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My Visit to Enstone report -15.11.2006


By manuStudio
November 18 2006

At this time of the year, most people would not notice it but in Enstone, in the heart of the Renault F1 Team, everyone is working in full force.

 

Enstone Renault F1 Team factory

  You first notice it as you arrive on site as the parking lot is now full to its maximum capacity that even more cars need to fill the side roads.  Today the factory is the base for well over 550 people working for Renault F1 as it was for 200 people when they took over from Benetton in 2001.  The main entrance is filled with trophies won over the last few years, and really shows the success of the team.

Parts of the Throphies room

The team is now working on the final phases of the R27, which its design has been mostly completed and where all the components are being build.  As it takes a full 18 months to complete a new F1 car, and there's only less than two months before the R27 will be shown to the public.  Saying this, which means, some parts of the design team already have started to work on the R28.  The design office is very busy at this time, as you can see most engineers on CATIA workstations completing the design of various parts of the giant puzzle. 

Within the Wind Tunnel building, laser machines are that cuts plastics of very complex shapes are running full time to complete parts that will be used in the wind tunnel.  The wind tunnel is used 24/7, its yearly electric bill alone is about £250,000 , and at this time, new parts are being tested for the coming test schedule at the end of the month and for the new R27 early next year.  Around the area, you can notice many half scale parts of models to be used, even model tires are made from carbon fiber. As you can see parts of the new car might already be inherited from the new ING sponsor, inside the wind tunnel, parts of the car are blue and orange, although it’s still no indications of what the next livery will be like.   

Half scaled wind tunnel model

Wind tunnel model Cabon Fiber Tyre

 The machine shop is crowed with people who are building all sorts of parts real for the cars. Also quite a few make parts entirely by hand has machines cannot do it, like the radiators and exhaust pipes which are very complex shapes and require artisan skills.  I even noticed outside in large a garbage can, parts of unwanted exhaust pipes along with other interesting parts.  Other small departments are busy working on the steering wheels and its electronics, giant computers fill the room while few steering wheels with lights on are attached to a bench are being tested.  All the electronic wiring is made by hand here.

RS26 V8 Exhaust

The White Room is where most of the carbon fiber work is being done, staff where protective suits to work there as no impurity can enter the room and the work involve.  There you can see large rolls of carbon fibers sheets being used to cover molds that have already been done.  Most of the chassis is covered by layers of carbon fibers.  After the layers of cut sheets are laid into molds of predetermined patters in a special air-conditioned clean room. This pattern of interwoven matting is what gives the finished component its strength. The material is then put in a vacuum bag.  They are moved to the autoclave. The autoclave is a sealed vessel very much like a giant oven 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 140°C) hardens the resin. Since this process is computer controlled, the design team can change the programs as necessary.  There are four different autoclave oven of different sizes, with the largest one heating up to 250°C.

I learnt that during the day of my visit Nelson Piquet Jr. was in to have a seat fitting, for the R27, and that Heikki was there for the same the day before.  Every time a new chassis is made for a driver, a new seat needs to be made for him. 

The R27 is almost born.

In the Research and Development department, all sorts of F1 car parts are being put into tests.  The chassis must pass a crash test just like any other road cars.  A few buckets around the room are filled with broken carbon fiber parts and bent steel.  The most interesting room is where to chassis are placed, one R25 and one R26.  The R26 only has its engine cover removed, and is already fitted with Bridgestone tires.  The car is placed with its four wheels on raised platforms and wires and tubes are connected from the car to the ceiling.  This is the suspension, balance and vibration simulator.  Although it is only a vertical simulator, that the car does not move forward, it replicated exactly all the vibrations recorded from a past race.  The simulation is started and it is just from one lap distance, so it take just over a minute, but the vibration and noise is quite strong and very impressive.  The biggest challenge is to be able to translate the information received and to use it for the maximum best car setup to any track before a race or test.  As far as I understand, on Renault F1 Team is the only team to have this most advanced simulator in use.  At that time, I was given something to hold, the famous “mass damper”, it’s a metal cylinder of about 15 x 15cm with a weight and spring inside, and you shake it and feel the weight moving inside, weighting about 15 kilos. It’s that simple, not much to it, nothing fancy, nothing high-tech really, but it was designed here and tested in that room, and the R26 had two of them, one in the nose cone, and one in the rear in the transmission, well only until it was banned by the FIA.

The Garage, where most of the current chassis are being finally assembled, and this time we could see five R26 which was mostly disassembled, with no front wings nor rear wings.  Engines and transmissions also removed from the chassis. One of those was Alonso’s world champion winning car, but the way they looked you can’t tell which is which.  These were getting ready to be set up for testing at the end of the month in Barcelona and to be used with Bridgstones for the first time.  Further in the garage are two full R25, now used for shows.

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 Parked outside are the team’s trucks, six of them was there, but only three were getting cleaned and ready for the testing in Barcelona.  For normal testing, the team would usually take two chassis, but this time they will bring three. Engines will come from Viry-Chatillion and will meet the team at the track as always.

Team Trucks being ready

Inside trucks being cleaned

 At the RDDC (Renault Driver Development Center) Lucas DiGrassi the GP2 driver was training for the winter, he was also training on the reflex machine. Its a machine that test a drivers reflex, with lights coming on at random and a large panel, they need to hit the lights with their hands when they come on and as fast as possible hit another one which comes on, they have 60 seconds.  Lucas has hit in the 128 mark, as Jose Lopez holds the record of 138 which is more than Fernando and Heikki.  A normal person would not reach half of the number. 

Lucas DiGrassi with the reflex machine

The good news is that as the team gets ready to go to Bacelona for three days of testing at the end of the month, they look and sound very confident.  They are not worried about the changes ahead, but look at them as a challenge.  It is very clear that every members of the team is 100% focus on the coming season, and it true professionalism and “Team Spirit” will make once again the winning difference and success it has seen over the last few years.

 

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