Red Bull Racing’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey tells Matt Youson about some of F1’s most demanding issues right now...
It’s been a busy week for Adrian Newey. Every week is a busy week for Adrian, but with F1’s technical regulations going through a series of convulsions, Red Bull Racing’s chief technical officer seems to have spent most of his week in meetings with the FIA or with his fellow engineering chiefs. He did, however, allow himself to be dragged away for long enough to explain some of this stuff to us.
The FIA issued a new directive on Friday morning regarding the diffusers. It seems to allow Renault engines to continue using a cold-blown diffuser and has caused a degree of consternation in the paddock. What’s this all about?
Frankly, I think Mercedes thought they’d pulled a fast one and are now rather upset to find this has been rebalanced. That would be my read on it. The brief history of it is that Charlie [Whiting, head of the FIA technical department] feels that the use of exhaust gas to create downforce is illegal. This comes from the regulation change that bans the F-Duct, which says ‘no driver movement shall deliberately affect the aerodynamics of the car’. Clearly this involved driver movement [a foot lifting off the accelerator pedal].
Therefore any engine mapping with the prime purpose of using the engine as a thrust-producer is illegal. He’s issued a series of technical directives to that intent culminating – or not – in a technical directive, which came to us roughly two weeks ago. It said hot-blowing – ie fuelling and igniting on over-run – is banned and for cold-blowing – ie without injection and ignition – the maximum throttle opening would be 20 per cent at 18,000rpm tapering to 10 per cent at 12,00rpm.
'Frankly, I think Mercedes thought they’d pulled a fast one and are now rather upset to find this has been rebalanced'
It seems that Mercedes in particular lobbied that they should be able to retain over-run [with zero pedal] fired by V4 [half the cylinders in an F1 engine]. They persuaded Charlie they were doing that in 2009 for the prime purpose of brake balance modification and therefore should be allowed to continue doing so. Charlie’s philosophy is that things we did prior to using the exhaust to create down force should still be legal. So Charlie agreed to what Mercedes requested.
We, or rather Renault engines, had been operating in 2009 with a strategy of running throttles 50 per cent open – cold-blowing – on over-run for reasons of throttle response. As this was also for non-downforce generating reasons, we believed we should be allowed to continue doing it, for the same reason Mercedes were allowed to continue hot-blowing.
[Unfortunately for Adrian, the decision taken on Friday morning to allow this was later rescinded]
Charlie Whiting made it clear in Valencia that, in the interests of fairness, there wouldn’t be blanket regulation to cover every engine. Is that causing problems?
Charlie is in the invidious position of trying to police this fairly and equitably so no engine manufacturer is disadvantaged. Mercedes developed their strategy a long time ago, and it’s certainly nothing new. I remember at McLaren we first ran a strategy like that in 1999 with Mika [Hakkinen] at Monaco. It’s not a route we wanted to go down now. It’s inefficient with fuel consumption and comes with a reasonably significant fuel penalty. In this age, when we’re trying to be as fuel efficient as possible, it seems strange to waste fuel for reasons of brake balance, and to balance out KERS – and again, clearly the intention of KERS is not to burn fuel in the recharge phase.
Aside from the implications to engine maps, will you physically redesign the car as a result of these regulation changes?
I think our car and the Renault – which has gone down a very different route – are the only two designed to have their exhaust in the position it is. All the other cars have moved their exhausts in response to what we’ve done.
It’s conceivable that we’ll lose more because the car is designed around the concept, whereas other people forced their car to accept the idea. Without seeing their wind tunnel data it would be impossible to know for sure. But to answer the question: yes, there will have to be a degree of local re-optimisation to cope with the changes.
For next year there’s the intention of making this issue go away by moving the exhaust exits. Is this a good thing or not?
I think the situation F1 finds itself in at the moment is messy and unfortunate. There’s a lot of bickering and arguing, because potentially there’s a lot of lap time on the table. Going forwards there’s really only two choices. Either allow, including exhaust position, to be unlimited – perhaps staying with the Valencia clarification that says whatever maps you have for qualifying, you have for the race. Or do what is now the regulation for next year, which is to put the exhaust in a position where its effect on downforce is much reduced. Therefore the lap time benefit from the engine as a gas producer is also much reduced. That way the arguments will fall away.
Moving on from diffusers, Red Bull had a torrid time with KERS at the beginning of the season but seems cautiously confident that it's getting to grips with the issue. What’s the story behind that?
I think as everybody now knows, we took quite an aggressive packaging route with KERS. We put the batteries alongside the bell housing, which is clearly quite a hostile environment in terms of heat and vibration. Everybody else put their batteries at the base of the fuel tank. So, it’s not a great surprise that some of our problems stem from temperature management.
'I think the situation F1 finds itself in at the moment is messy and unfortunate'
However, the prime problem is that we’re an independent team. We’re a chassis manufacturer, which means aerodynamics and regular mechanical systems: we are not KERS specialists. We’ve been teaching ourselves and learning as we’ve gone along in what is quite a specialised area, and we’ve done so without manufacturer support or a specialist hybrid partner.
We now have an extra season with the current engine regulations. Does that affect your development plan for KERS?
There is certainly performance to be found in KERS, that’s why we have it this year. But once you have it working reliably to the 400KJ energy limit then you’re down to refining the packaging – how heavy it is – and improving heat rejection. Ours is certainly not the lightest, but with our resources it’s what we’ve been able to do.
We were, of course, under the impression that it only had a lifespan of this year and next, before needing a complete rethink for when the 2013 engines arrived. That’s now been postponed by a year so we have to assess whether to simply carry on with what we’re doing for an extra year – or do we take another avenue?
Given their front-running status this year, Red Bull have been the team least-likely to attempt a DRS pass – does that colour the team’s decisions on how to set up for the weekend?
In general, setting up DRS is a challenge. In qualifying it’s a big lap time change; in the race it’s a smaller lap time change. But in terms of what it does to your gear ratio selection it is a big factor. These engines have a relatively narrow power band: get it wrong and you’re either sitting on the limiter and not able to properly use DRS, or, for the majority of a race where you don’t have DRS to use, you’re hopelessly long-geared. It's a juggling act for sure.
We have to decide on our gear ratios on Friday evenings, one hour after FP2. The decision is, are you feeling bullish and think you’re going to be at the front and drive away from the field? In that case you won’t be using DRS – or are you're going to be in a dogfight on Sunday afternoon and really need it?
Does Silverstone throw up some peculiar DRS challenges?
The DRS activation zone is in an unusual place here. It’s not actually in the place where the car is naturally at its fastest – which is on the Hangar Straight – so that’s a factor that hasn’t occurred before.
Is this a case of the FIA trying to further experiment with DRS and mix things up a little?
I don’t know – you’d have to ask them about that!