Chances are your car, whether it’s a Geely or a Lamborghini, underwent some rigorous testing and refinement before it was deemed worthy for dealership floors. Obviously the levels of rigour can vary from brand to brand, but either way there’s a team of people in white coats that put fine tunings to the vehicles we drive before the public gets their grubby mitts on them. Unsung heroes these.
But Japanese brand Infiniti - the premium wing of Nissan and key sponsor of the Red Bull F1 team - has enlisted the help of a higher-profile character for development advice. Yes, Sebastian Vettel now wears two name tags to work these days; one says “Triple World Champion” and the other says “Infiniti Director of Performance”.
Okay, I admit the half of my brain savvy to marketing mumbo-jumbo twitched a little when I heard Vettel’s new title, but in all fairness there are some tangible tweakings made to Infiniti’s next crop of cars that the Red Bull driver is responsible for. Take the new Infiniti Q50, due for South African release early next year, for example.
This is a car that will inevitably be compared with BMW’s 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class so, if its steering is too slack, its suspension too soggy or its seating position is too, well... less than perfect, it will be quickly overlooked as a true rival to the German powerhouses. These are just three aspects that the F1 driver has influenced since he started his supplementary role six months ago, and Infiniti insists that when he talks its huge team of engineers listens.
At a private media briefing held recently at the Red Bull F1 team’s factory in the UK, an Infiniti spokesman admitted Vettel was quite sceptical at first about the partnership as well, suspecting (as the public might) that it was just another component of a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal between Red Bull and the Japanese carmaker, with little substance behind it.
However, after spending time with engineers in Japan early in the Q50’s developmental stages, as well as at actual track sessions at the Nurburgring and Paul Ricard circuits, Sebastian was assured of his position. We’re told that his feedback about the medium-sized sedan’s steering and chassis feel (apparently these are things Vettel is quite tuned into) has had a direct impact on the end result.
But the Infiniti/Red Bull partnership, since its inception in 2011, has become a two-way street and the F1 team has also looked into Infiniti’s own “toolbox” for technical knowhow. Team Principal Christian Horner told me at the Belgian Grand Prix that the opportunity is a “delicious prospect”, and tasty items such as scratch-resistant paint (which Red Bull enjoys for its aerodynamic properties), diamond carbon coatings for gearbox components and exotic materials such as magnesium (which was used for shift paddles in Vettel’s car for the first time at Spa) have already been used in Red Bull’s F1 car.
New rules in F1 next year mean that teams will need to develop new energy-recovery (hybrid) systems, and Red Bull has already gone to Infiniti for help in this regard.The existing Infiniti M35h hybrid model (not for sale in SA) is claimed to be one of the world’s fastest production hybrids, so Infiniti clearly has expertise to offer in this department. Engine braking and energy recuperation, in particular, has interested Vettel and the team as this is an area imperative to F1 performance in 2014 when engines will be smaller but battery assistance will be bigger.
SEE Q50 AT JIMS
The Infiniti Q50 will be on display at the Johannesburg International Motor Show in October, and will be released in SA early next year. Sebastian Vettel has also played a role in the development of a future Infiniti model called the Q30 which is on stage in concept form at the Frankfurt Motor Show this week.
All future Infiniti model names will begin with either Q (cars) or QX (SUVs) and will follow with a number which denotes a level of performance. Look closely at the back of the Red Bull F1 car and you’ll see Q100 on the wing – this represents the ultimate performance car, says Infiniti. - Star Motoring
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