My analysis of Renault’s failure, aided by Petrov going apes&!* on Russian TV.

Posted: November 17, 2011 by Matt Ruda in Uncategorized

As you all probably know, Petrov isn’t a driver I am easy on. In 2010 he breached what can be excused as “rookie mistakes” and was headed dangerously close to Ide-territory. In 2011 he has had a spectacularly average season, but as I said recently, I would argue this is more due to his car than his ability, talent, or lack thereof.  I was curious as to the mysterious disappearance of their pace, and what caused Boullier to snap from slagging off drivers at every opportunity to, more or less, bending over backwards to praise them.

It seems Petrov, in a nearly unprecedented manner considering how modern-F1 is so PR-centric, let loose and puts his contract on the line doing so. On Russia 2, what I assume to be Russia’s second least originally named TV channel, Vitaly told Boullier where he can stick his massive ego. Full disclosure, any quotes you see here were grabbed from an article on this. I do not know how credible they are in F1 circles, nor have I been privy to Россия 2’s transcript. However, if this is credible, Vitaly has just gained >9000 respect points in my book.

On Renault’s pace:

“But when our wind tunnel started working, new parts began to arrive, but due to the fact that we use a forward-directed exhaust system, those parts just didn’t fit. We installed them – the front wing, the rear wing, the diffuser, the under body, the barge boards, – we changed everything, yet in vain. For almost ten races we haven’t had absolutely nothing, which, in fact, means we drive basically the same car we’ve began the season with.”

Guess who called it ^^.  Alright, to be fair, anyone with a brain could tell Renault appeared to have no car development to speak of, but I can proudly say I made the connection between their lack of performance and that front-facing exhaust.

Some of you may wonder why something so innocuous on the surface might have a marked effect on car performance. It is all down to aerodynamics. The technical term for it is, funnily enough, blowing. Blowing (in aerodynamics terms) has to do with the boundary layer and how it changes over the wing surface.

Blowing happens all the time. As far as the wing is concerned, a moving F1 car is the same as a stationary one with a massive jet blowing air over it’s surface. This flow has a thin layer near the surface, called a boundary layer, where viscous effects keep the flow attached to the wing and other complicated shit that entire Ph.D degrees are dedicated to researching.

To massively simplify things, you can have two types of flow, laminar and turbulent. Laminar flow is smooth, easy going, like Steve after a few (dozen) beers. It carries very little drag, and is ideal for low speed, low attack angle applications, like F1 cars. Turbulent flow becomes useful when speeds get higher, or you try to maneuver rapidly (like a fighter). Although turbulent flow carries more drag, it has more momentum. This helps keep the flow attached, and prevents separation, stalls, and deaths of a few hundred people.

What does this have to do with the forward exhaust you might ask? I think the flow of the exhaust gases is causing localized turbulent flow and/or separation at lower speeds, which may explain why Renault have really (pardon the pun) blown on lower speed circuits/corners.

The Renault car is known to have one of the strongest off-throttle blown diffusers (OTBD) of all the field. This means there is a much greater volume of gas being ejected even when the drivers lift their foot, like in the slower speed corners. I think this is interfering with the flow coming off the front wing, and into the diffuser. Renault hoped this system would redirect the gases into the stream and be carried into the diffuser, increasing downforce.

This in all likelihood works as intended in the higher speed corners, but at low speed something happens. The flow off the wing is being channeled to the diffuser, but the exhaust gas is disrupting the flow. Depending on the turn in question, the change may be minimal, but seeing as these cars are ginormously twitchy anyway, any disruption can lead to loss of grip, an unbalanced car, and general slowness.

This could explain why, no matter how many new parts, winglets, or new floors Renault brings, they cannot keep pace with the top teams. Their problem is directly connected to a key component of their car design, so without a change to the exhausts you won’t see much of a performance gain. This effectively left Renault standing still while the rest of the field developed, refined, and perfected their cars.

Now this could all be rubbish, as I’m sure Renault has (or, at this point, had) smarter, more experienced men on their payroll who could probably tell you different. Consider this a shot in the dark from a student of this particular science.

Moving along, here comes the part where my respect for Vitaly spikes, to the point where I may even get off his arse for a while. Enjoy.

“Unfortunately, I can’t say anything bad about the team, it is written down in my contract. But you could read a lot of that in the press. People said that the team criticizes its drivers. Hey, read my interviews, I don’t criticize a team that lost many times. How much have we lost on pit stops? How much have we lost on tactics? In my opinion, if you ask any fan this question, he will say in a particular situation: of course, you had to change the soft tires early in the race. Of course, we would analyze it, but it was too late, any fan would already know what had to be done.

