reduce the gap to the top in one fell swoop.
2017 car components in the wind tunnel since February
'We have been running a serious development program for the new car in the wind tunnel since February,' says Technology Director Nick Chester. “We talk to our colleagues in Viry about how we can best integrate the power unit with the new rules.” The wind tunnel is still the most important tool in the development of a Formula 1 car. We are unlucky today. A red light shines in front of the system. “No entry”, Luca waves him off. Photos would not have been allowed either way. Because components are being tested for next year's car? We don't know.
After all, our tour guide gives us some key data. The fan that blows the air on a 60 percent model is said to be 10,000 hp. Putting an original-sized car in the wind tunnel is prohibited according to the regulations. A filter takes the turbulence out of the air. When it hits the scaled-down car, it can travel up to 50 m /s. That is 180 km /h. The engineers simulate various vehicle movements in the wind tunnel. For example roll and pitch movements. Or you can vary the ground clearance of the test model. Even a millimeter more or less has a major impact on vehicle performance. “We will approve the shape of the chassis for 2017 towards the end of July. Then we bake the first chassis. They should be ready in October, ”Chester reveals details from the development roadmap for 2017.
Rapid prototyping is the name of the process in which the sample components are made using lasers for theWind tunnel are made. The machines for this look like darkened incubators. They laminate the reduced vehicle parts layer by layer, with a red laser point in between for the machines to mark where to start next. In this way, a mini gear can be produced in a short time, for example to simulate the cooling.
CFD department like in a nuclear bunker
The CFD department is like in a nuclear bunker let in. Shrubs grow on the ledge, and a wooden door leads into the interior of the Computational Fluid Dynamics department. Luca still has to swipe his chip card and enter a code before the wooden door opens. On the left wall there is a stone with a dedication: “Computational Aerodynamics Research Center - dedicated to the memory of Dino Toso”. In German: Computer-based research center for aerodynamics - Dedicated to Dino Toso. The former aerodynamics director at Renault died of cancer in 2008 at the age of 39.
Computer-assisted flow simulation is the second most important tool for aerodynamics engineers after the wind tunnel. “CFD is good. But the data still has to be compared with the wind tunnel and the route. CFD may make the wind tunnel unnecessary in 15 or 20 years, ”explains Chester. The high-tech processors are stored in three rows in an adjoining room. They radiate great heat. The room must be air-conditioned accordingly. “The processor performance is 45 teraflops. The storage capacity is 35 terabytes, ”says Luca. Imagine the electricity bill for the year. “The wind tunnel consumes more,” says Luca. Nevertheless: simulator, wind tunnel, CFD - it is hardly surprising that the big teams spend 250 to 300 million euros a year.
For example, how does Renault develop a front wing? Chester explains: “We start with CFD. The aerodynamicists test their own ideas there. Or they simulate something that they saw with the competition. Sometimes it's just about small details that improve the flow. This process can take a few days if the changes are small. A completely new front wing can take a month. Then we manufacture the components for the wind tunnel using rapid prototyping and test them. If these tests are positive, it goes on to the design studio. A 100 percent model is created there. A completely new front wing takes eight to ten weeks to be designed and manufactured. ”
Carbon is baked in the oven
There are many small groups of specialists who work on the overall design of the Formula 1 cars work. The experts for the individual engine components are based at Renault in Viry. The aerodynamics specialists, technical engineers for mechanical components such as suspensions, transmission designers and experts for composite materials work in Enstone. The chief designer and technical director have an overview. In the case of Chester. “I come at 6:30 am and work until 8 pm. I then continue at home. I could easily fill up 48 hours a day. ”
While computers are being worked on on the upper floor of the factory, things get down to business downstairs. Two mechanics dig through two different chassis with spatulas. No photography allowed. Next to it are large yellow ovens in which the various car components are baked. Usually carbon is used, which, like textile fabrics, consists of many small fibers. “A chassis weighs around 80 kilograms,” says Luca.
In a separate area, men and women in lab coats and with hairnets on their heads laminate the various parts. They mix aluminum and honeycomb composites into the carbon monocoque, which is formed from 40 different types of carbon. One of the factory workers presses the honeycomb structure onto a piece of carbon. Later, the element is baked in an airtight pressure vessel (autoclave) and a second carbon layer is drawn over it. Put simply, the finished element looks like a sandwich. According to Luca, Renault spends around 1.5 million pounds a year on carbon. With the material, Renauleine could pave a meter wide street over a length of 80 kilometers.
We go around the corner. The electronics department is waiting there. Luca shows the steering wheel with which Kimi Räikkönen steered his Lotus to victory in Abu Dhabi 2012. “A Formula 1 car has more than 250 sensors that record the steering angle, temperatures, G-forces, accelerator pedal position and much more.” A few meters further, past the 2014 Lotus with the characteristic saber-tooth nose, we are in the workshop. Here the mechanics dismantle the cars after the races. “It can be done in eight hours,” says Luca. An ATL tank lies on the concrete floor. “Please do not take photos.” In addition, engineers work on the gearboxes in a separate area. “The manufacture of the chassis and gearbox takes the longest time inManufacturing process ”, adds Chester.
Bare figures decide
The FIA only finalized the rule changes for the coming year at the end of April and beginning of May. The technical framework conditions had been defined beforehand, but they were still pending. Nevertheless, Renault had to start the 2017 project before the current season even started. “If you don't start, you will fall behind. You keep two or three options open to you, knowing the rules could go one way. When it came to the tires, we knew at the end of last year what the likely dimensions would be. Then we figured out what the 2017 rules would be, ”says Chester.
The engineers and designers practically started with a blank sheet of paper. “If the rules stay constant, you take on quite a few parts. For example the brakes, the steering, the suspensions, a few crash structures. That's why you shape a different fairing for better performance. But in 2017 the bodywork will be completely different, and the cars will have a lot more power. The loads on brakes, suspensions and steering will go up, ”says the technology director. “We can carry over a few aerodynamics things from this year's car to next year's one. Certainly nothing that will be around the underbody in the rear because there will be a larger diffuser and rear wing. But the front wing and the front tires widen about the same amount. The relationship between the end plate and the inside of the tire is similar. ”
When the going gets tough: Who will have the upper hand? The engine people in Viry or the chassis faction from Enstone? The bare numbers decide. Chester gives an example: 'If we make the cooling a little hotter for the engine and thereby gain a tenth of the aerodynamics, but lose one and a half tenths of the engine, then the engine department wins.'
In our photo show we show you some pictures from our factory visit to Renault. Note: Unfortunately, for reasons of confidentiality, we were only allowed to take a few photos - therefore we are adding archival photos to our gallery, some of which go back to 2001.