Renault: European GP Alternator Failures

At the European GP in Valencia we saw the unusual circumstance of two ‘leading’ cars both retire within a few laps of each with a related fault. It was confirmed by Renault that there were alternator failures on the Renault Engines of Vettel’s Red Bull and Grosjean’s Lotus. Typically the alternator in a Modern F1 car is unseen and causes almost no issues, so this is an opportunity to look at this component and the failures in Valencia.

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Lotus E20: Overview and Development

Compared to the other leading teams the Lotus appears to be quite conservative car. However performances in testing and the in particular at the Bahrain GP show the cars looks belie its pace.

E20 Overview

Unlike its rivals there isn’t a stand out feature or innovation that’s obvious on the E20. Development from the Renault R31 with its ill fated front exit exhausts (FEE) has been iterative and logical. Unlike its forebear the E20 features a simple exhaust set up, blowing over the tail of the engine for apparently less aero effect than other team’s downwashed sidepod\exhaust solutions.

Indeed the sidepods are largely conventional, the peak above and below the sidepod inlet are similar to the R31, only the vane atop the sidepod front is unusual. Within the sidepods the team have spent time with internal airflow management, the left sidepod houses a large single water radiator, the left sidepod has a split cooler set up, which appears to keep the coolers mounted clear of the floor with electronics houses below. Perhaps for the KERS power control hardware. This high mounted radiator set up reminiscent of the packaging for the FEE and also similar to McLarens 2012 cooler package.

The nose is a straightforward interpretation of the 2012 regs, with the rounded undernose profile similar to 2011. Only the presence of a slot under the nose is a distinctive feature, this smiley face shaped slot is created under the nosecone and passes through the front bulkhead into the chassis. Presumably for cooling the driver or the steering rack mounted low on the front bulkhead. One interesting point on the front of the car is the unusual hump arrangement on the top of the chassis. The usual bumps used to clear the rockers and other front suspension linkages are asymmetric. With a larger bulge on the left and a smaller one to the right. This suggests something is unusual about the suspension, Renault were known for the innovation in this area with front to rear interlinked suspension, the reactive ride height system and also running with a roll damper in place of side dampers. I suspect the bulge is to neatly incorporate the asymmetric rocker arms needed for a roll damper and hence the car runs without left and right dampers. However the front of the bulkhead is so heavily packaged with other hardware it’s impossible to see the spring\damping elements inside. Externally we can see that the torsion bar mounts allow for free rotation and even feature a rotary sensor to measure their movement. This shows that the torsion bars are not grounded to the chassis instead react against each other. This negates their spring effect in roll, so all roll stiffness is provided by the anti roll bar. This approach has been common on other cars for a few years.
The anti roll bar is mounted higher in relation to the front bulkhead compared to last year, equally the link between the torsions has been moved inside the chassis, rather than the external bracing strut seen on last year’s car.

At the rear, the gearbox shows no evidence of side dampers either, although these could be packaged inside the casing so also not visible externally. Its possible Lotus have made a step in suspension design, which makes the best use of the tyres or control of the aero platform better.
Lotus are another team to adopt OZ wheels with integral fairings added to the front rims.

At the rear, a lot has been made of the laterally diverging diffuser. All teams start the diffuser far narrower than the 1000mm allowed between the rear wheels, and then diverge the diffuser (in plan view) outwards towards the limit of the allowable area. This effectively limits the expansion that can be achieved within the regulatory diffuser volume. Lotus has effectively diverged the diffuser to the 1000mm limit far earlier, with the outermost channels effectively exiting out of the side of the diffuser. This potentially gains more theoretical volume for the diffuser, but also creates a far more aggressive sidewall to the diffuser, risking flow separation and the diffuser sidewall is shorter more open and hence may leak more. Other teams have followed this path in the past, so the potential benefit is there assuming the drawbacks of the geometry can be overcome.

Pre season
As one of the cars shown at the launch was a R31 rebranded and reworked to look like the E20, initial observations were hard to make. The car that commenced testing was the E20.
The first test went outwardly successfully, but problem on the first runs of the second chassis being tested at the Barcelona test showed problems with the monocoque. Subsequent checks on the first monocoque tested in Jerez, revealed the same structural problem. The tub was failing where rear leg of the top wishbone mounts. The team skipped the test to add 1kg of reinforcement to the cars.

As soon as the car recommenced testing it started to gain revisions to the floor and front wing. This included a re-profiled splitter along with its side vanes, as well as a new iteration of the front wing. The initial wing with its “R” shaped vanes and cascade winglet were nearly parallel to the cars centreline, the updated wing changed these into a more curved outswept shape. Notably the front wing pylons also house the FIA camera pods, these being mounted between the pylons and siamesed into an aerofoil shape behind the neutral centre section, to negate the lift created by this profile.

China\Bahrain update

A new aero package was prepared for China, but the team found testing inconclusive with the variable track conditions. The package was run again in practice for the Bahrain GP and adopted for both cars from qualifying onwards. The package included a revised rear wing, with new endplates sporting a squared-off lower section and mated to the diffuser with a larger vane. The floor was also revised, although the concept was largely carried over, so the changes are in the detail geometry and not the overall shape.
At the front the wing was altered for a completely new version. At first the wings appear similar aside from the vane treatment on the endplates, but the main planes leading edge dips downs more suddenly at the on with the neutral centre section, while the flaps join the same area without the coved section on the old wing. At the wing tips, the flaps fold down to form the endplate as is common in current F1, the upper flap gaining a small extra slot to aid flow through the steepest section of wing. With this endplate-less set up, the minimum surface area regulation is met by two vanes added to the footplate. These being somewhat reminiscent of Toro Rosso’s vaned set up. It’s hard to speculate on how the new package gains lap time or bring a difference in aero efficiency over the old set up.

The new package was worth a couple of tenths according to the team and the back to back tests in free practice proved its worth over the older aero package. As with the rest of the car it’s hard to pin point where the lap time comes from, For Lotus the conventional approach and iterative detail development has brought dividends over a more aggressive approach.
One wonders how much more potential there is within the car should adopt the sidepod\exhaust or DRS solutions of its rivals. If the team can successfully introduce these performance upgrades and continue to understand the tyres requirements, then there is scope for them to remain in the hunt for strong results throughout the year.