Will Gray

Gray Matter: Why Vettel could be back on track soon

Will Gray

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The turbo issue that put Sebastian Vettel out in Monaco suggests there are still plenty of problems to address at Renault – but a three-way focus on software development is aiming to get them back on track.

The French manufacture was the first to admit they were behind schedule in preparing for the new regulations in 2014. Their new powerplant was late onto the dyno in development, which left them with not enough time to get everything together before the teams got out on track.

The new engine regulations put a premium on the integration of the V6 turbo combustion engine and the electrical power units from the turbo heat exchanger and kinetic energy recovery system – and only when the system was installed for real could the complex electronics that make everything work in harmony begin to be optimised.

The fundamental engine design, Renault claims, has plenty of potential but back in January, Renault chief Rob White admitted his engineers had misunderstood the configuration of their systems and that what they thought would be a “robust start point” proved not to be the case.

Although they have done plenty of tests using similar configurations on the dyno with few issues, the differences between running on that and running installed in a car were bigger than expected. But the fact that Renault’s biggest problem is not in architecture, design, layout or mechanical reliability but in electronic integration optimisation is actually good news for their customers.

Engine homologation rules locked off any further engine development after February this year (aside from special requests to improve reliability) so no fundamental architecture changes can be made until the end of the year.

That, however, does not include software development – the intricate engine mapping programmes used to run the engine and control how the driver inputs relate to what the engine does. And that is where much of Renault’s work is currently being done.

Software operational updates

When the engine first ran, some of the elements had to be run in ‘safe mode’ to make sure they did not fail. The first fire-fighting exercise was to address these issues, and although Renault has now caught up some of the power deficit caused by this, they are still not at full potential. Each step forward allows them to push the engine that little bit further towards optimum potential, but every failure not only costs points but the analysis of the issue also costs development time.

Software performance updates

In addition to the optimisation Renault is, as always, working hard to improve the base engine performance through software updates, aiming to increase power by improving the software that functions the individual elements of the engine as opposed to the way they work together.

Engine management optimisation

The other software area that can be worked on is the power usage around each lap. The performance data teams gathered in recent years has been rendered useless by this change in rules, but lessons from early races on optimum engine use around different types of corners can be put into play in future races – and although all engine manufacturers will be doing the same, this is an area where advantages can be gained.

So all is not lost for Red Bull and Renault. Ricciardo’s performances are proof that they are getting back on track – but for Vettel, every little next step in improving reliability can’t come soon enough.

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