The purpose of this blog is to inform those who are interested about my journey as one of three students from around the world who earned placements at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing as a result of the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy. Family, friends, colleagues, aspiring engineers, and any other followers are welcome to visit this page and, if desired, give me feedback or ask questions. It is an effort to streamline documenting the next 12 months for all of these varying audiences, some of which do not participate in social media.

I have never written a journal, never written a blog. This is a first for me. This being the most meaningful and fantastic opportunity I could ever dream of, I would like to share best I can the details of what goes on in my day-to-day during the academy. I am incredibly honored to have won a placement at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing, and I seek to make this opportunity worth everything it possibly can be.

I will write once or twice a week, depending on the accumulation of events and catching up on the previous few days. If you'd like, you can sign up for email notifications for when I create a new post! See the link toward the bottom of this page. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you so much for visiting!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Testing and the Leadup to Melbourne

So let’s get back to talking about F1, shall we?

Years ago, testing of F1 cars was able to be conducted at will and throughout the season at locations of the team’s choosing.   In 2008, in an effort to control the ever-apparent issue of costs, the Formula One governing body set regulations that limited constructors to 30,000km of testing per season (the equivalent of nearly 6,500 laps of Circuit de Catalunya, or 150 hours of constant testing at an average race pace).  Then in 2009, this was cut in half to 15,000km, with in-season testing banned.  Long gone are the days of pick-your-own-circuit shake downs and test running.

Circuito de Jerez in Spain, site of the first preseason F1 test in 2015

Nowadays, in preparation for the season, there are three test sessions with two more later in the season following the Spanish and Austrian Grands Prix.  All are controlled by the FIA.  The first of the three pre-season tests was held at Jerez in Spain this year, and the following two tests are held in Barcelona at Circuit de Catalunya. Each team’s drivers are generally allowed to test drive for two days of the four days for each of the preseason tests.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, site of the second and third preseason F1 tests of 2015
Last year in testing, the RB10 didn’t fare very well, along with cars from other teams as they struggled to get the new V6 turbo engines to be both powerful and reliable.  The RB10 would pretty much set itself ablaze at will, and we completed only roughly 1060 miles, compared to Mercedes’ 3090 or Williams’ 3040.  Given that start to RB10, the car ended up rather successful, being the only team to beat Mercedes in 2014.

So, you can take certain things away from testing as clear indicators, and there’s other things to take with a grain of salt.   Lap times are one of those things to take as the latter, especially in the earlier tests.  Remember, it’s a shake down and validation for all teams.  Thus, a majority of the testing is not run at full race pace.  Nor are they all running on the same tires!  Reliability, aero mapping, tire testing, pit practice, driver ergonomics, and various simulation validation runs are a few of the myriad of bullet items for testing.  Race simulations, which come later in the preseason testing, along with some of the faster times, are certainly important factors to consider.

This year, I’m on the inside.  Seeing what it takes to produce a car and push design to the absolute limit is nothing short of incredible.

Preseason testing is like an awakening.  Rumors for who will drive for which team have long died out, and teams have been working tirelessly to get their cars to the track.  It is a show, an emergence of the latest and greatest from each team.  The reveals for the vehicles draw as much attention as anything during the season, and the liveries are unveiled.  And boy, did we have an amazing one in store for testing.

Camo Bull!
This dazzle livery, dubbed Camo Bull, was an amazing take on what has become popular for road car
prototype testing, and it was awesome to see the immensely positive feedback from the fans and journalists.  More on liveries in a moment.

After passing all required crash tests and getting the new RB11 to Jerez for T01, the first day showed signs of last year’s gremlins, as the team spent a good amount of the day recovering from and fixing a smoky problem, and we completed only 35 laps (in comparison to Rosberg’s 157 in the Mercedes).  The following day, it became obvious how hard we do push design when Kvyat damaged the front wing.  Ordinarily, we would replace it right away.  That’s hard to do when you don’t have a spare because it’s still being made back at the factory…

This led to some well-placed puns, unfortunately.  But by the next morning, we had the fresh new wing, hot from the factory, installed on the car.  Then our problems moved to the engine and ERS for the next two days, so again we had limited running.  Still, we were able to obtain very important data and feedback, and we learned a lot for our following tests.

Barcelona was home to the second test and third tests, rather than Bahrain like last year.  The team arrived armed with a robust plan to knock out the most important testing and recover from the issues at Jerez. 

Setting up for a test
The second test went significantly better for us.  Ricciardo was in the car for the first two days of testing, which went exceptionally well.  During the first day, Susie Wolff (Toto’s wife [dumb typo here earlier, sorry!]), driving for Williams, and Nasr (Force India) had a small collision that caused a bit of drama.  Fortunately both cars only sustained minor damage and were able to be back out on the track in the afternoon.  Ricciardo proved to be very solid in the car, and reliability is a stark contrast to last year’s testing of the RB10.

