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Entente Concoriale

Since its conceptualisation in the 1950’s and commercial use from 1976 the supersonic aircraft Concorde became synonymous with ground-breaking engineering and innovation which ably progressed human advancement within society. In some cases, like the London to New York City routes, there was the ability to arrive at the destination in a time before you left. All of this was thanks to supersonic travel, a pioneering and tangible use of modern engineering which was lauded as a human triumph, conquering issues with research and solving problems with development. It was an end of an era in 2003 when the flights ceased, due to spiralling costs and aviation industry downturns in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In this respect, certain parallels can be drawn to Formula One. The sport is the fastest in the world, it is the pinnacle of motor racing, it is pushing boundaries with innovative techniques harnessed toward greater fuel efficiency, however it is coming at a cost. Whilst the chassis, the tyres, the combustion unit, the electronic recovery systems from the turbo and the brakes are truly ground-breaking and impressive, the driving and the racing are not.

The question is, why should Formula One be a trend-setter? There is the suggestion that the regulators need to adhere to the requirements of the world’s motoring manufacturers. They bring the big money and have plenty to sell. However, as we have seen in the past, these big conglomerates tend to abandon ship when the champagne stops spraying. The recent formula was proposed in the wake of the global economic downturn from 2008. People, insecure about their financial or employment positions stopped buying road cars which drove a major rethink at the car industry’s biggest hitters. Renault sold their team, Toyota decided to leave along with compatriots Honda. In a move to incentivise major engine suppliers back into Formula One proposals over a 1.6litre hybrid turbo powered engine unit began, all centred on the road relevance. Manufacturers could research and design prototypes for their new Clio’s, Civic’s, C-Class’s and Aygo’s and place them in the back of an F1 car marketing new technology across the globe. What has happened instead is a very complex unit, barely comprehendible to even the biggest car enthusiasts, which has very little relevance to what is run on the motorways and autobahns of the world. It is much more wise for manufacturers to go into a formula that will at least account for some degree of road relevance, like the World Endurance Championship.

The sport should set a precedence of delivering entertainment from the fastest pilots driving in the fastest cars, lap after lap, not being impinged by an efficiency formula. People sit down in front of their TV on Sunday’s, they go to the racetracks, they travel to other countries in the hope of witnessing a classic race involving the best drivers, the best teams all pushing to the absolute maximum. The public want to see an event, an experience. Sport is most often objectified as an escapism. People fill the stands at a football ground, they play tennis with their friends, they fish by a river, watch F1 on TV all to get away from the realities wrought by working life, more often than not. That’s why polishing a turd of a dull race is never acceptable, people in today’s modern world need to be entertained, and there are so many other forms of activity which can provide more amusement than a race like the one seen in Montreal last weekend. The current efficiency drives are undermining the sport, the engineers, the public and most of all the victories and championships won by the drivers. It is incredibly hard to suggest that Lewis Hamilton gets the same satisfaction from being victorious in a one or two-horse race. It would matter more to him, and make his victories more credible in the eyes of the public, if he is racing against the best drivers in the world in different teams, all in a never-ending pursuit to get to the finish flag first.

It is not the place of the public to stipulate regulation changes, but some facts are evident. Viewing numbers are down, not necessarily on TV (although there is a worrying downward trend appearing), but in the stands. When talking about the experience, race goers can normally exempt a dull affair so long as they’re rewarded with ambiance, sound. Fans get little bang for their ever-increasing buck these days. A decade ago Formula One was still using V10’s, a fast and deaf-defying engine and even the V8’s, which were introduced from 2016 still required ear plugs. They are long gone now, there are many who call such engines archaic. But the new power units are comprehensively quieter and more expensive. It doesn’t have to be that way, what would be wrong in allowing teams to run a V10 engine or placing a hybrid unit onto a V8? The complex innovative nature would still be apparent but the racing cars themselves will still be capable of pushing to the absolute edge, leaning on the chassis and pushing the edge of adhesion to the race track lap after lap. The current V6’s are nurtured not just to preserve energy life and fuel efficiency, but also a fear of breakage. Gone are the days when ‘doughnuting’ was second nature after arriving at the chequered flag first, it has been replaced by a highly sensitive unit which must be cherished with care back safely to the team garage.

