Engine assembly is the lifeblood of an engine manufacturer. Manuel Guillaume and Teddy Pougeoulles explain how the processes have evolved in their respective careers.
When did you start at Renault Sport F1 ?
Manuel Guillaume : I joined Renault Sport F1 in February 1984, so more than 30 years ago ! I started with Renault almost by chance. I liked motorsport, but I was more into motorbikes than cars. I replied to an advert from Renault Sport and started as an engine technician, building ancillaries such as the cylinder heads and turbos, which were still being used at that point in time. I was supposed to stay in the factory engine build workshop at first, but Renault supplied several teams and I was asked to travel fairly soon after joining. I was delegated to the official works team and went trackside for the testing programme at the end of 1984. Then in 1985 I moved across to work with the Tyrrell team, who Renault also supplied, and stayed with them in 1986.
- Manuel Guillaume 1989 - Atelier montage
Teddy Pougeolles : I started in 2009 on a work placement in the engine build workshop, helping assemble the V8 engine. Then I moved to the dynos for a while, working on different types of dyno including the single cylinder test facility for research and development. I also helped the reliability department with analysis after the tests. From 2013 I started trackside, working with Williams in the last year of the V8s. I love what I do. I am passionate about motorsport and its mechanics so I have my ideal job.
What is a typical day for you, Teddy ?
TP : No two days are ever identical, but depending on the race or test schedule, when I am in the factory I collect the parts and assemble the engine according to the desired specification. In the engine build shop at Viry we do not build the race engines, only the prototype engines we will test in the dynos. I need to liaise with our design office for this. It can take about four or five days to build the engine required and then we need to test it in the dynos. This testing phase can take between one or two weeks dependent on the schedule and the test agenda.
When I am trackside, the days change according to the race schedule. On a Thursday, which is really the start of the weekend, we start the cars for the first time. We check that the engines have been installed correctly. We also need to prepare the two spare engines in the spares truck or the garage. From that point on, the routine is much the same ; we follow the test sessions on the Friday, listening to the radio and responding to the needs of the team. After the sessions we take the engines out and change them for new ones, or the engines that will do the rest of the weekend. The engines we have taken out have to be rebuilt for the next event so we do this on Saturday. Then it’s race day so we will pack up the engines and ancillaries into the cases and get back to the factory for the next round of testing.
How does this compare to your experience in the 1980s, Manu ?
MG : Even though when I started I was more into bikes than cars, from the minute I started car racing became a passion. The technology was very advanced for that point in time. There were around 80 people when I started at Renault and in the engine build workshop no more than 15 people. We built the race engines in Viry-Châtillon, whereas now they are built at Mecachrome. It took two people around a week to build the V6. Everything was also manually written down, there were no automated manuals.
When we had finished building the engine we went to the dynos and ran it ourselves with an engineer. After that we would follow through any problems, and revise where necessary. We would take it to the track, install into the cars and then see it run. We saw it through from start to finish, which is not really the case today
Teddy, were you inspired by the Renault Sport adventure in the 80s and 90s ?
TP : Absolutely. During my studies I specifically wanted to work in F1 so I did modules to this end. After my placement I wanted to stay ! Renault has a specific place in the history of F1. When I was young it was THE engine supplier, and it was also French, so it was a great inspiration for me. It won so many races and titles. On an international level it was respected for its excellence and standard of build. I particularly enjoy speaking with people who worked in that time about their memories and hearing the stories.
Manu, you have also seen a few changes in engine architecture. How did this impact your role ?
MG : After a short break at the end of the turbo era Renault returned with the V10 engine architecture in 1989. We could see that it had great potential. The atmosphere was incredible as the technology was very ahead of its time. Even with only 10 cylinders, we were not far away from the power of the Ferrari V12, and developments came all the time. We had a great engine and a good partner in Williams as well. Success came fairly quickly, which is always very motivating, but we were equally motivated by the technology and trying to make it as good as we could.
