If I said the word ‘testing’ to you in relation to Formula 1, you would probably envisage the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in February, with all ten teams carrying out seemingly endless laps trying to learn about new cars before heading to the first race.
But there are so many different types of testing in F1, and while track testing is limited, other aspects are not.
At our Milton Keynes facility - as well as in Sakura - Honda is able to carry out unlimited power unit testing. This takes place on a piece of equipment you may well have heard of: the dyno. Dyno is short for dynamometer, and it is where the power unit can be run without the need for the rest of the chassis that it will eventually be fitted in. Martin is a Test System Technician in the power unit dyno department, working within a team that can fluctuate from between three and 15 people on site in Milton Keynes.
“I’ll have been here for two years, next week,” Martin says. “It has been a good time for me. I started just as we were finishing with McLaren, so I’ve seen quite a lot of change from McLaren to Toro Rosso, Toro Rosso to Red Bull.
“Seeing this sort of change and seeing the transition and having a comparison between customers that we can supply is really interesting. I think the fit and the feel that we’ve had with Toro Rosso and Red Bull has been quite natural. From both sides, it feels very positive.”
The Red Bull partnership led to us supplying two teams, and so the dyno facility in Milton Keynes was expanded. There’s one PU dyno as well as a battery test bed, while Sakura houses multiple extra dynos.
“It basically allows us to run the engine without having the need to have a whole car or a test track. If we want to test, we don’t have to fly across the world. We don’t have to ship any equipment.
“You can have our engine installation replicate any track anywhere in the world without leaving Milton Keynes and it allows us to run the engine and constantly develop and prove out reliability in the engine at the same time.
“We use simulation software and the models within the software are created internally at Honda with a lot of help from Red Bull Technology.
“It’s obviously good having a partner who has a very good understanding of their own chassis, aerodynamics because then you can just improve the model and make it more accurate. It’s changing the simulation within the software that allows us to go from circuit to circuit and, also, testing certain scenarios.
“So, we don’t just test a lap of Barcelona, we can simulate launches which are quite specific. There’s quite a lot of performance to be had there. At the start of the year, we’ll do a lot of the basic testing, like does the pit lane speed limiter work? We’ll go through testing all the fail safes in the sensors.
“The software is programmed to work in a certain way but, until you actually try it, there’s always a chance that something could come up that you haven’t anticipated. So, a lot of the dyno use is just proving out a lot of the theory that, with track time being so limited, you can’t really afford to try at the track.”
The different factories focus on different areas of power unit development, with Sakura more on the evolution and testing of upgrades, and the final checks and race preparations taking place in the United Kingdom.
“The main focus for us, here in Milton Keynes, is race by race simulation, supporting the team and supporting the trackside crew,” Martin explains. “There is, also, another dyno in Sakura, which has the same capability. So it has the same gearbox and blower system and we work in tandem together.
“Both dynos, before an event, will have a certain number of tasks that they need to achieve for preparation for that race. It’s good cover because if we do have a problem our side or they do have a problem in Japan then we’re still able to achieve the targets, because the race event never moves. You just need to have all of your answers by the time you get there.
“You’ve also got the time difference. We get some answers in Japan before we get the answers over here and, then, that might generate more questions and then we’re able to potentially answer the questions during the day. So between the two dynos, you’ve kind of got 24-hour running because of the offset time difference.”
On the track, drivers often need a lap to prepare items such as energy management and tyres before completing a flying attempt. But the ability to run the battery test bed separately from the power unit on the dyno means there is no need for charge laps, allowing for daily totals up to the 650km mark.
“On a normal day, there will be a meeting with Sakura when we arrive. The head of our PU performance department will spend anything up to an hour or two hours discussing what’s going to go on and what results have been found out the day before in Sakura.
“We’ll have a rough plan of what we need to achieve over the course of the week but our test plan will change day by day. So, whilst that meeting is going on, it allows myself and the other technicians to prepare the dyno.
“That isn’t a quick process in itself. We can run within about, half an hour to 45 minutes in the morning. But there’s some preparation that matches what the guys would do trackside and that gives us the time to generate our run plan for the day. Before we run, we always have a discussion within the department what our target is and what we hope to achieve.”
“It’s quite exciting because for each run, we’re making a change somewhere in the software or the calibration. So, you’ll do five or six laps, you’ll make a change, you’ll see what the result is and you’ll understand what effect one parameter has on the whole engine. It’s quite interesting in that sense.”
Preparations for each race tend to start the day after the previous event, although some earlier work can take place as it takes around five minutes to switch the software between circuits. Each venue will also take into account pressure, temperature and humidity based on the weather forecast, which is often made more precise when team members arrive trackside.
The victory in Austria was the first one for Martin to celebrate in 14 years of working in Formula 1, and was marked with a champagne celebration on the Monday afternoon at the factory. But then it was back down to work chasing further performance on the dyno.