F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - PAT SYMONDS @F1rac­ing_­mag face­ f1rac­ing­mag

Pat Symonds on learn­ing to ac­cept fail­ure

It is a well-worn apho­rism that in or­der to fin­ish first, first you must fin­ish. As with most words of wis­dom, this is a re­mark­ably apt truth wrapped up in a con­cise man­ner. F1 is a team sport and one that re­lies heav­ily on tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence. It is a test of man and ma­chine and, from time to time, ma­chines, like men, will fail.

For some rea­son in sport, the oc­ca­sional fail­ure of man while per­form­ing at the limit is deemed ac­cept­able and even inevitable. Logic sug­gests that the very act of fail­ure is proof of the ex­treme lim­its to which the sports­man pushes him­self. Con­versely it seems that any­thing other than zero de­fects is in­ad­e­quate when it comes to the ma­chin­ery a sports­man is us­ing as an inevitable and im­por­tant part of his quest for suc­cess.

Fer­rari have had a tor­rid time since the F1 cir­cus left Europe. Vet­tel moved from cham­pi­on­elect to cham­pion un­der­dog within the space of three races at which the man-and-ma­chine combo failed to live up to the ex­act­ing stan­dards re­quired in top-level in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. While in Sin­ga­pore the blame can­not be put on the ma­chin­ery, in Malaysia and Ja­pan the equip­ment was cer­tainly found want­ing.

Those not in­volved in engi­neer­ing may ask how, with a team of around 1,000 peo­ple and a bud­get said to ap­proach £264mil­lion, such things can hap­pen. They may fur­ther ask how the fault could lie with such a sim­ple com­po­nent as a £45 spark plug.

Reli­a­bil­ity is, how­ever, an in­te­gral part of high-per­for­mance engi­neer­ing. In­deed, the ele­gance of a de­sign of­ten lies in a lack of com­plex­ity, since sim­plic­ity can only en­hance reli­a­bil­ity. For any com­plex sys­tem where fail­ure may have a pro­found out­come, en­gi­neers em­ploy a tech­nique known as Fail­ure Mode Ef­fect Anal­y­sis. The tech­nique in­volves a sys­tem­atic re­view to iden­tify all pos­si­ble fail­ure sit­u­a­tions, eval­u­ate their ef­fect and the like­li­hood of such a fail­ure oc­cur­ring and hence rate ex­plic­itly the need for ac­tion based on these as­pects. Each fac­tor is weighted and rated from one to ten. The three fac­tors are then mul­ti­plied to give a risk pri­or­ity num­ber.

F1 engines use so­phis­ti­cated sen­sors to mea­sure the pres­sure in the en­gine cylin­ders dur­ing com­bus­tion. The sen­sors let the en­gine con­trol run the en­gine right up to the point of ‘knock’, thereby gain­ing max­i­mum per­for­mance while main­tain­ing reli­a­bil­ity. The sen­sors op­er­ate in a harsh en­vi­ron­ment and have a high propen­sity to fail­ure. If they do fail, the event is eas­ily de­tected and the cor­rec­tive ac­tion is to move to a safer area of the en­gine maps, thereby giv­ing a small degra­da­tion of per­for­mance but pre­clud­ing any risk of dam­ag­ing the en­gine. The se­ri­ous­ness of the out­come is there­fore low and the prob­lem is easy to de­tect. Con­se­quently, the sen­sor can be as­signed a rel­a­tively low-risk pri­or­ity num­ber based on these facts.

If we now con­sider a tyre valve, the chances of fail­ure are low, but de­tec­tion in time to take pre­ven­ta­tive ac­tion can be dif­fi­cult and, of course, the risk to the driver and the car of a de­flated tyre is ex­tremely high. Hence a high-risk pri­or­ity num­ber would be as­signed and ev­ery pre­cau­tion would be taken to en­sure good qual­ity in de­sign, man­u­fac­tur­ing and us­age

It is inevitable that, with­out be­ing reck­less, reli­a­bil­ity prob­lems will oc­cur from time to time in ex­actly the same way that ev­ery driver will have an ‘off’ from time to


time. When prob­lems do oc­cur, the process that swings into ac­tion is cru­cial. I train my en­gi­neers to think of a fail­ure as they might think of a crime. They should ap­ply the same prin­ci­ples of foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the anal­y­sis of the prob­lem as would be ap­plied to a crime scene. The avi­a­tion in­dus­try is well prac­tised in this so called ‘black-box think­ing’, with the re­sult that air travel is now very safe.

When in­ter­view­ing race en­gi­neers for em­ploy­ment, I al­ways ask: “One of your cars has an un­ex­plained ac­ci­dent in prac­tice. What are your first ac­tions?” The cor­rect an­swer is to en­sure that the other car does not run again un­til the sit­u­a­tion is as­sessed and a risk­anal­y­sis un­der­taken. If pre­ven­ta­tive ac­tion is re­quired, this should then be ap­plied to all af­fected com­po­nents. The as­pect of Fer­rari’s re­cent reli­a­bil­ity prob­lems that sur­prises me is that the prob­lem with the bro­ken in­let tract that ru­ined Vet­tel’s qual­i­fy­ing in Malaysia was re­ported as be­ing the same prob­lem that af­flicted Räikkö­nen on the grid the next day. If these re­ports are true, then it is sur­pris­ing. I would have thought a sim­ple car­bon wrap around the com­po­nents on Satur­day night may have pre­vented re­cur­rence.

Reli­a­bil­ity is now more gen­er­ally dis­cussed in the light of the re­peated and oner­ous penal­ties ap­plied for ex­ces­sive use of power units, and, to some ex­tent, trans­mis­sions. While I agree that ap­ply­ing a 35-place penalty to a grid of 20 cars can look ridicu­lous, we must un­der­stand that, with­out a penalty that di­rectly af­fects the abil­ity to ob­tain a good fin­ish­ing po­si­tion, the idea of lim­it­ing en­gine sup­ply to re­duce ex­pen­di­ture would dis­ap­pear. Al­though the process has at­tracted neg­a­tive press, a re­cent sur­vey of fans showed over­whelm­ingly that they both un­der­stood the rea­son for, and agreed with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of, the pro­ce­dure. They were not in favour of re­plac­ing the penalty with any other form of hand­i­cap.

We must never for­get the per­ver­sity of un­in­tended con­se­quences, but in this case, the climb through the field of front-run­ning driv­ers who have been dis­placed has gen­er­ally added ex­cite­ment to races. Re­mem­ber also, as you vent your frus­tra­tion on the de­sign­ers of that £45 spark plug, that they, too, are push­ing the bound­aries of engi­neer­ing in the search for per­for­mance and there­fore will, like driv­ers, fail from time to time.

Vet­tel started from P3 in Ja­pan, but slipped back and was forced to re­tire as his Fer­rari lost power

A £45 spark plug cost Fer­rari the race in Ja­pan

Fer­rari paid the price for turbo fail­ures in Malaysia, with Vet­tel un­able to com­plete Q1 and Räikkö­nen un­able to start the race

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