Kvyat was in for the next two days, and again we suffered very few issues.  McLaren, on the other hand, had continuing complications from its first test, and this was compounded by an unfortunate crash.  Alonso hit the wall coming out of turn 3, and it was hard enough to give him a concussion.  He was airlifted to a local hospital.  Fortunately, no major injuries were sustained.  However, this put him out of test 3 and, by doctor recommendation, out for the first race, where Kevin Magnussen will take his place. 

For us, the test was uneventful.  In testing, that’s exactly what you want.  Our focus was on aerodynamic mapping work, pit stop practice, and long runs, and other teams followed the same type of testing as well as some race simulations.  We ended up with a solid tally of 418 laps, second only to Mercedes with 446.  This was more mileage than in the entirety of last year’s RB10 testing!

Pitot tube arrays for aerodynamic testing

Flow viz (visualization), another aerodynamic testing tool.Some of my Terps Racing teammates might remember my endeavors into using this!

Serious pit stop practice!
Work continued to push hard at the factory, and we made it to Barcelona for the final test in good shape.  This time, Kvyat took the wheel for the first two days.  A small mechanical problem required an overnight fix, so the first day didn’t go quite as hoped.  We weren’t alone in our troubles; both McLaren and Mercedes also had somewhat rough days.  McLaren’s issues continued, logging very few laps.  Mercedes suffered an MGU-K problem which saw their track time cut significantly as well.

Clearly all teams are still figuring out these complex new engines.  As a homologated component last season, it proved to be the core of Mercedes’ strong advantage.  This raised some issues in terms of weighing the benefits of in-season development versus the ever-present issue of costs, which have massively increased for the new engines and has resulted in the unfortunate loss of some teams such as Caterham and, until they were brought out of administration, Marussia (now known as Manor Marussia for this season).

After a lot of work with the FIA, it has been decided that this year, teams will be allowed to use tokens to develop the engines during the season.  Long story short, every significant component (or system) on the engine is weighted in terms of its performance value, between one and three tokens each, for a total of 66 tokens.  Five of these are frozen from the get-go, which includes the crankcase, crankshaft, and air valve system, and related components for each.  There are 32 tokens available for use throughout the season, as the rules have not explicitly specified a date for homologation.  This decreases every year.  For a great overview of the details, see F1 Fanatic’s site here.  After some discussion, newcomer (really re-entering from involvement in years past) Honda is limited to the average number of tokens left unused by the teams at the start of the season.  We will see how this plays out!

On day two, the RB11 had another small issue with a sensor, but we were still able to get solid running in.  Force India’s new car for 2015 was finally unveiled, and they were immediately able to log a lot of laps, proving it fairly reliable right out of the gate, but leaving the 2015 car to only the final three days of testing.

Prepping to go out for another run

The third day was another great day of running for Ricciardo and the RB11.  The fourth day brought with it an ERS-related issue, which stalled our morning running.  The team worked hard, and we got the car back out on track after lunch.  Maldonado also had a small crash in the new Lotus, and thankfully he was fine.  Though this final test didn’t go as well for us as the previous one, we still logged over 1,000 miles.

In comparison to last year, testing went significantly better for us.  Our total mileage was 2703 versus last year’s 1058, or an increase of over 150%!  Toro Rosso and Lotus also had significant gains in mileage over 2014 testing, while McLaren had a reduction of nearly 60%.  Overall, testing mileage amongst the teams was up an average of 36.4% (roughly 750 miles more per team).  That is a massive increase, something to note and hopefully extends to the rest of the season.  

Back to liveries for a moment.  It’s one of those things that generates excitement in the simplest form.  How a car looks with its livery is often how it is remembered.  Classics include the John Player Special (JPS) Lotus livery through the seventies and eighties, the Marlboro McLaren-Honda livery of the eighties and nineties, and the recent resurrection of the clean and classic Martini Williams livery. 

John Player Special livery on the 1986 Lotus 98T
Marlboro livery on the 1989 McLaren MP4/5
Martini livery on the 2014 Williams FW36

The buzz of the Infiniti-Red Bull camo, the criticism of the somewhat underwhelming McLaren-Honda livery, Sauber’s pleasant surprise of the simple but sweet new blue and yellow livery, the quasi-retrograde JPS-esque Lotus…all of this received nearly as much media attention as the performance of the cars themselves during the preseasons.

Our livery for the season is a classic but refreshed look for us:

Our super-colorful livery on the 2015 Infiniti-Red Bull Racing RB11

Coming back from the black-and-white of the dazzle, this is quite eye popping.  We’re getting excited!  Every single member on the team has been putting in tremendous amounts of hard work, and we’re ready to go racing!  Thankfully…it’s finally here!

The first race kicked off on the beautiful street circuit of Melbourne, Australia this morning.  It may not have gone our way throughout the weekend, as Kvyat's race was over before it began due to the gearbox, stemming from power unit issues.  But Ricciardo managed to fight well and secure 7th for the day, despite the sub-optimal driveability.  We know we have some big challenges to overcome.  On the personal side, these challenges result in great opportunities for me to learn a lot.  And we will overcome them.  It's just the start of the season, and there's 19 more races and almost 9 months left to go!  Stay tuned...

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