V10 engines were taken away from the sport primarily in fear that the circuits could no longer be suitably raced on with the increasing speeds offered from such a high powered engine unit. It may be necessary in this case then to raise the car one inch or more, this way the car will not be as planted to the ground in the dry and will at least make running in wet conditions more feasible. Previous wet races like the 1989 Adelaide and Fuji 2007 Grands Prix would almost certainly never be run today. Modern Formula One cars are hardly capable of running in slightly inclement conditions on intermediate tyres.

The arrival of a seventeen year old to the 2015 grid, and the subsequent ease at which he is driving the car shows that the sport no longer tests the drivers physically in the way it did a decade, or even half a decade ago and is something that many experienced racers have confessed to of late. It may be put down the ever-growing need to ‘lift-and-coast’, when drivers come off the accelerator before a braking point to conserve fuel and brake components and materials. The cars are no longer capable of high speed cornering thanks to the tethering techniques of a smaller combustion unit. Perhaps a re-introduction of power steering may be possible, give the drivers what they want. It would not be so costly or impossible to incorporate it within a chassis and would only offer the benefits of seeing athletes on top of their physical game for one and half hours on a Sunday afternoon.

There are a lot of radical regulation changes being bandied about in and around the Formula One paddock. But is F1 really in such dire straits that it needs to be redesigning cars and introducing refuelling? “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” springs to mind. It is clear that certain small aspects of the sport are a little broken but it doesn’t require a whole redesign, this is very much the appropriate time to paper over the cracks. Some techniques can be brought forward from the past. Costs will decrease, audiences won’t be mystified by ERS-H and ERS-K processes. Concorde is missed. The capability to build such an outstanding piece of machinery is akin to putting the man on the moon, supersonic travel has never truly been superseded and is rarely forgotten about. Formula One, like Concorde, can garner public interest by pushing humans, F1 drivers to the boundaries in the world’s fastest cars developed and designed to the edge by engineering geniuses. It is perhaps time for the sport of Formula One to head back to the future.

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Hamilton’s adverse 2013

2013 was woeful for Lewis Hamilton. The 28-year-old only had five podium appearances during 2013, a feat matched by the beleaguered 2009 season in the McLaren MP4-24. In fact it was the first time in his career that he failed to score more than one victory in a season (he managed two in ’09). Here, we aim to establish issues the world champion suffered with over the course of the 2013 F1 season.

PASTURES NEW

In January Hamilton arrived at his new base in Brackley. It is a new and wholly different environment to the one he had long become accustomed to at Woking. A factory less eminent to that of McLaren’s metallic, clean mega structure set upon a pristine, gleaming lake. New surroundings, faces and names to memorise. The only man Lewis truly knew was his team mate Nico Rosberg. Throughout their youth the two traveled and raced against each other in several junior series’. They grew up with each other. Hamilton now lives just a stones-throw away from the German after he bought an apartment last year in Monaco.

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Its not just communicating with new faces, its adapting to a completely different F1 car. No one car is the same. Lewis would have had to get used to all the different buttons on the steering wheels, the different maps the car runs, the different terminology and codes that team engineers use.

BRAKES

Mercedes used a ‘FRIC’ (Front and Rear Interconnection) suspension this year, a system which helps stabalise the cars pitch under braking and roll through corners. By the time the F1 circus headed to Europe, it was the much talked about must-have device. And whilst this helped Lewis gain lap time over his rivals, it wasn’t long before Mercedes’ rivals caught up and other problems developed.

In June, Lewis conceded that he was struggling with the brakes, in comparison to Rosberg. At McLaren, Lewis had always used Carbone Industrie. A brake material he could always rely on to give him the power to stop as late as possible in the braking zones. Late-braking was Lewis’ forte. It had a different feel to the Brembo brakes he now uses on his Mercedes car. The Brembo is more adept to braking and turning at the same time, its a driving brake.

