Diego and Tony caught up with Didier Perrin, GP3 Series’ and Formula 2 technical boss, in Valencia during the last pre-season test in late April. Here’s what they were talking about…
Diego Merino: Didier, could you talk us through some new features on the GP3/16 car?
Didier Perrin: We’ve decided to implement the DRS on the car to improve the show. We’ve already implemented DRS on the former GP2 – and now F2 car – a few years ago and it was pretty successful; our DRS is matching all the F1 DRS requirements, it works based on exactly the same principal: driver needs to be within one second of the car in front to be able to use the DRS; we had developed first for GP2 a very simple system, so it’s the same principal as in F1, but very simple to operate and not too expensive. We then decided it could be applied as well the new GP3 car.
DM: Is this the only technical development coming for this year?
DP: For 2017? Yes, it is. But I think it’ll play an interesting role. We only added one single thing to the GP3 DRS is that we’ll limit its use during the race, meaning in F1 and F2 they can deploy the DRS as much as they want, provided they are within one second of the car ahead. In GP3, they will be able to use the DRS if they’re within one second, but for a limited number of times during the race because we want to improve the show, however we do not want just DRS-assisted overtaking.
DM: How many times can you push the DRS button?
DP: It’s going to be six laps during race one and DRS use will permitted for four laps during race two. The same DRS zones as F1 and F2.
Tony Hall: Is that because GP3 cars are all the same engine and same chassis, while F1 is different manufacturers?
DP: The fact that we limited the amount of DRS deployment is very simple: we’ve looked at the history chart of the races and what happened during each race. We have three or four leading cars after the start and there’s a gap between them, but after that, normally with GP3, there’s a batch, a train of twelve or fifteen cars. If you allow them to use the DRS when they’re within one second of each other, they will all have the DRS, the entire train will get the DRS, apart from the leader of the train, so you will see only one overtaking move. By limiting the number of deployments, they won’t be able to use it every lap and each driver will have to decide “I use it this lap or that lap”.
DM: It’s like a token, play your cards!
DP: Exactly! They all have the same amount of tokens and are all in the same conditions, but we expect to see action on track. It is the additional advantage of the DRS, it gives you more chances to overtake. The GP3/16 proved last year that it’s possible to overtake, we designed it with overtaking in mind, we made sure that the car is capable of following the car in front closely in order for the driver to attack at braking points. But on top of that, we’ll bring the DRS to the series. It’s not because there’s no overtaking, no! There’s overtaking in GP3; all we want is to bring an additional tool, make it better and to teach the drivers how to use the DRS as well. They will need to think about strategy: “Do I use all my DRS tokens now?”
DM: Speaking about engines, could you give us your feedback on the current unit?
DP: We introduced a new engine last year and didn’t have any, any, any issues or engine failures in 2016, which for a brand new bespoke engine is pretty impressive. I’m very happy about the engine provided and the job done by Mecachrome. The engine proved its incredible reliability and it proved as well that we’re always taking great care of providing all the competitors with an engine delivering the same power because it’s a one-make formula. We impose on our engine supplier a very narrow window of performance and we are very happy with Mecachrome’s GP3 engine. First off, it’s very reliable, not a single issue so far. Every day at the circuit I go to the teams’ garages and check if there was a problem – not a single issue with 19 cars on track all day! And during the 2016 season we had no reliability or technical issues and a very narrow performance window. No one can complain about the difference in power output, we are extremely happy about that. This engine has been designed and defined specifically for GP3.
DM: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix! You don’t foresee the introduction of hybrid engines in the GP3 future?
DP: No! Never! You would have to kill me! Typically, GP3 is a formula for young drivers that wish to prove their skills to go to Formula 2 and then Formula 1. What’s the point of making the car more expensive? They already struggle to find a budget, it is already super difficult for a driver to find cash to do motor racing of any kind! Why should we use a hybrid engine, it’s not in a promotional category that you should do that. We fight tooth and nail to keep costs as low as possible; believe me, if you want to have a hybrid system on the car, go elsewhere or do it without me.
TH: Is it true that the same engine, albeit with a turbo charger, will be used by Formula 2?
DP: Yes, it’s true. We decided on it quite some time ago because the process of developing an engine is a long one, we had talks with Mecachrome a few years back and for cost-effectiveness we decided to develop an engine that would suit both GP3 and F2. You saw the naturally aspirared version at the back of the GP3/16 last year and you’ll see the turbocharged version in Formula 2 next year.
TH: How many brake horsepower roughly?
DP: We think the positioning of the current GP3 and F2 engines is perfect, so we won’t change that part. GP3 is 400bhp and F2 is 620bhp.
DM: Does this have anything to do with the FIA’s “world engine”?
DP: I don’t know what they had in mind. I can only tell you that we have the experience of running one-make promotional series and we know the key element is the cost. This is the main principle we used in our thinking behind our engine project and this is the reason why we decided to follow that route with Mecachrome – because we manage the two series and it increases the number os castings and sparks and so on. It helps to reduce the costs and reducing operational costs is the key to success of any lower category.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview!