By Craig Scarborough, England
Autosport-Atlas Technical Writer
John McQuilliam has been with the Jordan Grand Prix team since its inception, working his way up through the ranks over the years to end up as the team's technical director and in charge of chassis design. He speaks to Craig Scarborough about the design process, how it flows over the years, and how, in design, everything is related to everything else
Jordan have been in Formula One since 1991, starting out as an all new privateer team and, with success, grew and peaked with wins, big name sponsors and a works Honda engine deal. Over the past few years all of these have dried up and left the team producing efficient little cars on a budget. The departure of Ford from motorsport and the sweeping rule changes placed Jordan in the most difficult position imaginable; also the change of ownership last winter from Eddie Jordan to Alex Schnaider's Midland group has yet to deliver its benefits.
So with such tight resources, and the demands of a new season with a new engine and new rules, how have Jordan succeeded? Clearly their semi permanent ninth row qualifying and lack of points (aside from Indianapolis) suggests they are struggling, but look a bit deeper and the team's technical challenges have been met pragmatically, and at the forthcoming race in Germany the team gives their revised EJ15B car its race debut.
Joining the team in 1991, John McQuilliam has long since been a Jordan man. He was too late to aid the design of the iconic 191 7Up-Ford car, but he then assisted Gary Anderson to develop the car with a new Yamaha engine. Starting in his role as composites designer, McQuilliam has worked on every Jordan since, working under both of Anderson's terms as technical director and now assuming that role for the chassis side at the Silverstone factory, while the aerodynamics are managed by Simon Phillips at the sister factory in Brackley.
Coming across as a straight forward engineer, McQuilliam isn't a high profile designer with media savvy aiming to jump to the next big bucks contract; instead he takes a realistic approach to his work and those working under him, preferring to work within the design team and use sensible proven solutions rather than turn things on their heads simply on a whim.
This sets out the team's current approach to the paradox of designing a Formula One car with a limited budget, as McQuilliam notes: "To be honest all the cars since the EJ12 have been difficult cars to design, in that we have had a decreasing budget year on year". These restrictions come across in every discussion of the EJ14 and this year's EJ15 & EJ15B: "It limits the amount of changes you make year on year. The EJ15 is the first car where we've not got a brand new monocoque; we've simply modified the EJ14 to take the Toyota engine".
In order to review the EJ15 being raced this year, we need to step back two cars. The EJ13 was the last of the anteater nosed twin keel cars; powered by a Ford badged 72-degree Cosworth engine, the car was not a great success and was blighted by technical problems though outs its life. For 2004 the EJ14 was a major departure for the team, while some of the aerodynamics (sidepods and wings) were carried over with the underlying structure of the car significantly changed.
McQuilliam explains that "with the EJ13 some of the structural treatments were reluctantly accepted by the design staff". The new approach, however, is to "work with the aero designers down at Brackley, to find what's the aero gain against the structural cost. That way you can compromise correctly; it's an engineering decision". The move from twin keels on the EJ13 to the single set up on the EJ14/15 was a step improvement: "it saved a good couple of kilos off the front end, and we've got a stiffness benefit too. You put the car on the rig downstairs and lift up the front wheel and its a lot stiffer and closer constrained to what we want it to be".
Now running a more competitive Ford 90-degree engine it was still the chassis that was lacking, although its traits of poor stability under braking and rear end stability were solved through the year. In curing the brake issue McQuilliam noted "the braking stability was as much as anything a brake balance problem, in that during the braking operation the balance migrates front to rear and vice versa, which made it very difficult for the driver to actually to find the optimum braking as they wouldn't know if the front or rear wheels were going to be locking."
This worrying behavior for the drivers was cured via an improved balance mechanism, which maintained the balance set by the adjuster, and also on the hydraulics side of the brakes, which made sure that the stiffness, fluid loss and the front and rear lines were very similar. These changes paid dividends on the feel of the brakes, and the brake balance has transformed from the EJ14 to the EJ15.
While the rear end instability came from a behavior known as pitch sensitivity, which is where the performance of the aerodynamics changes drastically as the car moves up and down under braking and acceleration. This issue was not completely cured during the year, but has seen results on the EJ15. "Hand in hand with the reduced downforce this year, we have found changes in the accounting method we use in the windtunnel," McQuilliam notes. "We don't accept aero solutions that increase the pitch sensitivity, so the aerodynamics are more benign, the front can dive, and the rear can lift".
