Formula 1 cars next year will be limited to a 15,000rpm ceiling, but Renault's V6 will be unlikely to run above 12,500rpm at any point during the season.
Changes to F1 rules in 2014 aim to make the sport more eco-friendly. The Renault initiative seems like a tactic in line with that philosophy; to conserve fuel for the duration of the race. That's not so, however, says Rémi Taffin, Renault Sport F1 head of track operations.
"A rev limit of 12,500rpm will be applied only to protect the engine mechanically," he told motoring.com.au. "Our simulations predict that the engine is capable of revving to around this, although it is more likely to run consistently around the 11,500 rpm or 12,000 rpm mark. However it may well vary from circuit to circuit, dependent on the track characteristics and corners."
Renault's strategy appears to be at odds with the intentions of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), which we reported last month
. The governing body clearly believes the 15,000rpm limit – 3000 revs lower than current regs permit – will force the engine suppliers for the sport to focus on extracting optimal energy from the ERS (Energy Recovery System).
According to Garry Connelly, Deputy President of the FIA's Institute for Motor Sport Safety and Sustainability, there's a lot more scope to tweak the hybrid-like ERS than there is finding miniscule increments of power from the turbocharged internal-combustion engine. In an effort to encourage the engine suppliers to produce larger efficiency gains from the ERS the FIA has handed down a 100kg fuel load restriction for each race.
That is why Renault's in-house rev limit looks like it was aimed at conserving fuel specifically, but Taffin's durability/longevity argument also dovetails with the FIA's pursuit of sustainability. In the FIA's lexicon, 'sustainable' motor sport also means cars reaching the end of a race without something breaking or falling off… fewer DNFs, in other words.
But if Connolly expected the F1 teams to be dismayed at the constraints placed on vehicle design and performance by the 100kg fuel load limit, Taffin hides it pretty well. As a matter of fact, and contrary to Connolly's view, Taffin believes there's greater potential for performance and efficiency gains in the internal-combustion engine, not the ERS.
"The 100kg fuel limit is not necessarily a limiting factor in performance and neither is the engine configuration. The power unit of the ICE and ERS will generate more or less the same bhp as today and there is actually scope for the unit to produce even more. While ERS is limited to 160bhp, the ICE could produce more as we learn more about its performance and integration into the car."
The new engine – a 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 as stipulated by the FIA – will rely more on torque than outright power. The power unit as a whole, in fact, will bring plenty of torque on stream with electric-motor assistance from the ERS.
But in the event of a close run to the finish, won't the driver want to pluck up more power and more revs to hold off the car approaching fast from behind? Is that even possible with Renault's set-up and under the new regs?
"No," says Taffin, "We won’t let the driver override the limiter himself, as the engine has been designed around running at this level. Additionally the engine will limit itself due to the fuel flow limitation."
Presuming that Renault's rev limit for the V6 in the power unit signals torque is suddenly in the spotlight at F1 races – and that fuel range must be a factor in each race team's strategy – what can the teams do to take advantage of the situation? Could gearing play a part, for instance? According to Taffin, the FIA regs won't permit a quick swap of a gear cluster to suit particular tracks during the course of the year.
"The FIA Technical Regulations allow just one set of ratios to be homologated for the whole year," Taffin responded. "The gearbox must be eight speed, and the regulation states:
Each competitor must nominate the forward gear ratios (calculated from engine crankshaft to drive shafts) to be employed within their gearbox. These nominations must be declared to the FIA technical delegate at or before the first Event of the Championship. For 2014 a competitor may re-nominate these ratios once within the Championship season, in which case the original nomination becomes immediately void. Ratio re-nominations must be declared as a set.
What about aerodynamics then? Would teams sacrifice aerodynamic down force, as an example, for longer range over the course of a race?
"A team will never sacrifice downforce, as a lot of the performance comes from aero, and this will still be the case in 2014," says Taffin. "We can change the packages from circuit to circuit to optimise the performance but I don’t think we will ever get to a point where a team will prioritise fuel consumption over aero performance."
So a higher exit speed out of corners – aided and abetted by downforce – could enhance range over the course of a race anyway, if the car is in a higher gear each time.
Renault looks unfazed by the new rules and running out of fuel before the end of the race doesn't appear to be the major concern the FIA hoped. By his own words, Taffin is focused on performance rather than eking out the last joule of energy from a depleted fuel tank.
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