Renault on the changing face of Silverstone 06 Jul 2010
With a new track layout awaiting the drivers at Silverstone this weekend, there's been plenty of homework for all the teams to do, as Renault explain. The circuit is now 745 metres longer and lap times will be around the 90-second mark, some 10 seconds slower than last year. Over the past few months, the team's engineers have carried out hundreds of simulations to get to grips with the challenge ahead.
In fact, simulation work has become an essential tool for any Formula One team, even when preparing for circuits we've been racing on for years. Using complex computer models, it allows the engineers to evaluate set-up options before arriving at the circuit in order to maximise the track time available during free practice.
"We received the circuit map showing the new Silverstone layout about three months ago," explains Nick Chester, Renault's head of performance systems. "The first step was to digitise the map and add a driving line to the circuit, which we obviously had to estimate for the new part of the track. Then we started evaluating different settings on the virtual car, changing parameters such as wing levels, suspension settings and gear ratios to try and work out a good base set-up for the start of the weekend."
So what impact will the five new corners have on the car's set-up this weekend?
"In terms of downforce levels, it's difficult to make a comparison with last year because the car has evolved so much, but we're not expecting a massive change to the set-up," says Renaults chief race engineer, Alan Permane. "Our simulations show the average speed will be slightly higher at 230 km/h compared to 227 km/h in 2009, and the percentage of the lap spent at full throttle has also increased from 69 percent to 70 percent."
Of course the motivation behind the Silverstone facelift was to encourage overtaking and improve the show. So, can the simulations tell us whether the new arena section has hit the sweet spot?
"On paper it certainly looks like there could be a couple of overtaking opportunities," confirms Permane. "Turn 16 is a good opportunity because there is a long drag from the low-speed Turn 14, and Turn 15 will be taken easily flat out. Turn 13 is also a possibility for overtaking, but it will depend how closely the cars can follow each other through Turn 11 because Turn 12 will be another flat-out corner. We expect Turn 11 to be flat out on low fuel, but far more challenging with a heavy car."
The simulation work carried out by the team has also shown up the extra demands on the brakes compared to 2009. Although the percentage of the lap spent braking has reduced by 0.3 percent, the energy going through the braking system will be 2.3kW greater on the new layout with the big stops into Turns 13 and 16.
Yet, no matter how accurate your simulations, there are some things they simply can't predict. Variables such as grip levels, bumps in the road and kerb characteristics cannot be known until the cars take to the track, so the simulations rely on average values. Likewise, the finer details set-up comes down to driver feel and there's no computer programme in the world that even comes close to a Formula One driver's brain. So while simulation tools set the teams on the right path, the real work will begin when practice starts on Friday morning.