You don’t rise to be Red Bull Racing Honda’s Chief Engineer, Car Engineering without the ability to analyse issues and attack problems. Paul Monaghan leads a team of talented engineers dedicated to honing and improving one of the most complex machines on earth – the RB16B Formula 1 car – but knows his job ultimately boils down to one number.
“We have 23 opportunities to beat our opposition this year. Equally they have 23 opportunities to beat us,” he tells PistonHeads, “currently we are three-two down to Mercedes after five races in terms of outright wins… our clear aim is to improve faster than our nearest opposition, and we want to be at four all by eight races.”
As the car evolves through numerous iterative changes, Esso’s fuel remains at the heart of the team’s efforts. The relationship between Red Bull Racing Honda and ExxonMobil is deeper than just supply, it’s a full technical partnership. The fuel used by the Formula 1 team is formulated by the same team that also created the new Esso Synergy Supreme+ 99 you can put into your own car. Although chemically similar to conventional petrol, the race fuel is engineered to comply exactly with Formula 1 regulations, and has been carefully optimized for Red Bull Racing Honda’s power unit.
“The chemical difference might not seem large on first assessment, but the effect is significant,” Monaghan explains, “we’re privileged to have Esso’s fuel technology and Honda’s engine knowledge together, an amalgamation that produces a much better result than if we didn’t have that co-operation. For example, if we took the Honda engine and put some competitor fuel in it it would probably run, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near the performance we extract from the collaboration.”
Monaghan knows what he is talking about. He has been working in Formula 1 since 1990, and with Red Bull since 2005. His earlier career included a stint on the front line as race engineer, working with both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso and acting as their links to the wider team, one of the most intense jobs in the paddock.
“It has real highs and lows, there are periods of crazy activity and sometimes it’s enormously rewarding,” he remembers, “but it can be hugely draining when things aren’t going right. But that interaction at the very front of the Team’s efforts is a fantastic responsibility, and one I enjoyed enormously.”
Monaghan admits that he misses that level of face-to-face interaction with drivers in his current role but, as he puts it, “the challenges are very different, but the end goal is the same: winning races.”
“Drivers are unique,” he adds “they are hugely talented creatures, and they present you with a different array of problems to deal with. I was blessed to always work with brilliant drivers, you’re talking to somebody who is seriously talented and an elite sportsman, so you are always learning from them.”
Monaghan’s role has broadened, but the drive to win is every bit as strong as it was when his career began.
“We don’t seek to leave things alone, we seek to change them if they’ll either make the car more reliable or faster,” he says, “that’s an ongoing, continuous process - every week our car is evolving where it is legally allowed to evolve. That’s what makes a Formula 1 Team very different from another organisation. Some don’t want to change because of the upheaval involved. We seek it.”
Modern Formula 1 cars are much more efficient than their predecessors – the Red Bull Racing Honda’s 1.6-litre turbocharged Honda V6 is reckoned to be 40 percent better than one of the previous generation of naturally aspirated V8s that retired in 2014. With refuelling banned each car is restricted to 110kg of fuel for each race, and each team will try to ensure that is used in the most advantageous way.
“The greatest trick is how you deploy that fuel,” Monaghan explains, “it will always be your primary energy source – we can empty the batteries to supplement the ICE [internal combustion engine], but we need the ICE in overrun to charge the battery up. So we can lift and coast to save some fuel, and if the safety car comes out that will typically save us some. Then it’s all about knowing how to use it best. We can get down to alarmingly low numbers at the end of a race, but the hardest challenge is actually sucking up what is left from the floor of the tank.”
Even after more than three decades in the sport, Monaghan says his drive to win is undiminished. “You don’t switch off, you’re thinking all the time,” he says, “it’s still enormously enjoyable whatever regulations are in place, still demanding and rewarding. I’m an engineer involved in a high end sport, that’s something that engineers normally don’t do. I’m hugely lucky, and while that continues I will try to contribute.”
It should be a brilliant season.
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