Hockenheim - the technical requirements 28 Jul 2006
Although the current Hockenheim layout inevitably invites unfavourable comparison to the classic traditional circuit that existed until 2001, it has been the scene of close, exciting racing in recent years. Set in the middle of a pine forest, the race is typically run in sweltering conditions with high humidity. This makes life hard for the tyres, particular at the rear of the car owing to numerous slow corners and traction events. Here's a run-down of how the Renault team tweaks the R26 to get maximum performance whilst in Germany
In an ideal world, Hockenheim would demand medium downforce levels to find the best compromise for optimum lap-time, as we need grip in the medium-speed corners towards the end of the lap. However, we do not work - and more importantly race - in an ideal world. Like all Hermann Tilke designed tracks, Hockenheim features long straights followed by slow corners that make overtaking possible. As such, the downforce settings we use leave the drivers short of grip in the stadium section in order to have the top speed necessary to defend position - and overtake rivals. Thus, we end up running medium-low downforce levels as much as in Bahrain, for example.
The long straights and slow corners of Hockenheim demand contrasting suspension set-ups: stiff to maintain aerodynamic performance at high speed, and soft for optimum mechanical grip. In general, we will achieve this with relatively soft settings, and bump rubbers to maintain stable ride heights at speed. The car is run with a forward mechanical bias (stiffer at the front than the rear) in order to optimise grip under traction and braking. Indeed, braking stability is particularly important at this circuit at turn 6, where the cars slow by more than 200 km/h, is the key overtaking opportunity. We therefore pay detailed attention to this area.
Conditions at Hockenheim are traditionally extremely hot, with some of the highest track temperatures of the whole year. The heavy traction demands of the circuit means that the rear tyres are often the focus of much attention, in order to control the risk of blistering and avoid excessive wear that will make the car balance unstable. Furthermore, the circuit has the unusual characteristic of narrowing significantly where the new tarmac joins the old, particularly in turn 12. This is one of the quickest corners on the circuit, and the circuit narrows on entry. It makes it easy for drivers to go off-line and damage the car here in the large gravel trap if they are pushing hard.
Hockenheim has always been a demanding circuit for the engines, but its relative severity has in fact decreased this year. Although the engines will spend about 10 percent more of the lap at full throttle than last year (71 percent of the lap in 2006), the delta from 2005 to 2006 is among the smallest of the season. This is because the circuit contains very few high speed corners, which is where the difference in throttle usage between the V10 and V8 engines has been most apparent this year. Nevertheless, with nearly three quarters of the lap at full throttle, this remains a demanding circuit for the engines, and it not only demands a powerful engine, but also one that pulls strongly from low revs. Good torque is important in order to launch the cars out of the many slow corners.
As is always the case, high temperatures mean the engine experiences a phenomenon known as acoustic offset. This occurs at high temperatures and means that peak power is developed at higher revs, essentially shifting the power-band of the engine upwards. In these circumstances, the ability to use greater rpm represents a performance advantage - meaning the C specification RS26 engine that both drivers will be using will play to their advantage in the hot conditions.