One man who will be keeping everything crossed this afternoon is Remi Taffin, from Renault Sport, hoping that the new specification alternators do not fail and affect the outcome of the world championship.
Vettel lost a victory in Valencia to an alternator failure and suffered another in Monza, along with Romain Grosjean.
The failure on Mark Webber’s car in Austin sent alarm bells ringing for Sebastian Vettel’s title deciding season finale, but that was the last of the oldest specification V1 units; this weekend all Renault powered teams are using Version 3 of the unit, which features a new design to protect the bearings, which have been the cause of the failures. There was a view that the units had been overheating, but this is not the case.
In essence the story is this: Renault started the season with a 2012 batch of an old design unit, used in 2011. The new batch was the same size and specification as last year. The only difference was that the 2012 units contained new parts, for lifing purposes.
Renault analysed the Valencia failures of Vettel and Romain Grosjean on Version 1, looking at environment, heat and current consumption and realised it was a mechanical issue. They saw that they were on the edge on current consumption too and addressed the issues in Version 2. This was a lengthened version of the unit to give more margin. This was introduced in Spa. Mechanically its specification was the same.
In Monza this V2 unit failed and the position of the bearings was identified as the issue. Renault put a new design in place which addressed the bearing issue and this was launched in Singapore.
They supplied old batches of Version 1 to the teams while the Version 3 unit was being prepared. But these ran out and all the Renault powered cars all used Version 3 of the unit in Austin except the two Red Bulls and Raikkonen’s Lotus, which continued with Version 1. This V1 unit failed on Webber’s car.
So in the final race of the season everyone will use Version 3, which has not suffered a failure yet. Red Bull has used V3 in practice since Singapore, so it’s familiar with it, but they didn’t have the confidence to race it until now. The Renault teams have done 2,000 kilometres in total with V3 since Singapore.
But given the stress of the alternator issue this year, it will be a nervous 71 laps.
The alternator is a vital part on a car as it supplies the electricity for the ignition and recharges the battery.
But whereas there are all sorts of back-ups for electronics, gearbox and other areas of an F1 car, there is nothing you can do as a back-up for an alternator. The only thing you could do would be to have a huge battery.
The battery on an F1 car is about the size of a cook’s match box, or a small paperback book. It is 12 volts. The power supply on an F1 car is actually 14 Volts, but the battery is 12V. But to back up the alternator you would need a huge battery which would be too heavy.
“I feel confident,” said Taffin. “I’m back to 99%. We have looked at the problem as engineers and worked out a solution and proved it everywhere we could. It’s not a gamble, we had them on the Caterhams and Grosjean’s car in Austin. But I will be counting down the laps, for sure!