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Yonder Honda

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
18/07/2017

I'm frequently scolded for my love of puns. I don't understand this, as I've frequently found a well-honed pun to be significantly funnier than many of Donald Trump's Tweets, and for me that's good enough. Or is it time I raised my standards?

Some years past American talk-back radio succeeded in getting energy into a discussion around "What would Jesus drive?" Great question. Many people felt he would drive a truck as he was a carpenter. Others felt he was more of a public transport kind of guy, while still others considered horse back more fitting. Enter one of my favourite early internet jokes when a picture did the rounds of the esteemed gentleman standing next to a sensible family sedan. The image contained words neatly explaining that Jesus drove a Honda and text from the bible provided rock solid proof. As the bible states, when he arrived he "...came of his own Accord". Hence Jesus had purchased a late model Honda Accord sedan.

Which, due to the manner in which my mind works on puns, leads me to a one liner taken from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, "What light from yonder Honda breaks?" Which I am sure is the question our Romeo, I mean Alonso, keeps asking race, after race. His sweet Juliet is not so much hiding her light under a bushel, as only releasing photons that would be best kept within the confines of her power unit if she wished to show her true love.

Leaving our poor Romeo to compose his one liners for a moment, let us review yonder Honda and ask if it might yet evolve into something Jesus might endorse, noting that right now his direct intervention is probably required for the transformation of said Honda power unit into a bright shining light for our Romeo to love.

Each engine manufacturer tends to commence real world testing with single cylinder test bed prototypes. That's sensible to test combustion patterns, heat maps, compression, swirl and flow aspects and get a good idea about the basic physics of the prototype cylinder prior to the expense and complexity of a full engine.

Yet as many engineers have found to their cost, some designs scale well as size, speed, or numbers increase and others do not. We've recently had Williams acknowledge that its wind tunnel predicted results from its scale models have not transferred onto the real race car as anticipated. Now as breaking the laws of Physics is simply not possible, and as both scale model and real car are acting as Miss Physics would have them, it means the translation algorithms that Williams uses to predict real world performance are wrong. As it reviews its model, its data and the predictions it will find the error, and it will refine the model to provide more accurate predictions. This is the scientific method and real world engineering rolled into one. Posit a theory, use it to predict results, and then test the results against reality. Repeat.

Honda is not a foolish organisation. It will be using the same balance of science, engineering, and testing predictions against the real world. Its problem is that as one works at smaller and smaller tolerances, demanding more and more precise and repeatable perfection, Miss Physics does not increase the error bounds to "give one a sporting chance". Oh no... Miss Physics is fair, but unrelentingly tough. As you move closer to the edge of the physically possible, so Miss Physics demands an ever increasing approach to Earthly Perfection.

The degree of error permissible when trying to get a delivery truck under a bridge on a motorway (Freeway) is such that while those around the truck prefer it to remain in lane, between just one set of dotted lines, the total error bounds are far wider. Traffic and road conditions permitting, anywhere across three, four, or sometimes more, lanes will be perfectly adequate for the 30 ton monster to roll under the bridge no harm done. Even the widest of motorway crossing bridges is, at most, no more than a couple of hundred metres wide. Yet the margin for error is comfortably there for highly repeatable safe transit.

Now try and hit planet Earth with a space shuttle. The shuttle weighs around 2,000 tons, and the Earth, as most readers should have noticed, is quite large, certainly far larger than a bridge. Yet an error of just fractions of a degree, amounting to centimetres of error, not of ten metres or kilometres, and rather than proceed to "hit the Earth" in a controlled (if steep) glide and landing, the shuttle will burn away into so much gas with hardly a molecule likely to make Earth fall.

Meanwhile our truck driver can be buried in Yorkie wrappers, fumbling with his coffee flask, and adjusting his iPod weaving like Jean Todt avoiding a press conference and still make it safely under a bridge that is comfortably smaller than our planet. Simply put, the error margins do not scale.

And so back to Honda. Honda build most enjoyable road cars. Indeed the late, great motoring journalist LJK Setright frequently elected to own and run Hondas such was his respect for its engineering (he did however enjoy endlessly messing with his tyre pressures, and once delightfully described Sydney as like "East Cheam with parrots"). Ayrton Senna managed to win a race or two using Honda power. So yes, it knows a thing or two about engineering.

Or at least it did. Back in the day when Miss Physics was not paying too much attention, as the limits of the possible were so far above the limits thus far attained by human racing engineers that she need spend little time checking compliance, as her Laws were in no danger of being pressed to their limits.

Time flowed predictably. Humanity advanced. Honda refined interiors and moved from forged to pressed suspension components and other cost driven tidy-ups on the balance sheet.

Then Honda returned to Formula One.

Honda built a model and used it to test ideas. It set the limits and demands higher than anything it built back in the 1990s. Its own engineers marvelled at how far above its work of 20 years ago this was. It was exceptional! It was World leading. It surpassed all other engineering achievements on any other Honda engine. Sure, it had not scaled it up. Not produced a full scale, full speed, full power model, but heck the maths was good, predicting that it should work. It was exceeding all it had built, and won with, in the past.

