21 July 2011
Q&A: James Allison, Lotus Renault GP
Lotus Renault GP technical director James Allison offers the lowdown on this weekend's F1 2011 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring - and what the team is doing to get on terms with closest rival Mercedes GP
Overall, what can be learnt from the British Grand Prix?
Sadly, just the simple fact that although we redeemed ourselves to a degree in the race, we are not fast enough at the moment.
What can we expect in Germany?
I hope that it will see the start of us clawing our way back to respectability with a reasonable series of upgrades to the car.
The Nürburgring – what challenges does it present?
The Nürburgring does not have any particular outstanding features, but it provides a fair all-round test of the performance of a car. Probably the most unusual aspect of the Nürburgring is that we only go there every two years. It is standard practice to consult the notes from the previous year prior to going to each circuit and, in the Nürburgring's case, these notes are two years out-of-date and therefore less helpful in offering pre-event guidance. For example, last time we were at the Nürburgring, not a single car on the grid had a blown-diffuser.
After a strong start to the year, the performance in terms of pace has fallen back relative to other teams - how can you explain this and what is in place to rectify the situation?
It is easy to explain, less easy to correct. F1 is a notoriously tough sport where the teams are both highly competent and also straining every fibre to try to improve. Improving slowly is the same as going backwards and we have improved too slowly. While the analysis is facile, finding the gains to remedy the shortfall is not. I am confident that we will shortly deliver these gains, but I would prefer to let the car do the talking in the coming races rather than to give chapter and verse on what we intend to bring to the track.
Can you explain the wind tunnel upgrade and its impact on development progress?
Our upgrade has allowed us to switch from a 50 per cent model to a 60 per cent model. It doesn't sound like a big thing when you say it like that, but any F1 aerodynamicist would nod in agreement at the huge workload involved.
Although we call them 'models', the word does not do them justice as it conjures up images of a toy. F1 wind tunnel models are nearly as complicated and almost as expensive as their full size counterparts. They are beautiful pieces of engineering and it asks a lot of the aero department to generate the headroom to take on such an upgrade whilst not letting up on the development of the car.
In addition to the model, there are changes to the tunnel infrastructure that need to be put in place: We had to modify the mounting system for the model and the wheels to cope with the new design. We had to develop new electronic measuring systems to cope with the higher loads. As each part is 20 per cent longer, has 44 per cent more surface area and 73 per cent more volume, we had to upgrade our manufacturing systems to ensure that we could still cope with the throughput of making all of the thousands of wind tunnel test components at the same rate as their much smaller 50 per cent counterparts.
Finally, we had to modify the tunnel working section to accommodate the larger model. This involved stopping the tunnel for twelve days, stripping the entire working section back to its bare skeleton and then building it back up for the new model. This is a huge budget of work, but I am proud that we have achieved it without impact on the programme other than twelve days of lost development. I am also happy that the weeks that have followed its installation have justified the investment as they have been very rich in terms of downforce gained. Our challenge now is to get these gains to the track.
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