Last year's results were blighted by mechanical unreliability; these proved not to be design faults but a problem at the factory from contamination, due to a malfunctioning filter in the assembly shop. This problem affected the hydraulic systems, one of the car's most complicated and intrinsically unreliable systems: "it plagued us all year; the hydraulics need to be spotlessly clean. We put the filter right and improved some inspection techniques, and they have been very reliable."
With development work clearly required on the EJ14, McQuilliam's design team and the aero department set to work late last year on a B spec car. "There was an EJ14B designed," McQuilliam advises. "With a lot of the windtunnel work we'd done it was in fact fully designed as far as patterns and moulds, and we were ready to make it, but the money wasn't available." He was not, however, too disappointed, as the car would only have been ready for the last three flyaway races, so it was hard to justify the investment.
And the work that went into the B spec was not lost: "It was a platform from which the EJ15 was derived; the ideas and concepts were started last year and refined for this year".
Over the winter events once more conspired against the team; the loss of Ford, the rule changes and then the Midland take over. Again the design team was kept busy and continued with design work for 2006, even with doubts still lingering. McQuilliam described the problems and the work that was completed thus: "The EJ15 that we ended up building was not the EJ15 that we designed. When the company started running into financial problems towards the end of last year, we had actually designed a brand new EJ15 with a new monocoque and with heavily redesigned front suspension.
"It was designed specifically for the Cosworth engine, and we designed a gearbox with quite a few improvements to the rear suspension, so our design was just about ready to issue and then obviously there was the business of Ford pulling out of motor racing, which sent shockwaves through the industry. We were in the position where we didn't have confidence that Cosworth would be actually in business this season, and where we wouldn't know if there was a Cosworth engine available.
"Of course, because of the late announcement from Ford, it put Cosworth themselves in the position where they could not support two teams. It was simple logistics; Ford needed to design certain amount of engine components and get things like crankcases and cylinders heads cast. To supply two teams you need to do twice as many, and from the time they had confidence that they would still be in business and able to supply some teams in Formula One, it became obvious it couldn't supply two teams.
"And we were very keen to take the Toyota engine; it's got a reputation as a very strong and reliable engine, and Toyota was kind enough to change their plans and allow us to take the engine".
While the Toyota engine was a Godsend, the timing of the deal left the team behind schedule. "The first time I met anyone from Toyota is when they stopped off here on the way to Brazil last season, so it was very, very late". So now, with a different engine to accommodate as well as the aerodynamic rule changes, McQuilliam's team had to re-focus on what was achievable: "We focused in on the areas where we'd get the most benefit.
"We were obliged to change the floor, so the key changes between the EJ14 and EJ15 focused on the beam wing, and we re-optimised the beam wing for the new position of the floor and found quite a bit of performance with it; it really was cheap performance. The rest of the modifications to the car to be honest were purely about getting the Toyota into the back of it".
So, with only the floor and rear crash structure changing, the rest of the car's aerodynamics remained largely unchanged, although the team still had to adapt the chassis to accept the Toyota engine, as the back of the monocoque the task was quite small: "Installing the Toyota wasn't too difficult; it fit the back of the chassis very well. Obviously [there were] a lot of detail changes, with the engine mounts not being in quite the same place, but within a few millimetres [of the previous locations]."
But the interface between the engine and gearbox was a bigger problem. A spacer was made up to join the back of the Toyota engine and the front of the EJ14 gearbox, plus a project to develop a new gearbox casing was started as far back as November. "As soon as we had a definition of the back of the engine, we started the design of a new gearbox. We managed to test that just before Monaco and we'll introduce it for its first race in Germany. It shows how long it takes from design to actually getting a gearbox made."
The spacer did have its drawbacks in stiffness and weight: "Every join in the car loses torsional stiffness, so there is one extra joint when you have a spacer, but we have done a test from the front axle to the rear axle on last year's and this year's car with a spacer. Although there is a drop, it's only a couple of percent from axle to axle.
"The bigger problem is the weight; there is a lot of unnecessary material in the spacer, which can be taken out with a relatively simple modification to the casing. That has an effect on centre of gravity height and the weight distribution we can run. Now we have done away with the spacer we can put more ballast on the car and put it where we want it; that is the bigger benefit."
