By their very nature, Formula One engineers are empiricists – binary creatures for whom the world is divided into things that are evidentially provable or merely speculative, systems that either work or don’t, propositions that are either advantageous or non-profitable. It’s why when you ask any of our senior technical staff if the designation RB13 fills them with superstitious dread all you get is a snort of derision.
“Superstition is not part of Formula One,” insists Chief Engineer (Performance Engineering) Pierre Wache. “It’s an engineering, racing category. It should not be a function of luck and I don’t think it is. If you have the quickest car and a very quick driver, normally you win the race.”
His Car Engineering counterpart Paul Monaghan agrees: “RB13 doesn’t worry me. The aim is to have both world championships back in our possession at the end of the year and if the car happens to be the RB13, great! Bring it on.”
It’s down to Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey to emphatically shoot down any superstitious nonsense with hard evidence, however. “The first car I was responsible for at McLaren was the MP4/13 and that managed to win both championships,” he says with case-closing finality. The truth is that far from there being any concern about the new car’s prospects there is huge excitement among the technical staff about the possibilities open to the RB13 in a year when the largest set of regulation changes for some years come into force.
“The change of regulations for 2017 is a really exciting aspect for an engineer,” says Pierre. “Compared with 2016, where it was more of an evolution, here you have to change everything on the car, review all the procedures you are doing and try to optimise the car performance on something you don’t know. That’s very, very exiting for an engineer.”
The major areas of opportunity for designers come in the form of changes to the shape of the cars, as Chief Engineering Officer Rob Marshall explains. “There are many new challenges, both for aerodynamicists and for structural engineers. It’s been a long time since there has been anything quite so different coming out of F1, so we’re looking forward to it.’ Head of Aerodynamics Dan Fallows adds: “From our point of view, as an aerodynamics department, this new set of regulations is extremely exciting as we get a lot of freedom with regards to the areas of the car that can deliver performance. The car does look more aggressive and everybody around the factory is quite excited by that.”
So excited, in fact, that according to Adrian Newey the biggest challenge with the design of RB13 came in deciding which conceptual direction to take. “When you have big regulation changes like this, you always have more ideas than there is time available,” he admits. “Like all teams we are resource limited. We can’t pursue every single avenue we can think of and we have to try to prioritise. Whether we have prioritised on the right things or not time will tell.”
“Clearly there will be different solutions up and down the grid and we need to make sure ours are the best,” adds Marshall. “Hopefully we will be able to close the gap to the lead.” The new rules mean that lap times are set to drop by between three to five seconds in 2017 and most of that gain, says Marshall, will come from improved cornering speeds.
“The increased downforce on the car means the car will be able to go around the corners quicker. However, along with that downforce comes increased drag so actually speed down the straight will be a bit diminished. That plays into the hands of the people who have the most powerful power unit, as they will be able to overcome some drag.”
Wache, though, is hopeful that this year the team will continue the upward curve seen on power in 2016. “Our power unit supplier made massive progress in 2016 and they promise us the same type of progress for 2017,” he says. “That gives us the opportunity to move closer and then hope that chassis differentiation will give us the opportunity to challenge for wins.”
Despite the challenges presented by the regulation changes however, all of the team’s senior technical staff are excited by the opportunities afforded by the 2017 rules.
“Here we are in the middle of February and it’s that feeling of… well, it’s exhaustion towards the end of the season for many of the guys, but then you go through the winter, you do your work and it’s time to think ‘yep, now I just want to get going again, to get out on the circuit and see where we are’,” says Newey.
The final word, though, goes to Paul Monaghan. “A regulation change is always going to have some excitement. Will we be first? Will we not be first? Who is around us? Where are we? I’d like to be holding two world championships at the end of the year. That’s the biggest thing: it creates an opportunity whereby we can try to realise that. Now it’s all hands to pumps to try and do it.” (Source: redbullracing.com)