The secret behind the Renault F1 PU turnaround


This time last season the Red Bull/Renault civil war was in full swing, soon to be followed the claims from Milton Keynes they were being forced to withdraw from F1 because they would have no power unit supplier for 2016.

In the end a last minute deal was done by RBR with Renault and Toro Rosso were sent out to information gather by agreeing to run a Ferrari 2015 power unit for 2016.

What a difference a year makes!

6 races into 2016 and Red Bull Racing with their Tag Heuer engine have a race win under their belt and have thrown away another easy victory at the Monaco GP. In fact a number of unusual mistakes by RBR see them trailing Ferrari by 9 points at present in the constructors championship when in fact they could be ahead of the team from Maranello.

Such has been the improvement in the much maligned French designed F1 power that Red Bull Racing have signed a contract extension with Renault to continue with the Tag Heuer F1 power unit and Toro Rosso will be returning to the Renault F1 PU fold too in 2017.

So what has made the difference? How has the Renault turnaround been delivered?

As TJ13 extensively reported last year, there was extreme pressure from Red Bull Racing on Renault to influence the direction and pace of the F1 PU development. One example of this was during the season opener in Australia, Red Bull ran a development engine which Renault advised against because it had not completed the proper number of test hours. The result? Danny Kvyat didn’t make the starting line before his engine failed – and the ‘other Dan’ from Aus limped round and finished a lap and some down on the race winner.

Red Bull Racing recruited the services of Mario Illien of Ilmor fame to improve an area of the Renault power unit they believed to be deficient. Illien focused on redesigning the internal combustion engine and specifically the combustion chamber and the cylinder head. Red Bull wanted Renault to incorporate Illien’s design into their autumn upgrade however the French response was to be disagreeable and an eventually a Renault driven design upgrade was delivered with just a handful of races to the end of the season.

The upgrade was received by Red Bull Racing with what could be best described as disinterest. In fact the 11 token enhanced power unit was available at the US GP in Austin, though Red Bull declined to use it until 2 races later in Brazil. The late season upgrade was believed to deliver 0.2s per lap improvement, though Daniil Kvyat managed just P7 at Interlagos and the ‘other Dan’ finished outside the points in P11.

Heading into the winter break, it looked to most as though the RBR/Renault civil war would continue and any turnaround in power unit fortunes would be not for another year or two.

Yet behind the scenes a new era of co-operation and goodwill was being forged. Red Bull Racing agreed to continue their independent analysis of the power unit and building 9 activities and Renault accepted they would examine the results of any RBR power unit related work. Red Bull Racing also agreed not to pressurize Renault into bringing developments too quickly something Remi Taffin recently commented on when explaining how the first of the Renault 2016 upgrades was introduced.

“At the end of last year we used a lot of tokens that were not very fruitful due to the fact that we could not put everything in,” revealed the Frenchman to

“That’s why this year when we used six tokens for the first race it gave us a lot, and then another three… Everything has been shifting, so we get the rewards from last year”.

The focus of the recent Renualt upgrade delivered in Monaco was around the Illien work commissioned by RBR last year. Taffin continues, “We have been raising our game in the internal combustion engine, so we basically tweaked the ignition system and took the benefit of a more efficient combustion system to try to get the most out of it.

“And the three tokens is basically based on the fact that we’ve been changing the combustion chamber.”

As Taffin says, there has been no ‘magic’ in Renualt’s improved power unit this year, just a little more co-operation and understanding from both sides of the once great divide.

As to the rest of the season, Renault are remaining cautious and at present have no new power unit upgrades in the pipeline despite them having a further 21 development tokens available.

“At the moment we don’t have any plans to say there will be a very good upgrade at that race and so on.

“We need to make this one work, which is the case and now we are going to get the most out of it and then, if we get anything in our development programme for next year to fit into this year, we will be doing that”.

The test of the new found RBR/Renault love in will be whether Milton Keynes can survive for most of the remainder of this season with no promise of a power unit upgrade, or whether their overwhelming desire to win will once again force them to pressurize Renault to step up the pace of design development and implementation.

30 responses to “The secret behind the Renault F1 PU turnaround

  1. I thought Renault had 21 tokens remaining?….

    In the F1 report on Wednesday of last week, Crofty mentioned that there were rumors that Renault received helped from Mercedes with their upgrade.

    I am also a little skeptical about the 0.5 seconds performance gain. That would be some feet of engineering if they were able to gain that much from only using the reported 3 tokens.

    Given that Monaco was not a power dependent track, this weekends race should give us a clear indication of whether that figure is true or is just another media hype.

      • Not sure, but it could have something to do with the TJI injection system, that both Mercedes and Ferrari has been using.