With an engine finally mated to the mechanical parts of the car, the other areas of cooling, electronics, induction and exhaust systems needed to be tackled. It was the former which was the biggest issue; Toyota's Formula One team marry the chassis electronics with those of the engine, which means all the systems are operated out of one control unit.
As Jordan is an independent team, McQuilliam cited this as a problem: "As we have always been a privateer team, and we have been changing engines every couple of the seasons, we have always needed to maintain chassis control ourselves, so we have a separate chassis controller." Being unable to adopt Toyota's one box set up was a challenge, particularly in trying to get their chassis controller to speak to the engine controller from Toyota.
"We came up with what we think is a very elegant solution," McQuilliam notes. "Fortunately it worked pretty well right first time; there have been glitches, and when you go and fix one glitch another one appears, but we are happy with it and may be we were fortunate. We have some very good guys in our electronics dept, and we were impressed with the electronics people at Toyota."
Otherwise the installation was straightforward. McQuilliam was pleased to find the Toyota engine smoother than the Cosworth and, although it was more powerful, the heat rejection to the coolers was similar. Even the airbox designed by Jordan for the engine was accepted by Toyota as within a few horsepower at most of what the Toyota airbox had.
While the engine installation took up the team's time, the aerodynamics were restricted in what could be achieved. Jordan's approach to making major new parts, such as front wings, is based on a simple formula of cost versus performance. The team are still running 2004 spec wings, and the sidepods were adapted to the new regulations, but that is not to say that no development work has been done in the tunnel: "We've done a lot of wind tunnel work since and, yes, there are better front wings than our old front wing lifted up, but they're not better by a big enough margin to warrant the investment in time and money to put them on the car."
So the team's aerodynamic emphasis has been to add small parts that are cheaper to produce or re-use existing wings and moulds to make revised parts, for example, the front wing has been modified by bonding in a filler to make a deeper section in the middle of the span, which creates more downforce. The windtunnel work completed on pitch sensitivity late last year has reaped results; as McQuilliam notes the car has a lot less ground sensitivity on the front wing now.
The other major rule change for 2005 was the regulation to make tyres last all through qualifying and the race. "We did modify the rear suspension geometry," McQuilliam concedes, "but we haven't changed the suspension geometry, and we are reasonably happy with it. The upgrades we planned for the EJ15 were really more to do with serviceability and stiffness; the geometry wasn't going to change, and indeed that is the geometry we intend to run next year. We have no problems with that."
When asked whether the new tyres demanded any changes, McQuilliam's replied "the Bridgestone tyres we are using this year are very similar to the Bridgestone tyres we used last year. We have a very good relationship with Bridgestone, and have been doing some good tyre testing with them. We've made some changes to the set up, [but] we are easy on the tyres and often one of the softer choices is available to us."
The EJ15 has been predictably lacking in pace compared to the rest of the field. However, the reworking of the EJ14 has at least kept the team ahead of Minardi, despite the latter running an all new car since Imola, whether the car's pace has been lacking reliability has not. Remarkably Tiago Monteiro has completed every race so far, with Narain Karthikeyan only having a single engine failing in qualifying and two race retirements through technical failure.
With the car's inception so badly hindered by late engine deals and limited resources a B spec car was clearly called for, should the budgets allow it. With the work put into the still born EJ14B and the originally planned EJ15-Cosworth still relevant, a lot of the ground works had also been completed. McQuilliam is not too proud to acknowledge that looking at rivals cars gives him some inspiration: "The EJ15B really is the car in many ways we would have liked to debuted this year; [it is] the evolution from the EJ14B and the other cars we've seen, and a spring platform into next year's car".
As a result the car has had the attention paid to the aerodynamics and the gear case that were absent on the EJ15 at its launch. McQuilliam also raised a surprising benefit of the B-spec car: "We got the benefit of the EJ15A car, and that is what we'll go on racing until the B car is ready. With the launch car you don't have that benefit, and as a result we could afford to be a bit more radical than we would have been with a new car."
