Tony Hall of Fame: Renault F1 Team Factory Visit Revisited


Going back in time, wishes  Renault F1 every success for 2016! The Blue Orange Lion Krew members are ready to once again rock the team blog should it come back to life at some point during 2016. We will, we will rock you! Will you rock us?!

Renault F1, Enstone, Oxfordshire, England

4 December 2009

The Renault F1 Team factory is based in the UK and this is where the current F1 cars are built. Renault F1 engines are designed and built in Viry, near Paris in France.

Renault F1 took over the facilities from Benetton back in 2002 (and again in 2016).

I entered the reception area to wait for my guide. In the reception area was a display of all the trophies that Renault F1 has won since 2002. My guide for the tour of the facility arrived and greeted me with a smile. We had met on a previous occasion so knew each other. He was clearly tired having just returned that morning from the F1 tests in Jerez.

Then we were off on the tour of Renault F1. I knew beforehand that some areas would be ‘off limits’ as the R30 was under construction.

The first area we visited were the administration and marketing offices which also deal with sponsorship and many other matters to do with guests of the team who may attend a particular event.

We then went into the Design and Development department where almost 60 people work. Every work place has a computer. It is divided into sections where the design of the gearbox, steering, suspension, exhausts, fuel tanks, front and rear wings, driver’s tub, oil and water radiators….everything except the engine!

Once the designs are completed, they are then sent to the relevant department that will manufacture them. These drawings are done by way of ‘computer-aided design technology’ (CAD) and uses special software developed by CATIA. This enables the parts to be designed as a three-dimensional model. The designers can therefore better visualize the part to ensure greater accuracy.

Next stop was the carbon fibre department. There are men working in what is called the ‘Clean Room’. It is a sterile environment which is maintained at a constant temperature and humidity. Staff all wear protective suits and hats to prevent cross-contamination.

The carbon fibres are set on moulds which have been previously made from similar drawings. Up to 50 layers of fibres may be used depending on the required strength for the part. If additional strength is required then aluminium honey comb is also used between the layers of carbon fibres.  Carbon fibre is twice as strong as steel and five times lighter and makes up around 80% of a current F1 car.

Once the part is made it has to be cured in one of three large ‘autoclaves’.  It can take quite a few hours so they try to maximize the number of parts they put in to the autoclave. This department was working at full capacity to ensure the various parts for the new R30 will be ready on time.

Then we went to the engineering department or machine shop where the metal parts are engineered. Everything is spotlessly clean, more like going into a hospital operating theatre. I was shown different parts that had been made. Imagine making a cylinder head for a hydraulic gear box out of a single piece of steel and within it different chambers that the hydraulic fluid passes. To do this they use a state of the art technology called ‘wire cutting and spark erosion’.

There are five wire cutting machines which can be used to accurately cut any conductive material. By putting an electrical charge through a copper wire the conductive material is eroded. A bit like a cheese wire cutting through a slab of cheese but in the first instance the copper wire does not make contact with the metal.

In addition there are three spark erosion machines which operate in a similar way but here the idea is to create a form within a metallic material. A charged electrode is driven into a metal block to create a female form of the electrode within the metal.

At the end of the machine shop was an area where an engineer was busy making exhaust pipes for the car. Being that a current F1 car uses a V8 engine, there are two sets of exhaust pipes ( wants that SOUND BACK!!!). Each one made by hand using a special material called ‘Inconel’. The tubing is bent by hand and then cut into many different shapes with the cuts angled ready to be welded. The end product must weigh less than 3 kg and be able to withstand temperatures in excess of 1000ºC where they are attached to the engine.

The wind tunnel was in a separate building.  Now I had been expecting to see a big fan at one end of a tunnel and the test car in the middle with the wind going out the far end.  No, I was completely wrong.  In fact, it is more a giant rectangular tube with a fan to generate the air flow and some filters and baffles to stabilise the air and a fast conveyor belt on which the test model sits. A current F1 wind tunnel will cost around half million pounds a year to run.

We left the wind tunnel and made our way to the newest addition to the Renault F1 facility. It is the CFD or Computational Fluid Dynamics department. Renault F1 have invested around $50 million on the construction of this state of the art computational aerodynamics research centre.

CFD is basically a wind tunnel on a computer and helps the team visualize the airflow around the car and also to simulate how certain parts of the car may deform under load.  CFD will complement the work done in the wind tunnel as it will help confirm or predict the results of wind tunnel model testing.

Continuing my tour, we went into a large hall that was obviously used for functions but also housed some of the prized cars of days gone by. These included the 95 Benetton B195 of Michael Schumacher which won the title that year, the R25 of Fernando Alonso and winner of WDC and Constructors title in 2005. Renault have also won the Le Mans race and there in that room was the 1978 Renault Alpine A442B a V6 500bhp.

Located at the rear of the Renault F1 facility is the Human Performance Centre. It is here that drivers come to prepare their fitness ready for the forthcoming season. Not only F1 drivers but also drivers from other categories linked to Renault can use the facility. Drivers have to be able to withstand forces of up to 5g and cockpit temperatures in the region of 60ºC therefore they require supreme mental and physical stamina.

Well, that about sums up my tour of Renault F1 at Enstone. I would like to thank the team for allowing access to the facility.

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