The FIA Formula One World Championship returns to Germany this weekend, and to a home it has not visited since 2010. With two years having passed since our last visit to Hockenheim, preparation is critical for the event.
With weather due to be inclement once again this year in Germany, there remains no guarantee that Friday will not be a disrupted day of running. This, combined with a reduced data source due to the alternating nature of the German race venues means that race preparation for this one event in particular is of paramount importance.
2012 British GP winner Mark Webber’s engine engineer David Mart reflects. “It’s the first time back to Hockenheim since 2010 and the first time we’ve been there with Pirelli tyres. Going to a circuit you haven’t been to for a few years is probably a bit more complicated than an event you go to every year so you have to be a lot more reliant on dyno testing and simulation work, and also looking back at historical data.
“It affects everything from fuel loads to pedal maps. You have to be reliant on what you’ve learnt in the past, and the preparation you’ve done in the run up to the event is what gives you the confidence to get the correct fuel loads, make the engine behave as the driver expects. In such a situation you are really reliant on your simulations and dyno tests. You have to have done your homework.”
“It’s the first race of a back to back event, so we do the dyno endurance cycles and part of that is a Hockenheim cycle based on previous years. What we mean by that is we put it through an imaginary race, accelerating it, slowing it down at the correct points related to the circuit, which gives us an idea of what to expect and what sort of calibration work you might need to do in preparation for the event.
“We do some work back at the factory so we don’t go into the event blind. We have at our disposal in the electronics lab some simulation tools so you can replicate exactly the lap of Hockenheim where you can play back the current engine maps and relate them to the historical data so that you can predict engine behaviour around the circuit. This will give you an idea of fuel consumption at different engine mixture settings, and will give you an idea of how any software changes will affect the engine before you even turn up at the circuit.”
David, and Red Bull Racing, are in the fortunate position of running the same drivers as the last time they visited Hockenheim. This, amongst so many other variables, can play a key role, as can the extensive amount of simulator testing conducted at Milton Keynes, both of which give a lot of data and confidence going into FP1.
“You can look back and see how the drivers took certain corners. You also have some good data from several years of how the weather will be at this time of year, so both give you a good idea of fuel usage over a race distance. You can also look at previous driver pedal maps so you have a great starting point, picking up where you left off at the end of 2010.
“So on Friday, weather permitting, we will run a number of tests to corroborate our baseline, including fuel consumption, minimum oil levels and tweaking pedal maps from where we were in the past.
But perhaps the greatest irony this season is that, while in years gone by regulations have shifted and developed with time to leave cars and engines vastly different to the incarnations of two years past, in 2012 the tightening of regulations has, if anything, kicked that trend into reverse.
“In some senses it is difficult missing out a season because the data is often not directly applicable because of regulation changes that have occurred in the intervening period of time. Interestingly for 2012 however, we are in an odd situation where the technology around the use of exhaust gasses that was such a big factor in 2011 resulted in a tightening of the regulations for 2012, so in some senses we are almost back to where we were in 2010 when we were last at Hockenheim.”