Nicolas Moulet, 46, and Kevin Roblet, 28, have both worked in the heart of Renault Sport F1’s testing operations, the dynos. They explain how the role of a test engineer has evolved in the past 20 years.
How and when did you start at Renault Sport F1?
Nicolas Moulet: I started with Renault at the end of 1994 after completing my military service. I joined as a dyno test engineer just before the last GP of the year. In 1994 we were partners with Williams but the following year Renault supplied Benetton.. I worked in the dynos at Viry, testing engines for both clients, and also went to test sessions for Benetton. At that time there were frequent tests so I got to know and work with drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. In the dynos the aims were split into two different areas; we had short term goals – performance and the race – and then mid-term developments to come later in the season. Now I am the executive secretary for the development group.
Kevin Roblet: I started with Renault three years ago. I had just finished an apprenticeship with Delphi Diesel Systems then joined Renault Sport F1. Like Nicolas, I started as an engineer working on the dynos, looking specifically at endurance testing, where we run the engines through cycles to test their longevity. In 2012 I worked on the V8 engine, but now I look after Dyno 9, which handles the combined gearbox and engine testing. I therefore work closely with Red Bull Racing when they visit the dynos to test the complete drivetrain.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
KR: I love talking with different departments within the company. We are the final frontier before the track and our responsibility is to identify and resolve the maximum amount of problems before they get to the track. It’s great to work with a team. While we have to be security conscious, creativity is important and if we have a good idea we can put it into action, test it and make it happen.
How has the role of dyno test engineer evolved?
NM: The engine technology has of course changed and the means of data capture has obviously evolved! When I started we did everything by hand, but gradually migrated over to automated data capture. In 1994 there was still equipment to record tests on paper and we kept these results as a record, which was both good and bad…you could never lose them but there was lots of paper. We have gained a lot of time studying the data, which is fortunate as the whole process is more complex. The steps in technology have naturally created new needs.
KR: The technology has changed but the basics are the same – you need to communicate well and work as a team to get the most out of yourself and the technology. Whether it is now or 20 years ago, the engineer has always worked with his mechanic, a technician and now with electronics specialists for the ERS. Everyone contributes something thanks to his experience. We are also free to look for the right person in the design office, or in the engine build and to finish the job. I don’t think this is any different to how Nicolas worked.
And have the dynos changed in the last 20 years?
NM: When I arrived we had two clients, Williams and Benetton. All the dyno testing for Williams’ race engines was done at Viry and we used a dyno at Mecachrome to validate the race engines for Benetton. This was more of a political decision as supplying a second client, particularly a competitor, did not sit too well with Williams! Three years later Mecachrome started doing the programme we see today – building and validating engines, with Viry doing only the design and specification.
Now there are more dynos than in the past and we use them a lot more, particularly with the V6 engines, which have a lot more complicated electrical systems and are harder to master. We can simulate performance, test different parameters, reproduce real laps. We can simulate aero effects from the car as well, such as the blown floors at the end of the V8 era.
Looking at the past, I think the biggest change from Nicolas’ time has been that we can use dynos where the gearbox and engine can be operated together.
This arrived in 2000. The teams will supply a gearbox and one of the personnel will come to Viry to test and validate everything linked to their drivetrain. It is more efficient and more representative to do testing like this. Last year, this dyno helped us when the new V6 was introduced.
NM: No, we couldn’t test the engine and gearbox together in the 1990s. Everything was done on track or theoretically in the design office . Plus an endurance test in my first few years was around 350km, or just over one race distance. The new regulations now require 5,000km!
We now visit many different circuits than in the past, not just the classics. Has this changed anything for you?
NM: Whether 20 years ago or today, a circuit is still a succession of straights with periods of acceleration and corners with braking points. The modern tracks have a similar profile but there is always one track that is always more severe than the others. Back in the day we took the old Hockenheim track with the long straight as our reference point. We would test the engines on that track as it had such a long period of wide open throttle. We would do all the endurance testing on that track.
KR: Now we use tracks such as Spa and Monza as a reference as they are the most severe on the calendar. We now we have to take other factors and parameters into consideration, such as the energy recovery system.
You’ve mentioned that the role has not fundamentally changed, but have the tools you use evolved?
NM: The heart of the job has not changed, as there is still the same need and the same responsibilities, the same ways of preparing, and how the test programme is run. For us, it was perhaps easier to understand the basic engine operations and to get the job done as the engines were fundamentally less complex. It was also easier to manage a programme as generally we were just two people – a test engineer and a mechanic. We had a screen in front of us and we monitored everything.
KR: Nicolas is right: putting engines on dynos, getting them as ready as you can – that has not really changed. You watch the engines, see what they go through and the validation and sign off process is not very different. You still try to make the dynos as close to the track performance as possible. The rigour and the attention to detail is identical, it’s just the engines themselves.
How do you see the role of a dyno engineer evolving over the next 20 years?
KR: The need for reliability, performance and data acquisition will remain the same. I’ve worked in the dynos when we supplied four teams; Red Bull, Williams, Lotus and Caterham. Some were more creative and explored different areas, but the heart of the job did not change – I think the same will happen whatever engine or team we use. Will we still use Spa or not as our reference point? We will have to seeif the tracks change. The approach will always be pragmatic; we have to optimize and automate everything to get the maximum amount of information from the engine we are testing. In 20 years I think we will have even more parameters and the data we recover will be even more impressive.
NM: The volume of data might change but the way we work will probably stay the same. But who knows, in 20 or 50 years, we may not even need testing – maybe everything could be automated and performance could be calculated…