Before one considers that Malaysia will provide the first test of running a V8 engine for two race weekends, there is a further element of uncertainty from the fact that this year, the Sepang event follows on from the heat of Bahrain, whereas in the past it came after the relative cool of Melbourne.
"Even for a single race in hot conditions, the cooling of the car has to be powerful enough to ensure the engine runs within the right temperature range," admits Ferrari's head of race engines Mattia Binotto. "The main consideration is not the fact that we have two consecutive hot races, but how good is the engine cooling overall. If you have any problems in the area of car cooling then you will suffer in dramatic fashion as, to do this twice in a row makes for very hard useage. If you have a cold race following a hot one then you can try and protect the engine at the first race, knowing you can push it harder in the second race. But we now face a situation where we could exceed the cooling limits in both events."
A further consideration is that these first two races are just one week apart. which means there is no time to react and to effect some changes to improve cooling if it is found to be insufficient. "Fortunately, both our cars ran reliably in Bahrain," adds Binotto. "Normally, if the need arises, you can always open up vents on the car to improve cooling, but this means the aerodynamic efficiency of the car will be dramatically reduced. So, improving cooling is usually a long and complicated task based on work in the wind tunnel followed by extensive testing on the track. If we have any cooling issues now, all we can do in the very short space of time is to go for a basic solution of more holes in the bodywork, or protecting the engine in different ways, such as reducing the revs. But all these solutions reduce the speed of the car."
In Malaysia, temperatures and humidity levels will be higher than in Bahrain, therefore cooling will be more difficult. So all the teams can expect to face a stiffer challenge there. While it is true that the V8 engine theoretically requires less cooling than a V10, the F1 designers see this as a means to making a car survive with smaller radiators so there is still a need to fine tune this cooling. "Of course, you have to think about the requirements of the hot race venues at the stage when you are designing the car," adds Binotto. "But with winter testing taking place mainly at European tracks with cool temperatures, Bahrain and Malaysia are the first real tests of running in the heat, even if Ferrari did come to Sakhir in February, when it was just a bit cooler than it was for the first race of the season."
However, there are further cooling complications specific to this new engine. As the V8 is less powerful than the V10, especially at this early stage in its development, the drivers will be using its maximum power more often than with the V10. "This is a very important point in terms of engine reliability," agrees Binotto. "The increased amount of time for full throttle opening is around 10% compared to last year. Each cylinder is similar in size to last year's with the V10, as although we now have eight cylinders, because of the capacity reduction the actual cylinder size is very similar. The rpm average per lap has also increased considerably, because the engine is revving higher while the driver uses full power more often."
Vibration is another key characteristic of a V8 engine. "It does vibrate considerably, however, in theory we are allowed to change all the ancillaries of the engine that might be damaged by these vibrations," confirms our engine specialist. "So this weekend is a step into the unknown, because whatever you have done on the dyno or on the track in winter testing, the actual race weekend environment is always a bit different."
Finally, while the wellbeing of an engine can be preserved through cooling radiators, it can also be protected from within through the science of its lubricants. "We have worked closely with Shell to optimise the way we protect the engine in terms of its fuels and lubricants and in the case of the lubricant itself we have done a great job in terms of increasing the performance of the engine," concludes Binotto. "Friction is one of the most important points in terms of improving performance and, with the V8, that factor is now more important than in the past. We did a really good job in this area over the winter. The lubricant we have today has been correctly tuned and is a big step forward compared to what we had before. And we have more new products on the way in this continuous joint development programme between us and Shell."