December 18 2005
The heart of the Renault F1 Team, located in the suburbs of Oxford, England in the complete country side surrounded by nothing but fields. As you arrived close to the factory, you never see any buildings until the very last moment that you are right in front of the entrance gate.
The reason for this is to protect the environment from the looks of a factory and the privacy. The building is of modern white and low to the ground, a large parking area surrounds the complex as about 650 employees work there.
The entrance of the building enters in the reception where you can see glass cabinets filled with Renault F1 items and a Teamís racing suit and the helmets of both drivers.
Then is the presentation hall where tables are set and even a R24 lies on the side of the room. Large boards photographs of the success of the 2005 season fills the walls of the room.
A small corridor takes you to a small room where a half scale model of the R24 is displayed, the one that was used in the wind tunnel prior the 2004 season. The next place you visit is the designer studios, where a team of about 50 engineers are on workstations using Catia, 3D design software to create the 20,000 drawings required and designing 90% of the Renault F1 carís chassis. In another room you can see about ten large machines that are creating very complex pieces of the car that are cut by a laser directly from a drawing. These parts are first cut from a special plastic that are creating layers inside a liquid. Once that part is finished, a mold is created to be used as a cast of different ultra light titanium composites.
Then you arrive to a large workshop where you can see different sections, where mechanics follows technical drawings and you can see some work made on a radiator completely by hand, and another on some compositions that I have no idea what it is.
There are so many parts, itís impossible to look at it all. Then you can see a department in the workshop where they work on exhaust pipes. Displayed in front, clearly is an exhaust pipe from a V10 since itís composed of 5 pipes, they you see a mechanic hitting some metal and steel, and you can see itís also an exhaust pipe that is being finished, but that one is clearly made with 4 pipes, itís for the V8 RS26.
Further down the workshops along the long corridors, you can see large windows show rooms where people wearing complete clean suits and masks. These engineers are working on parts of the bodywork with carbon fiber cloth and some can be seen as the center of the car takes shape as it is build with structural composite components of aluminum honeycomb core bonded with several layers of carbon fiber. You can see several pieces which have been put in a vacuum bag on benches alongside the corridors waiting to be inserted in the giant autoclave. Through the same corridor is another room with large windows where you can see about ten engineers working on the steering wheels and its electronic systems, since the steering wheel is almost like a brain and is filled with electronics and information for the drivers. A F1 steering wheel will cost about £50,000. Finally at the end of that corridor, are those two giant autoclave which look like ovens. The autoclave is a sealed vessel that applies pressure (between two and six times normal atmospheric pressure) and heat. The pressure, combined with the vacuum bag, ensures that components fit the molds exactly while the heat (usually between 130 and 140įC) hardens the resin.
I did not see and finished body parts of the R26, but so many of the R25 and in one area that is the main garage, you can see three chassis, the ones from the R25, the latest specs that came back from China. These are still being looked at in every which way possible. The chassis that Fernando Alonso used to win the race and the 2005 Constructor championship was all opened, with the R25E, and its gear box moved to the side. The front and back wings were on top of the bench, the engine cover against the wall, after so many parts have been remove, the car looks so small, but its so interesting to see all of its insides, and parts along side it, itís a real giant jigsaw puzzle. In the same garage are, you can see the mobile control and information stand with all those flat monitors, the one used on the pit lane at every race.
Then leaving the garage area and you go outside to enter in what looks like a warehouse, with a very large volume and high ceilings, but inside it is different, it is the wind tunnel. I was only allowed to walk on top of this mysterious place. I say mysterious because you cannot see inside but just the shape of the pipes and the wind tunnel from the outside, and nothing can be seen inside, but inside there is something that is top secret and that only a few selected persons are allowed to see. As I was standing on top of the wind tunnel, a half scaled model of the R26 was there and the only thing I could feel was the high noise of the wind simulated by the machine. On the side, I could see boxes filled with half scale parts of all sorts, wings and wheels with tires.
In another garage type room, you can directly see a full R25, and it is the latest spec as you can notice the sticker of sponsor Hanjin to be in Chinese, so it was use in China as the third car. This car was place with each wheels that are attached on large separated metal plates. This is a vibration simulator, where they test the car for the perfect balance and to correct unwanted vibrations. The use of telemetry recorded in previous races is used here to replay full race laps to insure a perfect simulation of vibrations. The car does not move forward or backwards but the vibrations it received are quite surprisingly heavy. At one point a very big shock and loud noise happened and the engineer said that it was a chicane and it was normal.
In another small room on its own, which looks very much like an engine test bench simulator that is used in Viry-Chatillion, but here they do not test engines but itís the place for testing the transmission and gear box. The first small room is cramped with computers and simulator stations. In front, a large glass window showing all sorts of equipments attached to a transmission and gear box.
Outside, in the courtyard you can see the 6 shining Magnum trucks, inside its mostly empty at the moment, but you can see how organized it is. One truck it to transport the three chassis that are connected on rails, and along side are hundreds of cabinets and drawers to carry many of the part and spare parts. At the front of the truck is a small room which is used as a mobile workshop.
Finally but not last, I visit the building that is not used for building the cars and that is completely different that the rest of the factory. Itís the drivers training center, which looks like a Swedish country house and mostly made out of wood. This is where the drivers, the test drivers, and even the drivers from the Renault driver development program come for physical training. It looks like a typical gym, but here they have special training for F1 drivers, such as reflex machines, balance games with what looks like a heavy ball that is shaped like a steering wheel. Also a weight machine to build the neck muscles, which are the most used for a F1 drivers to be able to withstand the strong gravity pressure.
Of course this visit is only a short part of this factory, since many part cannot be seen due to it secrets and only few people can see. These visits are normally only given to sponsors and Renault F1 drivers and VIPs. Since The Renault F1 Team appreciates the fans they have, the fans club is allowed a couple of visits a year. I was very lucky to be among the selected few as each groups are of limited numbers. So, I want to thank the whole team for letting us visit the heart of the F1 World Champions and again, congratulations, and welcome 2006.
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