It was flawless within its Honda Bubble. Built by its own hands. This was its finest work.

So it was rather a shame that all the other Formula One engine manufacturers had moved on to tighter models. Using more floating points, driving error margins closer and closer to the edge of the Physically possible. They knew Miss Physics was now watching their every move. Heck, this was moving into the realm of molecular engineering, not oily rags and a smack with a monkey wrench!

They also knew that up-scaling at these excessively fine tolerances caused no end of irritation for Miss Physics if they were more than a molecule or two out in their modelling. Vibrations escalated. Heat spots pooled. Smooth flows and predicable swirls collapsed into fireballs of unpredictability.

In short those relaxed error margins of the 1990s were so far off what Miss Physics demanded as to render any modelling useless.

Just as our truck driver needs to add poor brakes, bald tyres, and black ice before an accident beckons, so Honda now had the perfect mix of minor issues, each of which on its own could have been identified and solved, to build a perfect storm of disaster.

Miss Physics took one look at the first full-size hybrid engine and shaking her head reminded The Laws that this was never going to work, and they were to enforce reality on Honda just as strictly as they did for trucks, the space shuttle, and indeed all life on Earth, including the other Formula One teams.

The model was not accurate. The predictions did not match reality. The up-scaling did not work. The maths demanded many more zeroes of accuracy. Honda knows enough about 1990s engineering to go back and be World Champion constructors from 1990 to 1999 inclusive. It's a shame the game has moved on, and Miss Physics has already ruled time machines a non-starter in this Universe, so returning to that glory is not possible.

Honda has been gifted a free lesson in the art of the possible from Miss Physics and the other teams.

What it does now with that lesson remains to be seen. Will it refine maths models, up-scale accurate physical models earlier in the development cycle, and increase its predicting and engineering tolerances to the very edge of the possible, or will it quit? Or will the FIA help out with the time machine? Turning the clock back on engine regulations so that folk with a fresh oily rag and a recently calibrated monkey wrench can once again build a competitive engine without the need to placate an obsessive compulsive Miss Physics?

Will Zak and Fernando (sounds like a Canadian cartoon series...) wait while Honda ramp-up the accuracy and consult with Wise Ones who know what Formula One Accuracy as demanded by Miss Physics in 2017 (and beyond) looks like, and get their models, predictions, and real world engineering products right?

With such a tangle of issues to sort, can Honda achieve anything meaningful this year? Or like the wrapper to yesterday's Yorkie bar is it about to find itself forgotten and alone in a bin at the side of the road?

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 24/07/2017 11:14

"@Spindoctor - totally agree. Potential for enduring dark days is there... very sad. "

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 24/07/2017 10:04

"Sadly I feel that Honda has bitten-off rather a lot more than it can chew.
As a fan of the late, much lamented LJKS I shared his enthusiasm for Honda's Engineering-led approach. I always felt that Honda's USP as manufacturer and Engine-maker was Soichiro Honda's infectious enthusiasm for engineering excellence, and nurturing young talent. Like Max Noble I am dismayed at Honda's continuing slide into accountancy-led conservatism.

The reality is that if Renault\Nissan with all their resources (and cash) can't tame Ms Physics as effectively as Daimler has, then Honda's chances are a bit slim. "

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 23/07/2017 23:38

"@Yeyox02 - many thanks for rewording, that now makes sense. We will all watch in fascination to see how this story plays out. "

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4. Posted by Yeyox02, 23/07/2017 20:38

"It seems that my comment was not adequate, sorry for this but Honda got into F1 without being ready and that is not acceptable when we talk about F1. I put myself in the place of Alonso and McLaren and it must be really frustrating to be in such a position.
If I was McLaren, I would be running with Mercedes power since last year because the day Honda is ready F1 will be running with a new set of rules and with a new engine concept then the story will be the same. Mercedes, Renault, Ferrari and possible new engine manufacturers must already be working with the new engine concept, and Honda? who knows. Sorry again."

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 23/07/2017 12:01

"@yeyox02 - the Jesus thing was just a polite piece of humour. I'm reasonably sure he has no opinion on the Accord.

..as for Miss Physics... well the entire reason Honda has an issue right now is because they did not respect the intense detail she demands. We are all welcome to ignore Miss Physics as much as we want. Safe in the knowledge that she never ever fails to think about us. The Laws are not to be broken. And that really is the way of the universe..."

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6. Posted by Chris Balfe (editor), 23/07/2017 8:41

"@ Yeyox02

Wow, that certainly contributed to the debate... thanks for the insight"

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7. Posted by Yeyox02, 22/07/2017 23:43

"Yaaawwwn!! The fact is that Alonso and McLaren want a reliable and winner engine RIGHT NOW and they do not care Miss Physics!! and they do not care if Jesus likes Honda Accord sedan. (I do not like it)"

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 22/07/2017 16:28

"I've previously been accused of being a man ten minutes ahead of his time. I laughed. So true. "

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9. Posted by Uffen, 18/07/2017 20:11

"unfortunately Honda seems to be on track to get it right just before the new engine regs kick in in 2020.
If their Board allows them to tinker for that long, that is."

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