What the heck is Red Bull’s trick engine map anyway?

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Red Bull will be loading a different engine mapping program in their lump this weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix according to the fine men and women of AUTOSPORT. After being brought before the stewards in Germany byt FIA delegate Smokin’ Jo Bauer, the team was grilled about their current engine mapping which had a reduced amount of torque in the mid RPM range. Now, let’s be honest here…many journalists are printing this phrase and while they may be veteran folks with complete understanding of even the most complex of engineering and engine management terms, they aren’t doing a very good job of helping we fans understand what the heck this means. Seriously, could you unpack it a little folks?  So I thought I would try to clarify just a little but be warned, I am not a Formula One engineer.

Engine mapping affects ignition timing, fuel mixture, power and torque delivery. Jo suspected that the engine in the RB8 was producing less torque in the mid rpm range (at a given engine speed) than at Silverstone and this, he felt, is against the regulations.
The regulations say that at 100% throttle, the engine must produce 100% torque. The reason for this is that if a driver is using 100% throttle, the engine cannot produce, say, 80% torque because this would or could be a way of minimizing wheel spin or better known as traction control. Red Bull, effectively, have set their engine up to produce, say, 90% throttle in the exit of a slow speed corner instead of 100%. In a slow speed corner, the car’s RPM is lower and when they throttle out of the corner, the torque produced at that lower RPM is less than 100%.  If you can imagine tracking each circuit and knowing how the engine behaves in each turn, you could arrange for a mapping system that effectively limits wheel spin in potentially difficult corners where 100% throttle would be a challenge to handle.

Other teams have argued that since the engine isn’t producing 100% torque at 100% throttle, this could also mean that the driver could have his boot in it but the engine is not producing the same torque, however, it would be producing the same exhaust gases and this could be used to impact the aerodynamic performance of the heated gases exiting over the body work. Now, you’ll have to call Adrain Newey and ask him on that last issue as I haven’t the foggiest of ideas on how that might work to their best advantage other than to say that a lot of exhaust is good for the aeron of the RB8 and if you can get a lot, by mashing the peddle down, without having all that torque, then the better you are.

Suffice to say, Jonathan Neal, at McLaren, says he’s not completely clear on what advantage Red Bull were gaining with the mapping:

“The honest answer is I really don’t know,” said Neale. “None of us really know what it is that antagonised the FIA so much to provoke Jo Bauer into issuing the note he did on Sunday morning. It was quite an unusual step – I don’t think the FIA would have referred to the stewards unless they had very serious concerns.

“It’s really not for us to know or tell exactly what the Renault engine is doing in the Red Bull, and therefore how much advantage they get from it because it is an integrated performance package. But I know we are not the only ones on the grid who are looking at it very carefully.”

Sure, maybe they don’t have the exact comprehension but McLaren don’t fool me for a minute. Neale and the folks in Woking know exactly what they are doing and what this would allow Red Bull to do. These guys can design and build Latte machines in their sleep. I appreciate his coy nature but you have to read between the lines to catch the implications.  Phrases such as, “and therefore how much advantage they get from it” and “antagonised the FIA so much to provoke Jo Bauer” are classic wordology from McLaren. The implication is that Red Bull ARE getting an advantage, not IF they are and that they “antagonized” the FIA, not prompted concern or ushered a need for clarification.

Perhaps we’ll see a different RB8 in Hungary? It’s a different circuit so it may be difficult to tell if the new engine mapping scheme that the FIA issue has any impact but as the commentators on SPEED here in America suggested, it would not be at all surprising if Red Bull did not run their engine mapping in Germany for fear of post-race scrutinizing and penalties. have we already seen a less “tuned” engine map from Red Bull or will the hungarian Grand Prix be ist debut?

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