Red Bull engine mapping: storm in a teacup?

Sebastian Vettel, German GP 2012

Sebastian Vettel, German GP 2012 

 © The Cahier Archive

In Budapest on Friday, Renault Sport F1's head of track operations, Remi Taffin, explained the engine company's view on the Red Bull mapping controversy that blew up just ahead of the German GP.

Taffin explained that had the issue arisen on Thursday/Friday in Hockenheim, it would have been "a five minute fix," but the matter was a result of checks made subsequent to qualifying, by which time the cars were in parc ferme.

FIA representatives came to the Red Bull Racing garage after qualifying at around 6pm to discuss with Renault changes made to the engine torque map since Silverstone and the magnitude of them.

Renault reminded the FIA that for years, as is common in the pitlane, they have been tuning engines to offer the best torque curve at any time and that the trend could change from one race to another.

Taffin expressed surprise that the matter went beyond that, to Jo Bauer's report to the stewards on Sunday morning but conceded that it was the only way for attention to be focused on the matter within the context of the German GP weekend.

The stewards were not equipped to rule on the matter but, on Wednesday, the FIA issued a further technical directive that requires teams to use a map from the first four races of the season.

Whereas the Red Bull map at Hockenheim had a full throttle torque variation of around 10% in the mid rev range, compared with previous maps, the maps to be used from Budapest onwards must have a maximum variation of 2%.

The torque limitation aids drivability and also affords a degree of off-throttle blowing of the diffuser but, as Taffin explained, a tiny order of magnitude relative to last year.

"On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of achieveing the potential of the exhaust, if you had 10 last year you are talking about 1 or 1.5 this year. I cannot tell you that it's not going to improve the exhaust by 1% but bear in mind that the exhaust design you put on the car makes 99%."

Taffin explained that although they use the same engine, a Red Bull map would be different from a Lotus map, which would be different from a Williams or Caterham map, depending on the design of the exhaust and the way in which the teams chose to run the engine and other parameters.

"Change any hardware on the car, not just the mapping, and you will change the torque curve," he said.

"It's nothing like traction control, which is closed loop," he added, but admitted that maps are used to try to limit tyre wear.

Rival team principals such as McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh made the point in Germany that a directive was required so that if teams were going to allocate money developing maps, against the spirit of a clampdown intended by the FIA last year, then they need to know. The FIA's latest technical directive should limit that.

Taffin explained, however, that amid the climate of an F1 engine freeze, engineers at Viry-Chatillon, Brixworth (Mercedes) and Maranello (Ferrari) were not going to sit on their hands doing nothing, but rather chase performance in one area still open to them, a view backed up in Budapest by Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn.

"It's about chasing the last hundredth of a second," Taffin said. "We will now have to go and find it somewhere else!"

Which is a key point. The Red Bull, even with the Hockenheim map, was nip and tuck with the Ferrari and arguably slower than the McLaren in Germany. In Valencia, two races prior, it disappeared up the road with a different map, prior to Sebastian Vettel's retirement.

"What we do tomorrow (going back a step with the map) won't change things by tenths," Taffin said, "but get the tyres right, like Red Bull did in Valencia, and you will find three or four tenths."

That, rather than engine mapping, still seems to be the Holy Grail in 2012. As Ross Brawn said of his team's performance in Hockenheim: "We were 29s behind over 67 laps, which included an extra stop because we were wearing the tyres. That equates to 0.43s per lap, which requires a big upgrade but is achievable, and that's where we're working hard."

The mapping, as Taffin said, "is tiny margins. A lot has been said and written, but it's not a big story. It's just F1."

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