One of the biggest surprises of the race yesterday was the failure of the alternator on both Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean’s cars, both powered by Renault. In this instance, the failures removed the top two cars from contention and made a Ferrari victory possible.
The word from the teams is that the alternator on both engines overheated causing a loss of electricity and therefore a complete shutdown of the car including the radio. I do not know if Renault was aware of the issue during the race or not. Based on the fact that there was no radio advising either driver to cool the engine, I would guess not.
Most times in F1, we see failures in the lower tier teams caused by insufficient materials understanding (HRT at Canada with their break pads) or a lack of understanding and experience (Caterham’s electrical and hydraulic issues a couple of years ago). In these instances, failures are put down to the team being young and inexperienced.
The case of the Renault engines, however, is unique. Not understanding the ceiling operating temperatures within the engine is a major issue and points to someone not doing their homework at Renault.
Understand I place the blame firmly at Renault’s doors. That the same part failed in both the Lotus and Red Bull suggests that they temperature guidances given by Renault were faulty, not that the new aero package at Red Bull was the cause.
This does not mean that we should expect to see further engine failures, however. Renault will fix the problem quickly and F1 teams have learned the lessons of the 1980s, to win you must finish.