“Due to that kind of things we lost, I can say, about ten races, if not more. Even without a fast car, we could make good points, could easily finish in the points zone, if there was a good strategy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say in an interview that, roughly speaking, we lost due to poor pit stops once again. I still can’t speak about it, but once it comes to that I also can’t remain silent, I’ve had enough of it, I can’t keep everything inside myself.”

Ho…ly…. shit! If his comments on pace were a slight towards the higher-ups at Renault, here Vitaly basically cuts off Eric’s tender bits, insults his mother, and then drop kicks him in the face. Petrov doesn’t seem content to fart around in a less than capable car, nor does he seem content to be part of a team that’s falling apart.

It’s refreshing to see a driver call the team out on their mistakes. While I think development issue have been the main thing keeping Renault down, baffling strategy calls and bungled pitstops (they set Hind-Field’s car on fire for the love of God) have cost them more than a few points. What I also find funny is that Renault would make it a point to put “don’t be mean to us” in their contract. Sure, all teams don’t want a driver going off the rails, but contrast this with McLaren. After Jenson’s string of weird pitstops, both he and Whitmarsh admitted their mistake, being critical of themselves for all the media to hear. A team prohibiting criticism of any kind strikes me the wrong way.

What’s more, if that is indeed part of his contract, saying what he did means Vitaly is risking his seat with this interview. He even acknowledges this.

“This is Formula 1, it’s business. Gradually, they’re just working to get more – maybe the price, maybe the sponsors, may[be] the drivers around them. Look at the queue of drivers in Williams – I believe there are some twenty people eager to take the second place there. Thank God I’m not in it. As for me, I think it is quite clear – I have a contract. But as I said before, even the world champion Kimi Raikkonen was asked to leave Formula 1 for a certain amount. It’s a world where everything is possible, it will be hard to oppose if they want to remove someone.”

If I’m reading this right Petrov is saying he’d rather leave F1 than spend another year with Renault, and that while just quitting would be a breach of his contract, he is not opposed to being payed a severance and going on his way.

Seeing how many people are trying to get seats in F1 right now, saying this takes balls. For this I take my imaginary hat off to Petrov. I never thought of you as much of a driver, but the fact that you’re willing to speak your mind commands respect.

Renault are a trainwreck of a team, something we’ve watched evolve with horrified fascination, wondering how far they might fall. They are run by one of the most egotistical pricks in the sport, a man who is not only a detriment to his team, but an embarrassment to all F1 fans around the world. Cheers to you Mr. Petrov. You may never win an F1 race, but you certainly achieved epic victory here.

(alright, I had to get one last Petrov-bash in here…)

(All bolded text was taken directly from an F1Revs article, posted here

  1. JourneyTH says:

    Yes, those are all direct quotes, translated really well, too. I’ve seen them posted on another Russian site and I was very much surprised as well.

    Russia 2 is a subsidiary of Russia 1, which used to be something else but we decided to go with the shit names. Russia 2 is a mostly sports channel, while there is also “Russia C” for Culture, “Russia 24” for all-day news, “Sport 1” and “Sport 2” for our sports channels.

    Now that we got that out of the way – yeah, it’s admirable. I’m glad Boullier was finally told to shut it with his driver bashing. I just hope it doesn’t cost Vitaly the contract, but, hell, if it does, Renault’s not exactly the best team anyway.

  2. Alex Krelin says:

    Wow, this made my day! But did Petrov reflect on his own mistakes? Like that horrible almost-spin in India? Or, perhaps, his ride along the hills in Malaysia? His team made a lot of bad mistakes, but his shortage of points is not only down to them.

  3. thevillainf1 says:

    Never thought I’d see the day where we’d post anything remotely positive about Petrov, but I admit, mucho Kudos to the man for giving Boullier the finger like that.

    He’s got it spot on, but like Alex said, it’s not just the car, he should also look a bit inward. After all his first season was just plain embarrassing, and this one was mediocre at best so he cant say he’s delivered it all either. But with the team falling apart like it is I’m not surprised he wouldn’t mind a way out. Does Renault even have any staff left to build the 2012 car?

    So with this ‘no criticism’ clause in his contract next year it’ll be Senna Grosjean and Vitaly back racing Lada’s on icerinks?

    Loved the aero explanation too, even I understood that!

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