Just five days after the chequered flag fell on the opening Grand Prix of the 2012 season, the Renault Sport F1 crew will be hard at work once again this week as practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix will be well underway. But the challenges set by the Sepang International Circuit are in stark contrast to those experienced just one week earlier at Albert Park.
Where this season has thus far been run on a temporary, green circuit composed of regular streets and roads, Sepang is a permanent race track. And while the Melbourne climate gave us an almost European blast of rain showers, occasional sun and a cool breeze, the weather one can expect in Kuala Lumpur is positively tropical; high temperatures, high humidity and a high chance of immediate and torrential rain.
So how does Renault prepare for such a unique race? Renault Sport F1’s head of track operations, Rémi Taffin, sat down to discuss the team’s approach.
“It’s basically during the winter where we test the engines on the dyno and we do actually simulate this track, that we gain most of our knowledge,” he divulges.
“We replicate what the engine is going to be suffering at Sepang in terms of humidity. On the dyno we can replicate everything that the engine will experience in Malaysia, the temperature, the humidity, the atmospheric pressure, and we will put the power unit through its paces to make sure that it can adjust to its surroundings and react well to the unique challenges of the Malaysian weather.
“The main problem we get with the relatively high humidity is driveability, where we have to set up the engine in a different manner. If anything, it is actually easier on the engine because we control the engine temperature through the bodywork.”
With so much always made of the temperatures experienced in Malaysia, Rémi admits that, in actual fact, it changes very little from an operational perspective as the engine’s operating temperatures are naturally so much higher than anything one would experience in nature.
“We try to target the same operating temperature for the engine, which is 120-130 degrees for the water and more like 110-120 for the oil. Our target then is to get rid of the air temperature, which comes down to the cooling configuration of the car to meet this requirement. It shouldn’t change anything from an engine perspective. It doesn’t take air temperature or humidity into consideration.”
So with that in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that cooling should automatically then become the focus of Renault and its partners in the run up to the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Rémi continues. “The more we need to cool the engine down, the less downforce you get because you have to extract the air in a less efficient fashion and from a less efficient place in the car. The fact that we can run the engine at a higher temperature makes the car go faster because we can keep the bodywork close and positively affect the aerodynamics and downforce the teams can play with. That’s one of the parameters we are happy with at Renault with the RS27: we are able to run such high temperatures with no reliability issues and no performance drop off, and this enables the teams much higher scope to design the rear ends of the car with a very tight “coke bottle,” as it has become known, without the usual cut outs to aid air flow to the engine.”
Such confidence can only come with mileage, and the Renault RS27 has already seen many kilometres on the dyno over the winter.
“We do normally two endurance runs over the winter, so about 3,000km. But this isn’t just for Sepang, it is a general endurance test for the engine. However of the 3,000km on the dyno we allocate one third, so close to 1,000km, specifically for this one track with some specific measurements to ensure that everything is fine. We run this twice through the winter, so by the time we arrive in Sepang, even though it is only the second race of the season, we have a lot of data to make sure we arrive here in confident mood that everything will be fine.”
So a unique track and a unique set of parameters for the RS27 power unit. Naturally then, it would be safe to assume that Renault will be providing brand new engines for this one, very special, race.
“Fortunately you’d be wrong,” Remi smiles with a knowing look.
“We will use exactly the same engines for the Malaysian Grand Prix that we used for the Australian Grand Prix. This was something which we did last season, too. The basic principle revolves around how we approach the 20 race season and the fact we only have eight engines per car for the year. You come up with many different plans, and scenarios, but the plan that we agreed on was to use the engines as severely as we could as early as we could, putting the most mileage possible on the first few engines. The reason we do this is so that we have more breathing space going into the final part of the season.
“By having confidence in the RS27, we know we can push it in these early races and get everything out of it, so that by the end of the year we will have as many fresh units as possible and have to use them for only two races maximum. I don’t want to give away too much, but the engines we will use in Malaysia will be the same that completed the Australian Grand Prix.”
With a podium already in the bag, and three out of the five fastest race laps in Melbourne coming courtesy of the RS27, the foundations have clearly been set for what Renault hopes will be another successful weekend of racing in Malaysia.