'Dramatic' day for Renault with suspension failure on both cars
8 April 2011
Lotus Renault GP suffered what it described as a 'dramatic' opening day's practice at Sepang ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, following suspension failures on the cars of both Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov.
The incidents occurred during the morning FP1 session in Kuala Lumpur. First, Heidfeld encountered what seemed initially to be a brake-locking problem, having to drive practically a whole lap back to the pits with his right front brakes locked on and a damaged tyre. Shortly afterwards, Petrov found himself pitched into the gravel trap following what appeared to be a spectacular brake failure, leaving the 26-year-old with a broken right front wheel and suspension.
However, following careful analysis, the issues were subsequently found to have occurred due to a defective batch of front suspension uprights – and once the batch had been changed in time for the afternoon's FP2 running, the remainder of the day passed far more serenely.
“[It was] a bit dramatic,” confirmed Lotus Renault GP team principal Eric Boullier, assuring that the two R31s are now safe. “We had a couple of failures this morning on the uprights on the cars. First, we thought it was a brake problem, [but it was] very difficult to understand and to have a proper diagnosis. It took us a lot of time to investigate properly, obviously as it is a safety issue.
“We found out that the two failures were coming from the same batch, so we had a back-up plan and we took the decision to run [a different batch] and it went okay. We suspect very strongly that we had heat treatment or a materials issue because it is the same design, everything is the same except it was a new part from a new batch. That's it – sh*t can happen, unfortunately.”
The Frenchman added that with a range of new parts on the car this weekend, 'the lack of track time is not helping us to understand the balance, so we still have a lot to think about tonight and to work on tomorrow morning' – and both the Enstone-based outfit's chief engineer Alan Permane and technical director James Allison concurred that the twin failures have left the team on the back foot somewhat and with much still to do before qualifying and the race.
“It was difficult to learn anything today,” rued Permane. “The issues this morning limited our mileage in both sessions, and it's difficult to draw too many conclusions. Due to the lack of running, neither driver was able to make much progress with their set-up programmes, and we have a lot of work to do to improve the handling.”
“Both Vitaly and Nick suffered failures under braking in the front uprights early in the first session,” added Allison. “As a precaution, we stopped running the cars until we had understood the problem. We quickly established that the two failed items had come from the same material batch, and that nothing from this batch had run prior to today.
“It took a little longer to rule out other potential causes, but once we were confident that the failures were related to a material problem, we released the cars for the second half of afternoon practice where they ran without problem.”
In the circumstances, Heidfeld – looking to atone for his crushingly disappointing Renault debut in Melbourne just under a fortnight ago – did a superb job to place seventh in FP1 and eighth in FP2 with just 22 laps on the board in total. Petrov, for his part, managed one lap fewer than his team-mate, winding up 24th and last in the morning and 13th in the afternoon.
“Because of the issues this morning, we didn't run very much at all today,” conceded the experienced German, revealing that he has made use of the time since the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser 'to train and have a positive attitude going into this weekend'. “We therefore had to prioritise what we did in the afternoon, and we felt it was best to do a long run on the soft tyres. Although we didn't do many laps, we got some data and we learned a few things, especially about the high degradation rate of the softs.
“Considering that we did no real set-up work today, it's quite encouraging that I was in the top ten in both sessions. We now have to concentrate on making good progress in the final practice session tomorrow morning.”
“It wasn't the best day,” echoed the Russian, an unexpected podium star Down Under. “The problem in the morning was quite a surprise, and we decided not to run until late in the afternoon when we had understood things properly. When I did finally get out, the car felt fine, but the time we had was very limited and we didn't really manage to do any set-up work.
“As we expected, the degradation rates are very high here, especially for the soft tyres, but they definitely had more grip and were a couple of seconds quicker than the hard. However, tomorrow is a new day and I think we can still have a good weekend.”