        • The TJI injection system (Male) is not being used in F1 because it is incompatible with the FIA direct injection rules/regulations. I already said that and explained why on here sometime ago.
          And neither is the HCCI system as it is also incompatible with FIA rules regulations. (variable valve timing).
          When one of the two self appointed technical experts authors of the above two systems discoveries asked Mercedes HPP boss Andy Cowell to confirm or deny that Mercedes engine incorporated one of the described hybrid system technology, he gave him, in his own words a firm no. yet both of the two discoverers still pushed the subject forward in their respective blogs, one of them going as far as to declare that FERRARI was using, first one system than the other since last year in Canada.

      • Merc would help Renault to try and spice the show up a bit just like they did with Ferrari last year. People were starting to switch off their TV’s because the Merc engine was just too far ahead and the rules didn’t allow anyone to catch up.

        • This is one of the big problems for those following F1 and depends on those in a position to influence others by pushing their total BS out on their media/blogs.

  2. nothing beats the British formula one press, at least most of it. Mercedes must be the only good guys of F1 and the most charitable, because according to these clowns adorning such F1 sites Mercedes first helped FERRARI with developing their PU and now they have helped Renault.
    now wonder what will be next, maybe Illien will design another much better cylinder head/injection system and ERS in RBR’S underground building 9 for Renault.
    PS, will somebody please tell Illien to have a look at the possible use of the much speculated about by those well known two self appointed F1 technical experts of the new combustion system by Male FERRARI and Mercedes are using.

  3. I fully expect the RBs to return to their previous finger-pointing stance, “It’s ALL THEIR FAULT!!!!111111!!!!!!” (It would be nice to be proved wrong.)

  4. this is a very good background on Renault, Red Bull and F1

    some additional background:
    – in summer 2014 Red Bull paid Illien to do research to improve the Renault PU because ist was the worst of all hybrid systems
    – in the beginning of the 2015 season Renault said, that the improved engine would come around GP of Spain.
    – in summer Renault said they had an own development, that would be as good as the RB/Illien version (as in your article above – this was not true)
    – now, more than a year later the update is in the cars and it works, what a supprise that RB was “unhappy” last year, knowing how much better the PU could have been if Renault wanted it to be good …

    My question is: why did Renault do everything that Red Bull and Torro Rosso have such a bad year?

    The secret behind that might be:
    maybe Renault could negotiate a much better deal with Berny because they proved that Red Bull and Torro Rosso would be out of F1 if Renault would not give an engine to them … The Lotus team would have been out, too.

    Maybe this is the second part of the secret

  5. “The upgrade was received by Red Bull Racing with what could be best described as disinterest. In fact the 11 token enhanced power unit was available at the US GP in Austin, though Red Bull declined to use it until 2 races later in Brazil. The late season upgrade was believed to deliver 0.2s per lap improvement, though Daniil Kvyat managed just P7 at Interlagos and the ‘other Dan’ finished outside the points in P11.”

    What people forget, or maybe I am wrong, but I believe that Red Bull for some odd reason, decided to not take all of the upgraded parts for the 11 token section. I believe they just took the upgraded turbo and kers system and kept the old block. There was talk that the block would have unlocked the full potential of the 11 token upgrade, but Red Bull were looking to assess the turbo and maybe use their own block the next year. Obviously this did not happen, but I believe that the upgrade was diminished because not all of the engine was upgraded.

  6. The upgrade Renault offered at the US GP last year and which was not used by RBR back than and of which later on only part of the upgrade was used by RB, RB back than refused to make the necessary modifications to accommodate the Renault new upgraded turbo.

  7. Fortis, Thanks for that 2016 Spain clip of the spark plug man and MH which I haven’t seen before, confirms that bucketful of technical BS speculation was still being pushed around in Spain.
    This all started around April by MH as follows, “the buzz around the F1 paddock about the heavily upgraded Renault engine, set to debut in Canada is that it will feature the same trick combustion technology (HCCI- CHARGE COMPRSSION IGNITION) that is already employed by Mercedes, FERRARI and Honda” When I told him that HCCI is not possible to be used in F1 because it requires the use of variable valve timing and lift which are not permitted by regulations, he told me, (MH) “I don’t know if you are being deliberately obtuse, but the HCCI piece was speculative”. next out by MH was the Male jet ignitor system that was now being used, when once again I drawn his attention to the fact that as rightly explained by him both the injection and combustion is started inside a pre-combustion chamber and that such a system is contrary to the direct injection rules, he said to me “discussion over until you (me) can communicate in a civilised way”. I there and than assume that his civilised way of discussing things with him was to agree with the technical BS he was pushing forward. it does not matter with me, the problem is with those following the sports who depends on such like people to form their minds/opinions.

