Renault will sweat on alternators until chequered flag falls
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Nov 2012   |  12:52 pm GMT  |  22 comments

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!

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Some years ago I came up with a new design for the cylinder head and valve assembly reducing it to just a couple of moving parts, drematicaly reducing noise, weight, space and fuel waists , but increasing reliability, engine management for more power at all levels of engine revs, all this with much higher engine revs which would only be restricted by the bottom end construction and not valve timing or bounce as present engine suffers from. I have done a patent cheque world wide and none had been registered as of the date checked. Since I started to try and bring this idea to the powers to be I’ve gone through two divorces which has taken my means of funding the project, is there any team, engineers, or companies out there who would be interested in the first major redesign of the engine development for a century?


Excellent article and the first time I have heard anything about the batteries used on current F1 cars. I know they don’t start the cars but the batteries are much smaller than I expected.

Despite Sauber’s excellent efforts with their cut away car, It demonstrates all too clearly just how little we really know about what is under the bodywork.

James, It’s going to be a long winter without F1, so, could we have a series of articles on equipment fitted to F1 cars ?

For example : how special are the batteries ? Are they gel, what is the capacity and what do they actually do in the car beyond power the radio and ignition ?

We know very little about the shock absorbers, clutches, springs and steering racks, to name but a few pivotal parts. These can’t all be top secret – there must be many common features which can easily be explained and for the sensitive items, perhaps details of what were fitted on cars a year or two ago could be used as examples.

How about a series of profiles on the companies that make parts for F1 teams ?


I can’t imagine that there will be any further problems. It must have been extremely embarrassing for Renault to have had repetative problems on such a comparitively simple component, coupled with the fact that it has taken so long to find a definitive solution.


I am pretty sure the whole KERS system (apart form it’s control cct) is at a much higher voltage, the normal electrical system is limited to a maximum peak of 17V but is nominally 12V

In order to move much power about you either need high voltage or high current. If you choose current you need hefty great cables (else your I²R losses will be huge) so it is logical to use a much higher voltage and thinner cables.

The motor industry has been moving towards 36V nominal for several years now. At the same time the weight (and cost) of the copper used in the cables has been dramatically reduced. A buss system is perhaps the best use of copper in a car. A single ring main plus a CAN control system

(This how our overpriced electricity is delivered, either at 330,000 or 500,000Volts by pylon or about 6000V underground, to substations where it is then transformed down to the 220V per phase that we use in the UK)


Sorry I forgot to say this is a great article James I may mention it on Joe’s blog.


KERS could technically be used, however is apparently against the regs.


Of all the alternator failures this year, I can only think of one (Grosjean) that was not on a Red Bull. Is this the case? and if so, why? Could it be to do with RB’s engine mapping?


You say ‘The only difference was that the 2012 units contained new parts, for living purposes.’ referring th the V1 unit. What do you mean by ‘living purposes’?
Regards, David


Lifing – As in life of parts


Perhaps KERS would be unusable, but going slower is better than stopping; couldn’t the KERS’s battery be wired to replace the car’s battery in an emergency? Or at least to recharge the car’s battery in the alternator’s stead? Are the tensions and currents so different they cannot be converted?


The term ‘KERS battery’ might be misleading. As far as I know, all the KER-Systems in Formula 1 use supercaps instead of batteries, aren’t they, James?


” there are all sorts of back-ups for electronics, gearbox and other areas of an F1 car,”

A back up gearbox ? Really… ?


Back up programme on gearbox, if it malfunctions, yes


I doubt these will fail, but I really hope they do!


‘I doubt these will fail, but I really hope they do!’

What a strange comment from an F1 fan.


I was hoping they’d fail so Alonso could win the championship. A retirement for Vettel was about the only hope I could have 🙂

I know, would be better if he won solely by race performance, I’d take a retirement with a smile today.


Although the retirement wasn’t to be, it was close and exciting nevertheless. In the end the faster driver prevailed, which certainly is a good thing good for F1.


Do Renault actually manufacture the alternator themselves?

I had heard that their road cars used Ducellier electrics, but that may have been in the past. It has also been said that for F1 they use Magneti Marelli (Italian) – but that seems a bit odd, considering who is one of their main competitors!

Perhaps Renault Sport make their own?


Why isn’t switching the battery during the race an option? Too complicated? Well there are scenarios where P8 would be suffiecient for Vettel, which might be possible for him even with an additional pit stop. If it really comes done to accessibility of the unit, they engineers have failed, IMHO.


Imagine how long it would take to get bodywork off and extract it



Surely the KERS system is one big battery?

Could the KERS system provide a backup electrical power in the event that an alternator failed. This would negate the need for a battery and an alternator.

I am not an expert in electrical engineering however, therefore I am sure there is a logical explanation for this.


That would appear to be a logical assumption, but in fact they are very different systems.

One very high voltage (KERS) and one ‘normal’ voltage. As James mentioned 14 volts.

It’s not to say that at some point in the future they couldn’t do this. But, they would have to first make sure the KERS reliability were equal or better than the current ‘normal’ charging system, which it isn’t. KERS still has a much greater failure rate

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