In 2006 we changed again to the V8s. At the start it was something new and there were a lot of developments, but I have to say that I found the era less exciting than the V10s. There were barely any changes race on race, whilst in the past we could find an improvement and introduce it from the next race. It was very satisfying in that respect as you saw the results on track immediately.
When the V8 development was frozen everything was centered around reliability. There were far fewer performance upgrades, which made it less interesting from an engine technician’s point of view.
Now how is it with the V6 turbo ?
MG : The engine, or power unit, is a lot more complex. There are far more things to build, there are two electrical motors, there is a turbo ; you really need to pay attention at every step. You can’t make any mistakes. You need to be methodical and respect the procedures in place. It takes a lot longer to build the V6 turbo, but we are at the very start of the technology and learning all the time and introducing new parts when we can, for both reliability and performance. There are very aggressive targets to reach and everyone plays a role in reaching them.
Would you agree with this Teddy ? You have seen both the V8 and the V6 Turbo power unit develop.
TP : The process of building an engine evolves as the engine itself develops. When I arrived at the end of the V8 era, everything was a known quantity. There wasn’t a turbo and no electrical motors. As Manu says, development was also frozen so we had very few changes each race. Now we have a much more complicated engine to build, with more ancillaries than we did before. Things are inevitably more complex and more people are involved.
Has the process of engine building changed ?
MG : As the tools have developed, the way we work has also changed.
Now, when you build an engine you have an electronic manual you can refer back to. This is to make sure that everything is as close to the ideal specification as possible. The tools we use to build and fit have changed with modern electronic kit. Likewise the checks after the build are more stringent and thorough, but they have to be as the engines have to do a lot more kilometres than in the past. When I started, we used a different engine on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it did no more than 300km !
Communications are also very different. Before we used email and instant messaging to communicate, we had to go and see people. I still prefer to do it this way !
TP : It is important for every engine to be built in exactly the same way so we can find the performance in the dynos and on track. The same screws or fixings must be used, and they must be fixed in the same way. The parts must be identical. If the design office request a modification or upgrade we have the ability to do this.
What do the younger generation bring to Renault Sport F1 ?
MG : It is fundamental that they join us. We have the experience, but they bring a real enthusiasm to the job. They bring new techniques that they have learnt in their studies. In a company I feel you need both youth and experience, but there needs to be a permanent dialogue between them. The older person will tell the younger one how they did it, but it’s for him to challenge this. Everyone brings something different – just because you are young and less experienced it does not mean that you have nothing to bring to the table. On the contrary, that’s how you get new ideas.
Has the older generation helped you in this regard, Teddy ?
TP : Yes, for sure. F1 is such a specialized environment and certain things you only learn by experience. I have worked in rallying and in endurance with Porsche cars and they are worlds apart. You need specific training, and that is where the older generation will help. There are 60 people working on two cars in the garage in F1. Everyone has a precise role. Knowing how to work in a team and managing your time priorities is a skill you need to learn, and the older generation definitely helps with this.
How do you see the engine workshop evolving in the future ?
MG : I think an engine technician will become more of an electrician ! We have some electrical components in the car, but we are moving towards a time when there will be more and more electrical motors – perhaps even a totally electrically powered engine. Whether this will be done in the engine build workshop or in a specialist facility, only time will tell. There will be an amount of transition, as there is with the current PU, and a mechanic who is classically trained in mechanical engines will have to work increasingly on batteries and other electrical components. Naturally this will take its cue from the regulations. From a personal point of view, however, I like the sound of an internal combustion engine and I think future generations will say the same. At the moment, with the hybrid engines we have a good balance.
TP : I agree with Manu. In 20 years there be very few technicians, the emphasis will be on electricity and electrical systems. So we will have to be retrained, as has happened this year. I may be one of the few who knew the internal combustion engine ! It will be a shame to miss that part but that is how the technology is evolving nowadays so it would not be a surprise if that happened.