The FIA Formula One World Championship heads to Silverstone this weekend.
With such high speed challenges as the Maggotts-Becketts complex, Copse and the Hangar Straight contrasting with the slower corners such as the new loop and Luffield turns, the British track remains one of the great Grand Prix circuits.
Pastor Maldonado’s Renault Sport F1 engine engineer at the Williams F1 Team, David Lamb, explains how careful engine management and gear ratio selection can be a key to success at Silverstone: “The engines have a power band, or a range, in which they are optimised and work particularly well.
“The difficulty with Silverstone is that the corners are all at different speeds: you have everything from second gear corners all the way up to sixth gear at Copse. The selection process was more straightforward at Valencia two weeks ago, where the corner apex speeds are more closely aligned.
“The team will simulate gear ratios to take into account this continual trade-off between the need for initial acceleration and a good top speed. If you prioritise initial acceleration out of a corner, you make your lower gears shorter, but in order to achieve a good top speed you need to increase the rev drops between the higher gears. This could have the effect of making the engine feel sluggish for the driver.”
“At somewhere like Silverstone, it’s not an easy call as you are in fifth sixth and seventh gear for a long time, but there is also the slower stuff to deal with. The lap time benefit is mainly found in the higher gears, but the drivers cannot feel this because here the acceleration is less and they are generally more sensitive to acceleration out of the corners. What feels instinctively beneficial for the driver could be a contradiction to what ultimately produces the optimum lap time.”
“Somewhere along the line you have to make a compromise. How you make that compromise is what you play with, and most of that comes from how the driver uses the gears on the circuit at certain corners. What you don’t want to do is to have a change mid corner which can unbalance the car.”
Unfortunately, the selection of these gear ratios is not a completely free choice, as David explains: “You’ve only got 30 gear ratios that are homologated at the start of the season. Bearing in mind that there are more high speed circuits than slow ones, you tend to have quite a big range of top speeds. You’ll have a greater number of ratios available in fifth, sixth and seventh to cater for those scenarios, which means in reality you have only one or two available for first or second, maybe three for third and then increasing numbers into the higher gears. It doesn’t give us a lot to play around with at a circuit like Silverstone.”
David though can’t wait to get started at what will be a home race for the English engineer. For him, as for almost everyone in F1, Silverstone poses a unique challenge.