2016 Russian Grand Prix Preview
The 2016 Formula One World Championship continues this weekend with Round Four, the Russian Grand Prix, from the Sochi Autodrom
- Lewis: “Adversity is part of the journey”
- Nico: “I would never have expected the first three weekends to go the way they have”
- Toto: “We have an important week ahead for the sport”
- Paddy: “There could be early drama once again on Sunday”
- Featured This Week: Assessing a Power Unit Failure
There was plenty going through my head after China, as you’d expect. But, after all these years, experience has taught me to stay calm and keep pushing forwards when I get knocked back. I’ve been here before a few times now. A lot can happen over the next eighteen race weekends and I have the utmost confidence in this team. But adversity is part of the journey: it brings us closer, makes us stronger and I know that together we’ll bounce back, so I’m confident of better weekends to come. There are lots of positives to carry into the next battle. If nothing else, I know after these first few races that I can still overtake! I had a great start in China too, so hopefully I can continue that and use it to my advantage to build my races from a better base. It’s Russia up next – a race that I’ve won on both occasions so far and a track that seems to suit me pretty well, so let’s see what we can do there…
It’s great to see that we still have the quickest car out there and, of course, it’s always the plan to win every race. But I would never have expected the first three weekends to go the way they have. I’ve made the most of my opportunities and I have a bit of an advantage in the points right now – but we are only three races down and it would just take one bad weekend for that gap to disappear. Lewis is still the benchmark for me as he is the current Champion, Ferrari haven’t shown what they can do yet and Red Bull also look like they’re getting stronger, so it’s going to be a good battle and I’m looking forward to that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. For now, I’m just taking things race by race, focusing on doing my own thing and getting the job done to the best of my ability. That approach has worked out well for me so far. Now, I can’t wait to get to Sochi. I was looking good all weekend last year until a technical problem put me out of the race and I had great fun fighting from the back the year before, so I know I’m competitive at this track. It holds great memories of celebrating the two Championship wins with the team too, so I’m excited to be heading back and seeing how we perform.
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
We may have made a solid start – but at this stage it’s about collecting points without looking too much at the Championship. We are just three races down with eighteen still to go. I have no doubt that we will see a close fight on all fronts right up to the end of the season. Both drivers are a good place mentally. Nico is on great form but keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Lewis would have every right to feel disheartened by his start to the season – but he is calm and confident, handling adversity like a true Champion. We have an important week ahead for the sport, with our final Strategy Group meeting to define the regulations for 2017. After three Grand Prix weekends so far in 2016, we have seen that performance between the teams is converging to create great racing. Whether we have the reactivity as a group to recognise that and consider retaining a regulatory framework that is working well remains to be seen.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)
It’s unusual to be returning to a race just six months after the previous edition. Such a significant calendar shift could bring quite a different climatic profile too. This is our third trip to the Sochi Autodrom, so it will be interesting to see how the track has aged. In the first two seasons we saw a very smooth track surface. With that in mind, the allocation of the Medium, Soft and SuperSoft compound for this year is quite a conservative choice. Another interesting feature is that Sochi has the longest run down to the first braking zone of any circuit on the calendar and it’s a heavy braking event, which can easily catch drivers out on the first lap. After eventful opening laps in Bahrain and China, there could be early drama once again on Sunday. We’re looking forward to being back in Russia and aiming to replicate our strong form in Sochi on previous occasions. After a less-than-satisfactory weekend in China from a reliability perspective, one of our priorities is to have a clean weekend on both sides of the garage. In any case, we look forward to putting on another exciting race for the sport’s growing fan base in Russia.
Featured This Week: Assessing a Power Unit Failure
What do we now know about the failure on Lewis’ Power Unit in Shanghai?
The Power Unit in question arrived back at Brixworth in the early hours of Thursday morning of the week following the race and investigation into the failure has been on-going every minute since its return to the factory. The MGU-H has been stripped and the issue is suspected to be associated with the insulation. The turbocharger will be replaced in addition to the oil pumps, after debris was found in the oil system. With the repairs completed, this Power Unit will remain in the driver pool and travel to Sochi as a spare.
What’s the initial course of action when a Power Unit failure occurs at the track?
First and foremost, a group of engineers at the circuit and a much larger group at Brixworth will pore through readings from the data logger, noting what every sensor on the Power Unit has recorded. That’s an instant check which will quickly establish the severity of the problem.
What happens if a major fault is discovered?
If it’s then determined that there is an issue which cannot be fixed at the track and hardware needs to be removed, the trackside technicians will ready the components for transport back to Brixworth as quickly as possible. The engineer responsible for the system suspected to be at the core of the issue will subsequently draw up a strip request instruction while the components are in transit.
What exactly does a strip request instruction involve?
It’s a detailed sequence of instructions for the technicians working in the build department back at Brixworth, which outlines who will be allocated to each individual stage of the process, what specialist equipment and / or inspection techniques are required and which procedures need to be carried out. The list is written in chronological order with approximate time frames for each step to create a carefully considered timing plan that’s fully resourced.
Where do the technicians begin when deconstructing a failed component?
In most cases, the technicians will start by back-flushing oil through the various galleries and filters of the oil and coolant systems to collect any fine debris. While larger fragments can be removed by hand, the finer debris – which often points to the start of the problem – can settle at the end of blind galleries or in filters downstream of the failed part.
How is debris analysed?
Microscope analysis of the debris is the first stage – looking at the different shapes and sizes present to establish whether it’s a case of fine wear or a component which has shattered into small pieces. The debris will then be scanned with an electron microscope to check its chemical composition. This helps to establish the material type – which in turn provides an indication of the component that the debris might have come from.
What happens next to the various components in question?
Once the debris analysis has been completed and the components that were involved in the failure have all been stripped, everything is physically laid out to mimic its installed configuration. Looking at the series of components in front of them, what debris has been found and where it ended up, the engineers can begin to establish a likely sequence of events. They will then go back through the logged data from the track to find any step changes in the readings from each Power Unit sensor that might match up to a given theory.
Can virtual simulations be used in the investigation process?
Virtual simulation tools give a good insight into what’s going on within a system and are used extensively throughout the development phase. When a component has failed, those models can be referred back to and changes made commensurate with what the team suspects has gone wrong to mimic the cause of the failure.
Does the team ever carry out physical simulations to re-create a failure?
Deliberate errors can be manufactured into hardware, which can then be tested on the dyno in an attempt to replicate a failure. This might be seen as an expensive means of testing – but it’s cheaper than having a repeat issue at the circuit. Engines can be run with clearances altered to be either larger or smaller than the typical build standard tolerances – mimicking a scenario in which a surface has become worn, for example.
What about non-mechanical elements of the Power Unit?
Every element of the Power Unit can and will be analysed where necessary. An electrical component such as a PCB (Printed Circuit Board), for example, might be run in an oven at increasing temperatures to establish at what point its semiconductors stop working. This can then be tied in with knowledge about the temperature of that circuit board in the ERS module to establish whether overheating could be diagnosed as a cause of failure.
Who is generally involved in the diagnosis process?
In the first instance, an engineer with expertise in the system concerned will be assigned exclusively to investigating the issue through to its resolution. He or she will chair a meeting at least every 24hrs, calling in four to five people to help cogitate theories. These tend to be people that have a broad experience of the Power Unit, a good problem solving mindset and an ability for lateral thinking – working through theories step by step to ensure they are robust.