Back in Montreal, Hamilton told the press that he wants to evolve for the long term rather than look for the short term solution: “I can change them if I want or I can just get used to them, and I prefer to grab a hold of it, get used to them and do a good job.”

He had tried going back to the factory over the summer to alter his driving style, by braking in a different manner and allowing the car to slide into a corner and progressing on the throttle: “I’ve been working in the simulator, using different techniques. There are a lot you can use: for example, lift and coast in a race situation, so instead of braking at 100m, you lift at 120m and brake at 80m; or later downshifts.”

The Brembo’s are not Lewis’ friend and it shows on track. So often this season, Lewis has been unable to attack into a braking zone, or more worryingly, he has been unable to defend himself from an overtake. He has looked far out of his comfort zone. On more than one occasion this year the Brit has been overtaken around the outside, something he had proudly boasted about never happening to him. Braking has been the biggest thorn in Lewis’ side all year long. It is yet to be seen whether Mercedes will cave into placing his much favoured Carbone Industrie brakes on his 2014 machinery.

TYRES

Tyres were the biggest talking point for the first part of the season. Many teams and drivers couldn’t make them work .Mercedes problem was the tyre not lasting long enough to do a sensible stint in the race. It was not uncommon to see a silver Mercedes on Pole for Sundays race.

The chassis was very good at generating tyre temperature straight out of the pits, so the tyres always had good heat for the first qualifying runs. However, it was tyre degradation and heat management that was the issue. There were more than a few times when we heard the team over the radio telling drivers to preserve rear wear rates or that the rears were heating up too much. Lewis’ problem was actually trying to generate temperature from the brakes, which almost ‘osmosises’ through the rims and into tyre itself.  During qualifying Hamilton could take half a lap to generate enough tyre temperature to have confidence in the car, by then he would have already lost a significant amount of time.

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Then there was the British Grand Prix. A race which Hamilton was leading comfortably until the tyre cried no more and exploded. The fault was with the kevlar belt in the rim. Hamilton wasn’t the only one to suffer that race.

Towards the second half of 2013, Pirelli brought along last years compounds for the remaining races. The Mercedes cars did not suffer with massive degradation anymore, but they did not have the raw pace of the Red Bull, which was allowed to scamper away into the distance. Fortunately Pirelli look like they will be bringing a stronger, slightly more durable compound for the 2014 season, which means cars with higher downforce will be rewarded as drivers should be able to push to the absolute maximum.

PERSONAL

Hamilton is a lot ‘stockier’ today to that of the young boy who walked into the sport back in 2007. Back then he weighed a slight 66kgs. He is clearly more muscular in the upper body and arms, and whilst this may look athletic, it comes at a massive cost. Additional weight is a Formula One designers nightmare. An extra 5kg generally will cost around two tenths of a second per lap, a huge amount in Formula One terms. Lewis now weighs 71kgs, thats 5kg more than he did seven years ago. But it is a far cry off the 58kg that four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel weighs.

Lewis’ love life never seems to be out of the tabloids. It’s no secret it has affected him in the past, his emotionless celebration of Pole Position in Korea 2011 was due to his split with pop singer Nicole Scherzinger. Since then the relationship had been on and off. Lewis is an emotional driver, we hear it over the radio at races. He just needs to focus and channel his energy onto the race track.

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He has allowed personal issues to affect his racing before when he decided he no longer wanted his dad as a manager. Since then he has long craved for the family feel in his garage. Last year at McLaren he admitted that he was envious of Jenson Button’s entourage of family, friends and management. He may well require that to help him feel more relieved at the back of the silver garage.

Lewis attended a lot less sponsorship and partner events during 2013. This year was the first year where Lewis felt that the shackles were released. He was no longer required to be demure. Mercedes had no intention of holding him back or slowing him down. Less frequent sponsorship events were a driving factor in his transfer to the Silver Arrows. He had long become bored of having so many days of the year dedicated to sponsor events at McLaren.

