Interview with Renault's Rob White
3 February 2014 – Rob White reflects on the season opening 2014 F1 test at Jerez, where the Renault-powered cars spent most of the time in the garage...
We have seen very little running from the Renault-engined teams. What have the issues been?
We have not run enough laps, and when we have they have not been run at an acceptable performance level. The underlying causes are not straightforward: there isn’t a single component or system that has caused particular trouble. A number of related things have been troublesome, principally concerning the control and operation of the various sub-systems of the Power Unit within the car. For example on the first run day, we had problems with a sub-system within the Energy Store that did not directly concern either the battery nor the operation of the battery – it is an electronic part that was in the same housing as the Energy Store. We subsequently had problems with turbocharger and boost control systems with knock-on effects on the associated engine management systems, subsequently provoking mechanical failures.
What fixes did you implement in Jerez?
Between days 1 and 2 with the help of Red Bull, we implemented a later level of hardware for the rest of the test to address the problem within the Energy Store. This ran for the remaining days. In parallel to running in Jerez, the team at Viry has run dyno test programs to investigate the trackside problems and to propose solutions. We identified the probable root cause of our main turbo control issues, implemented some workarounds that were first seen at the end of day 3 and deployed in the three cars for day 4. This established a very minimalist baseline from which we could build.
Why were these issues not flagged up on the dyno?
We believed our initial configuration was a robust start point for track use but it has not proved to be the case. We have done substantial dyno running in a similar configuration with few issues. We now know that the differences between dyno and car are bigger than we expected, with the consequence that our initial impressions were incomplete and imperfect. Our intention was to run the car; we are very frustrated to face this litany of issues that we should have ironed out on the dyno and which have deprived us of a precious learning opportunity.
Have you learned from the limited running?
Absolutely, and at this stage every kilometre is hugely valuable. We recognize that when the cars have run, they are not running at an acceptable level. We are a long way from the type of operation we had planned and prepared for – largely as a result of the workarounds we have implemented – but all the information is useful. In dealing with the issues we have moved further away from the configuration we were comfortable with, which has resulted in the relatively slow times, but the running has given us a vastly greater understanding of the issues we face. We absolutely expect to have a more definitive solution in place for the next session in Bahrain.
Has every team experienced the same issues?
Several problems are common to all, as the power unit is the same specification in all the cars except for relatively minor installations differences. Some problems are particular to one installation environment, but it is our responsibility to deal with all of them. In general, the individual issues are understood; we have worked with all three teams running this week and despite appearances, have made some useful progress. We have not uncovered any big new fundamental problem, although we must recognize that our limited running makes it impossible to be certain.
What is the road map from now until the second test in Bahrain?
Of course we now have a large job list for Bahrain as a lot of the items we wanted to test in Jerez we have not been able to cover. The next stage is to identify the root causes for the problems we experienced, to develop the solutions to strengthen our validation process so we can be more confident to tackle Bahrain in a more normal way.
Are you concerned by the fact that engine specifications are frozen pre-season?
The homologation deadline is the end of February and is fundamental to regulations. Beyond that time, changes are permitted only with prior approval from the FIA. Change is not forbidden, but subject to the sporting regulations and we should not get so hung up on this date.
In view of this test, are you still in favour of the new regulations?
Yes absolutely. The powertrain regulations are a massive challenge but also an opportunity, and are hugely important in placing F1 back at the vanguard of technology. We have the necessary tools and determination to succeed. The step we must take to reach an acceptable level of in-car performance is bigger than we would have liked. It is unacceptable that we have not been able to mitigate the problems sufficiently to allow our partners to run at any length. We are working hard to correct this in time for Bahrain and aim to make amends there.