“We don’t aim to be in this situation in Formula One !”

Chief Track Engineer Simon Cole of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team reports on a fast-track technical discussion with Business Development Manager Mark Wilson from ebm-papst Automotive & Drives (UK) Ltd

What was the challenge before the Silverstone race?

We had some difficulty in air-cooling certain parts of the hybrid drive train. Those problems manifested themselves in Montreal and again in Austria. Then it became clear to us that attempts to solve it hadn’t been sufficiently effective. So we were going to Silverstone with concerns as to whether or not we were going to be able to cope with the limits. The wider subject of how we were going to improve the amount of hybrid energy that we were transferring carried on into the weekend and we were getting very concerned about the races that were coming up. So we were looking at our supplier of cooling solutions and became aware that we had ebm-papst at the race track as a guest – so we got hold of Business Development Manager Mark Wilson.

What did you discuss about?

The discussion was about what type of fan would best suit the application. Should we be looking at a centrifugal fan or an axial fan? Mark pointed out the specifications of ebm-papst motors and gave us great advice on what to concentrate on and what the difficulties were. He was very clear and helpful in explaining what type of fan was going to best suit the installation and what sort of capacity we could reasonable expect to fit in the volume that was available to us. And we applied those.

Did he understand immediately what the problem was?

Yes! We had some samples of parts relating to the installation available to look at so we were able to show Mark what the problem was, what the constraints were and how we were going to power the device. So it became a very easy discussion. Mark pointed out that it would be very difficult to package a fan that’s good enough in the space available. We were going to be very restricted by the cross-sectional area of the ducting to and from the fan. It was a very productive conversation.

It’s great for us to have somebody who deals exclusively with cooling fans.

Simon Cole

Are you always working on details of the car until the races begin?

We definitely don’t aim to be in this situation. Normally all the main decisions about the specifications of the car and the components are made four or five days before we go to the track. In this instance we were still reacting to problems that we had experienced in the previous two races and we wanted to use the opportunity to test parts after the Silverstone race. There was a certain amount of urgency and we wouldn’t want to leave it until Monday or Tuesday after the race.

Are you satisfied with the support of ebm-papst?

We have a lot of experience with aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and combustion engines – but not with the design of small high-performance fan cooling solutions. It’s great for us to have somebody who deals exclusively with cooling fans and therefore can take us straight to the important questions and the probable solutions. We are not in a business where we want to spend six months learning how to manufacture our own cooling fans. ebm-papst knows the answers and can design them. And that works perfectly.

What’s ebm-papst’s contribution to your success?

ebm-papst supports us with all the ancillary cooling infrastructure that we need to run the car. The car is a device that generates an enormous amount of power and it can only run in a very constrained range of temperature. So we need cooling solutions for the side-pod and for the roll-hoop. We need cooling of all the electrical boxes because the moment the car stops in the garage we have to cool it by other means than its own speed. We need to ventilate the garage to ensure the reliability of the IT systems, computer racking, radio systems. They are all high-power electrical devices that need careful management if they are to be reliable through the race, especially when we go to very challenging countries like Singapore, Abu Dhabi or Bahrain.

So it’s not a matter of fractions of seconds during the race.

No, it’s more a reliability aspect. We can only run the car if we have complete control of all the temperatures in the whole environment of the car while it’s in the garage. On the track we manage that with the car’s speed. If we have good control of the temperatures in the garage, we can push the limit a bit more when we’re on the track.

We were talking about the cooling car. What about the people in the team?

It is a very important aspect to achieving the best human performance for the drivers and for all the team members. Most of them have the luxury of not needing to wear fireproof overalls most of the time. But it’s still very stressful and extremely tiring if we are doing five days of work in an un-air-conditioned garage in Kuala Lumpur. And if people get tired they make mistakes.

We can only run the car if we have complete control of all the temperatures in the whole environment of the car while it’s in the garage.

Simon Cole

On the race track speed is everything. What’s the importance of speed in developing the car?

It’s almost more important than the speed on the race track. The race in which we can develop the car is our number one focus. It’s all about getting the design changes designed, made, tested, implemented and onto the car as fast as possible. All areas of the company are obsessed with time – particularly over the winter when we develop a completely new car. The majority of the people that are working in Brackley and Bricksworth are working in some way on developing the car rather than just assembling or manufacturing.

How do details affect your work?

95 percent of the car parts are redesigned every year. A lot of work is done in manufacturing the new car. So we spend half the year trying to make sure that next year’s car is a success. And the following six months we spend trying to improve what we’ve made. We practically never have the same car specification from one week to the next because every week parts of it change. And by the end of the year nearly all of it will have changed.

How does ebm-papst contribute to the next season?

What we have coming for the upcoming season is a completely new garage infrastructure to support the car and the crew. ebm-papst will play a large part in that. We are very keen that everything will be repackaged, redesigned and re-housed. We need to look again at all the cooling solutions. This is a job we will completely redo with ebm-papst.

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