Lewis will try and develop his driving style for next year, all the drivers will, the new engines will require it. He will have time to compare the data for braking styles between him and Rosberg over the course of 2013. He will have to go away and get leaner if he is to fight at the front. He will hope that this year is just a blip, after all  he could have had a nightmare year similar to that of former team mate Jenson Button.

Rumour: McLaren set to announce Samsung

General paddock consensus is that McLaren will announce Samsung at their car launch in January. The announcement was due to go ahead on December 2nd, however the team thought it may be able to generate better publicity fore the brand at the launch.

It follows the announcement by Vodafone at the beginning of the year that they would be withdrawing from the sport. That deal for the title sponsorship and branding on the cars, driver overall and other team merchandise was said to be in the region of $50m per year.

McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen

McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen

Samsung pulled out of sponsoring the British Superbike team Honda Racing earlier this month which has added fuel to the rumours.

The other leading contender is Procter & Gamble using their Gillette brand. Gillette starting its partnership with Mclaren earlier in 2013 at the Chinese Grand Prix. The companies main focus was on expanding into the Asian market.

Many insiders have said that this deal will be key for Formula One marketing as it will be able to tell where the sport stands after the global financial crisis.

F1 will be considered in ‘good health’ should McLaren’s new sponsor yield a similar return to the partnership with Vodafone. Should the deal fail to impress or  impact, then it may well raise some concerns for the sports financial health.

Either way it looks like the future is blue for McLaren.

Less marbles in 2014?

Pirelli have announced that are trying to construct a compound of tyres which reduces the amount of marbles on track in 2014.

The move comes after current F1 drivers voiced their concerns about the amount of debris on circuits. The marbles, which are discarded pieces of rubber from the tyres, make it nigh-on impossible for drivers to commit to an overtaking manoeuvre off-line.

“The drivers certainly have commented on it and we can understand it,” said Pirelli’s motorsport boss Paul Hembery. “So it’s something that we are trying to do.”

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The Pirelli boss has acknowledged that the marbles are created through wear so the softer compound of tyre are the main culprits for creating marbles.

“We know that it’s clearly wear-related, it’s basically tearing of the tyres in some cases, certainly the super-soft and to an extent the softer tyre have not had the strength that we needed.

“You can see some races where we had almost no marbles when you are using the hard and medium, certain surfaces where it’s low abrasion. So we are working to try and improve that. The general comment from the drivers is ‘reduce marbles’.”

Paul Hembery has admitted that there is a great challenge to try and stop the Pirelli tyres discarding excess rubber.

“At the moment we’re doing a lot of work on scaling and understanding where we are with the different compounds, we wanted to try and improve things like the tear resistance of the compounds, which has a direct impact on marbles which is something we are trying to reduce for next year,” he said.

“With the increased wheelspin, that has a chance of creating more marbles compared to where we are today, so we have to increase the mechanical strength of the compounds.”

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Whether the changes to the tyre will create a different feel for the drivers, who will have a whole raft of new change and developments on their 2014 cars, is not yet known.

There has also been some concern related to the safety of marbles. On more than one occasion over the past few seasons have drivers had large chunks of rubber, either coming off the drivers car in front or from the discarded rubber on the side of the track, hitting the drivers helmet. A few drivers have said that if their visor were to be open for cooling purposes and a piece of rubber were to strike them, the result could be similar to the damage caused to Felipe Massa at Hungary in 2009, if not worse. The Brazilian’s helmet was hit by a rogue spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car. Massa subsequently lost consciousness and crashed badly.

 

F1’s Pole Trophy

Formula One will introduce a ‘pole position trophy’ for the 2014 season. The FIA have added the new award to the world championship’s sporting regulations.

The driver with the most pole’s at seasons end will be rewarded at the FIA Gala with a trophy for their achievements. German Sebastian Vettel would have won the new trophy in four of the past five seasons should it have existed.

