Present in the sport since 1977, the brand has always played a major role, thanks especially to its ambitious, avant-garde technology decisions: first turbocharged engine (1977), pneumatic valve return (1986), timing belts and gears (1990s), direct injection (1995), etc. Winning choices that allow it to carry off no fewer than 12 manufacturer’s titles (as a team or as the engine designer) and 11 driver’s titles. In 2014, when the switch to the V6 hybrid powertrain occurs, Renault emerges with 4 combined manufacturer and driver titles with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel!
At this time, Renault sells the shares in its Renault F1 Team to Genii Capital, which uses Lotus Renault GP cars in the championship. It still supplies engines to the team, as well as to Red Bull (future world champion) and Lotus. This means that nobody is idle in Viry-Châtillon, the temple of Renault Sport Racing engine activities. Nicolas Espesson, then a test bench engineer, remembers the early days of hybridisation in F1 and the bridges that were built between the engineering teams.
We didn’t wait for the development of the E-TECH hybrid powertrain before working on the electrification of the engines. From 2011, Renault engineers specialising in electric power came to F1 to assist in the development of the planned V6 hybrid engine. However, some of the team had already become specialists in electrification by working on KERS. And let’s not forget that our test benches for KERS had also been used to validate the electric traction engine for the Twizy. This relationship was the context in which the Renault Sport Twizy F1 concept car was developed in 2013.
It was something really new, which required big data, data learning and even artificial intelligence. So we had some software that formed the core of the energy management strategy, the key to the new hybrid powertrains. However advanced though, the design of this software had to remain simple for ease of maintenance and debugging and, above all, it had to be reliable. and we find the very same thing today in the E-TECH Hybrid production models, where the intelligence for the energy management is supplied by computers.
Head of Performance Optimization at Renault Sport Racing
In F1 and road vehicles, the objectives of the engine designers are identical: lower consumption and improved energy performance. This is why the bridges are so easy to build, and why the cross-fertilisation is so effective. Engineers working on the Z.E. on demand engine swelled the ranks of Renault Sport Racing for several years before returning to the development of E-TECH Hybrid production models, and they didn’t return just with new ideas and technical skills.
By working in F1 at Renault Sport Racing, these engineers had found new forms of management that were much more flexible than any they had known at Renault. It has to be said that development lead times are shorter in F1 and, in the event of a problem, decisions have to be made very quickly. They were able to apply these methods once they had come back to work on the development of production E-TECH Hybrid powertrains. This also contributed to the results that can be seen today.