    • Might not be exactly hcci, but in any case it is highly likely to be some similar trick ignition system which probably doesn’t need spark plug use, though still fitted, and are likely running at very high compression. Martin brundle mentioned Ferrari are now using compression ignition

      • It’s more than likely F1 engineers have taken the HCCI concept and found a way to make it work without a pre ignition combustion chamber, so it’s within the rules. There is nothing in the rules (that I’ve seen, could be wrong) about fuel igniting under pressure within the combustion chamber proper before the spark plug ignites the fuel (it can happen anyway without any clever tricks or technology if the pressure is high enough).
        If you can make a fuel ignite inside the combustion chamber under pressure without a pre ignition chamber and control it, then you are laughing. And it might go some way to explain how Mercedes have achieved around 47% thermal efficiency in their PU.

        • The Rules if anyone wants to take a look, sections 5.10 and 5.11

          The 5.10.2 regulation is what rules out pre ignition chambers. So a pure HCCI concept is not what’s going on in F1 PU’s. As I said F1 engineers might have used the idea behind HCCI to figure out a way to do it within the combustion chamber without a pre ignition chamber. Or they are doing something else entirely and fed the HCCI story to the press to keep them off the scent.

          • yep, it is obviously technology in the burning in the chamber, and i feel @salvuborg is being harsh and a bit too “smart alec” to who he is talking about, as they are on the right line of thought, but not “exact” enough for @salvuborg so he has to rudely play them down, even though he/she has no idea himself what is going on inside the f1 engine cylinder chambers,

      • FERRARI was claimed by Fred Turk of Male to have taken-up the use of their (Male) jet ignitor system for use on their road cars, and that was exactly were and when MH and his bella compania got their nickers all twisted-up.

        • there are those that are said to like being negative and loud, and than there are those that are said to like being not only negative but also speculative, even if the speculation belongs to someone else and is being carried over/pushed forward.

    • Mahle. Not Male – only because this is the third time you’ve ‘said’ “Male”, which is confusing, given the English definition of that word. Mahle.

  8. To avoid further confusion as being started on here (systems confusion creeping in).
    HCCI (homogeneous-charge compression ignition) combustion system (diesel like combustion/no spark plugs) does not use a pre-combustion chamber, but for combustion control a variable valve timing and lift is a must. once again (repeat), when I pointed out the above contradictions to the FIA rules/regulations to MH, the claimed discoverer of this system being used in F1 by Mercedes, FERRARI and Honda, he, MH, said to me “I don’t know if you are being deliberately obtuse, but the HCCI piece was speculative”.
    The Male JET IGNITOR system (ignition by spark plug) which was the second claim (second discovery) by MH this time as having been used since Canada 2015 by FERRARI, uses a system were both injection and combustion is started in a pre-combustion chamber (indirect injection and combustion), When this system used was pointed out to MH, he told me, “discussion over until you (me) can communicate in a civilised way”.

    • The company name is Mahle (from what I remember they used to supply Mercedes, but Mercedes have since moved piston manufacture and so on in house). It looks as though Mercedes and others have taken the Turbulent Jet Ignition concept and perfected it for F1. Which means they will have had to have found a way to make it conform to the technical regulations. I think this concept came from Cosworth engineers, some of whom moved to Mercedes and Mahle.

      JTI and HCCI are similar concepts, so easy to get confused. Even without the technical regulations, HCCI is very difficult to control and I don’t think it’s appeared in any road engines to date (could be wrong). So I get the feeling HCCI has been bandied about as a red herring by the manufacturers to hide what they are doing.

      Whatever technology is being used, it’s clear that combustion chamber design, fuel injection and fuel chemistry have played a big role in improving Thermal Efficiency. Which will have real world uses outside of F1, if you know anything about Thermal Efficiency then you’ll know just how big of a jump Mercedes have made to get to the 47% Thermal Efficiency level. They’ll be aiming to get that as high as the current regulations allow.

  9. HA-HAA!!! So Building 9 WAS! the launch point !!! Can now RB dig somewhere Building 10 to get ahead of everybody once again?

  10. it could be possible that the design of the piston and the cylinder head together form some kind of small second combustion chamber when the piston is on the upper point. so technically there is only one combustion chamber but it could have a similar effect so that the space where the spark plug ignites the gas is nearly closed off from the rest of the combustion chamber and through some small slots the primary ignition forms a high speed jet that ignites the rest of the gas more quickly. specially at that high rpm the speed of the combustion is very important and make the engine more efficient.
    but for road cars there is something much more important: when you are driving in ‘cruising mode’ with just very little power you can go to a very lean gas mixture cause with the jet you still can ignite such a lean mixture where the spark plug does not work anymore. so downsizing is not that important anymore. this could revitalise 6 zylinder engines in cars where we only see 4 zylinder or even 3 zylinder engines. the question is if this technology comes to standard road cars before electric cars take over the market. will be an interresting development.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.