In line with current thinking on aerodynamics the team has shrunk the sidepods even further, the coke bottle is also slimmer and the fronts are undercut. Getting this bodywork to fit requires new sidepod internals; the radiators have moved to a Ferrari/Sauber-like V layout, with the folded coolers providing similar cooling performance to previous. The radiators now vent through a new chimney and louvre panel on the sidepod tops, and the chimney is matched to new winglet mounted to the flip up similar to that found on the Renault R25.
The front ends of the sidepods now have a revised shoulder wing; it was Jordan that originally tried this solution. McQuilliam explains that "it doesn't really act as a wing at all; it makes very poor downforce. It's a flow control device for the whole of the upper car; it controls the spillage out of the radiators and flow across the sidepods and to the rear wing."
Making the new shorter shoulder wings work has necessitated the front of the sidepods being reduced, which means the side impact protection spars stick out through bulges in the bodywork. This approach has been important on cost cutting; the monocoque and its crash protection systems are all still intact, which means they haven't needed to redesign or re-crash test them.
Indeed, the monocoque was designed to accommodate rapid changes of exterior shape from its inception. The structure of the chassis around the sidepods was fixed quite early, but extra non structural panels were then bonded on to it; this separates the structure from the aerodynamics. "It's something we started doing a few years ago. The lead time for a new monocoque is quite long; you've got to make patterns and moulds then you have to crash test it, which takes many months.
"We came up with this idea of fairing panels to allow a longer time for aerodynamic development; to put new bodywork on the cars can be done in five or six weeks. This allows us to create a quite radical B car with the same monocoque."
The exhaust system has also gone to a more conventional position, with the exits being more central and tightly wrapped around the engine, while the slimmer sidepods need a bulge to clear the system. Underneath the car the floor has been revised, but only to accommodate the triangular sidepod fins, while the diffuser remains similar; the old short fence inside the rear wheels has evolved into a strut supporting the flip ups (yellow).
The bargeboards have been revised, but only in detail; the front pair of boards pass through the front suspension, while the rear pair are mounted to the shadow plate. Overall McQuilliam notes that the downforce lost in the new rules has now been recouped, adding "we're very close to where we were last year."
With the team now looking towards 2006, there are still a number of decisions to be made, the key one being on engine supply. Jordan, unsurprisingly, are keen to agree terms with Toyota for a supply of the new V8 for next year, not least to allow the team to start the detail work on the new car. The design control for the new car has been much debated in the press, with Midland originally tasking the Italian constructor Dallara with a design for 2006. Now that Midland have Jordan's resources, the Dallara design is no longer required.
Instead it will be McQuilliam's teams designing the car, with Simon Phillips overseeing the aerodynamics in conjunction with Dallara, whose role has gone from design authority to a subcontractor used to supplement the Jordan team's aerodynamics team. McQuilliam clarifies this relationship thus: "For the next six months or so Dallara will be working full time on aero projects for 2006 car, as will our guys down at Brackley, and the two projects are going to dovetail together. It's a way of temporarily getting the benefit of two windtunnels, which is what the big teams have got."
This work will be the start of the re-investment in Jordan's resources. The windtunnel now owned by Midland will be upgraded in the new year; this, and the resources to use the tunnel for longer, will increase Jordan's capacity to create new parts. The team's CFD capabilities, which are currently restricted to two people, will be expanded: "there is money we are intending to invest on the hardware and software side; there are big gains there.
"It's very quick and very powerful; at the moment I don't see it replacing the windtunnel, but it's a good parallel project. It does some things perhaps better than windtunnel testing, and it certainly can give you a coarse filter at the beginning of the windtunnel tests."
The new car is currently under development. Coping with a shorter (by around 120mm) V8 engine requires less cooling, and the team have some fundamental decisions to make; will they shorten the car or retain the current wheelbase by stretching the car to allow the aerodynamics space to work? McQuilliam would not be drawn on the approach they will take, although he did comment that the new V8 will vibrate more and the tasks of making the chassis and its ancillaries cope will fall down to the chassis design team at Silverstone to find solutions.
He also added that the V8 will rev even higher than the current V10; maybe not at first as the all new engines get used to running for race weekend, but soon they will be around the 20,000 rpm mark, which is astounding for such small engines. It's just another in a string of challenges that McQuilliam will need to deal with, all without the resources of his contemporaries at the bigger teams, a problem he's well used to after all these years designing the yellow cars.