One of the major talking points in terms of development for this season is the new Volkswagen W12 being run by the Lucas Grand Prix team. While there have been many changes in engine manufacturer, they have mostly consisted of V8 or V10 units, a very conventional design that has been used by many manufacturers. However, Volkswagen have gone in a totally different direction, and there have been many people who are intrigued as to the benefit of such a design. Technical guru GARY ANDERSON has interviewed team principal Lucas Wilson and their technical director Andy Davies to get the inside track, and also he has provided his own analysis of the engine.
The Big Interview: Lucas Wilson and Andy Davies
Thanks for joining me for a chat Lucas and Andy, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. First things first, how are you enjoying testing?
A pleasure as always Gary! We have had a good day today [Wednesday] setting the 4th fastest time, so its good that we have improved over Tuesday. I always enjoy testing, seeing the new designs, new liveries, who is fast, who isn’t…hopefully we can be fast! (smiles)
So, on the engine front, when exactly did you and VW make the decision to run such a radical engine layout in Formula One?
Just after the 2nd race of the season. VW had got in contact with us after the Australian GP saying they would like to supply engines to a F1 team. I have always said that F1 cars should be loud and fast, I knew that VW had some experience in making these engines, such as in their Bentley brand. As soon as I realised I thought, that’s what we are going to do!
How has it been performing so far? Is there a lot of optimism about the concept or is it proving difficult to adjust to a totally different design to the Yamaha V8 you ran last year? Most importantly, how are you finding the power output and packaging demands that have come about because of the change?
AD: It is a whole new challenge, no engine like this has ever been built in modern F1 racing, so it was a long hard year of development. We have had many difficulties with it as you can imagine with including the mounting of the engine and making a chassis that can accommodate such a large engine. I think the engine must have blown up about three times when we were first testing, but these things have been refined. The power from the engine is incredible, we could easily get 900 hp from it, of course we have to limit it to meet VFIA standards.
The variety this has introduced to the grid is simply brilliant, so Lucas, was this something that was possibly even more important than the engine giving you a performance boost? Is this a marketing decision as much as a legitimate path of development?
Yes, it was a bit of both, both me and VW wanted an incredible engine. This year we have 2 other German car makers in the series, as well as other manufacturers like Peugeot and Honda, so there is a lot of competition between car makers. VW
wanted to make the ultimate F1 engine, they had the facilities and it was something I very much wanted to get involved in.
Again, thanks guys for the chat, good luck for the season ahead!
Thank you very much!
The W12 has a history within the Volkswagen Group, with a production unit used in the Phaeton and Nardo cars, producing in excess of 600hp in a 6 litre engine. The Grand Prix unit is extremely similar to this, but has been engineered to produce
a greater amount of horsepower, despite the regulations limiting the team to a 4.5 litre displacement.
The Volkswagen W12’s roots can be traced back to the VW Groups ‘VR6’ engine, which is revolutionary because it combines features of Inline and V engines to provide benefits from both of these designs. There are two banks of three cylinders, as with a conventional V6, but in a similar manner to an inline engine, the cylinders are offset, which means each bank can be at a closer angle to each other, in the case of this engine, 15°.
The W12 is, in effect two of these VR6 engine blocks joined together, although they are designed to work as a single engine and not as two units working together of course. The two ‘units’ are placed at an angle of 75°, which means the units have a relatively low centre of gravity and have the shortest length, allowing the designers freedom to move it further back or forward as desired, but the layout does mean the unit is heavier than others on the grid, and it is a wider unit than the engines with a conventional two banks of cylinders, increasing demands on the aerodynamic team as they have to incorporate a new shape and cooling demands to their aims.
It remains to be seen whether or not the W12 becomes a success, but from what I can see, the potential is there for it to be a formidable competitor. However, there is of course the potential for disaster, as there have been occasions when such
radical designs have proven problematic. One thing that is certain however is the fact that the W12 has caused a stir amongst engineers and fans alike in a way few innovations have before.