Will Vettel win it in 2014?

Will Vettel win it in 2014?

If there should be a tie in poles, the decision would be made on countback starting with the highest number of second places. Should the initial countback fail, the new regulations state that “the FIA will nominate the winner according to such criteria as it thinks fit”.

Hulkenberg Signs for Force India

Nico Hulkenberg has signed a ‘multi-year’ contract to drive with Force India from the 2014 season.

The German driver had an option to sign for the Silverstone-based team which ran out last Sunday, an option he and his manager decided to take up.

He is familiar with the team, having spent the 2011 season with them as a third driver before being promoted to a full time role in 2012. He made a switch to Sauber last year hoping for more podiums and a chance at getting a Ferrari drive alongside Fernando Alonso, however neither occurred and he finds himself back at Force India.

Dr Vijay Mallya and Nico Hulkenberg

Dr Vijay Mallya and Nico Hulkenberg

Team Principal Vijay Mallya said: “I’m delighted to see Nico back with Sahara Force India. When he drove for us in 2012, it became clear Nico was an exceptional talent and he has continued to impress everyone in the paddock with his strong performances this season. Having Nico in our line-up is a real statement of intent and a huge boost for everyone associated with the team. We have high hopes and expectations for 2014 and by signing Nico we have put ourselves in the best position to achieve those objectives and enjoy what could be our most competitive season yet.”

New driver Nico Hülkenberg said: “I am happy to come back to Sahara Force India. The team is aiming high for next year and I believe that the experience I have gained over the years will help us achieve those goals. I genuinely believe we can have a competitive package in 2014. I’ve heard a lot of positive things about the Mercedes engine as well, so I think there is a lot to be excited about for next year. I know this team and I can see their determination; it’s a great bunch of people and we all share the same hunger for success.”

It is thought that Mexican Sergio Perez will be announced as his team mate before the new year. Perez will bring with him €15m in sponsorship money from Mexican telecommunications group Telmex.

This new line up will of course mean that current drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta will no longer be with the team. The former is expected to sign with Sauber and it is not yet known where Di Resta will end up, with Indy Car racing in America the most likely option.

Lack of in-race punishments

Have you noticed the lack of punishments for drivers who make mistakes during the race in 2013? Most cases are now investigated after the race and dealt with that way. It has come about after secret meetings between Jean Todt of the FIA, Charlie Whiting and all the F1 drivers.

They have all decided that every small touch or small incident in the race, should be investigated afterwards. This is for two reasons, one is so it does not upset the race itself, it does not ruin the outcome of perhaps a great battle on track and the other reason is to promote extra overtaking. Drivers were beginning to feel that if they get punished each time they touch a car, there is no longer the need to take the risk, they may as well sit back and wait for either the car in front to make an error, or collect the points they are currently earning from their position, instead of risking a drive through penalty for any calamitous manoeuvre.

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The race organisers and stewards have implemented the new provisions in the first four races consistently. There have been few drive-through penalties and the grid displacements that we saw at Bahrain were due to aggressive driving. Especially in the case of Esteban Gutierrez who completely destroyed Adrian Sutil’s race. So the main punishments are now being handed down from the FIA because they are preventable collisions.

In Bahrain we saw an incident at Turn 2 with Webber and Rosberg, to which only a warning was handed down from the FIA to Webber and also between Sergio Perez and Alonso at the exit of Turn 4. The FIA took the view that Perez was in front and inclined to take the racing line, it was Fernando’s fault for trying to overtake around the outside of the corner. Sky F1’s Martin Brundle also agreed, “He [Alonso] went on the racing line. Why should he make room for Alonso on the left side when Fernando tried it anyway, he has to stop to take into account that it is bumpy on the sand next to the track.”

Button and Perez battle it out

Button and Perez battle it out

The FIA also took a similar approach towards Perez with his incident with Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn complaining that Perez was moving in the braking zone, but the FIA took the view that he was ahead and therefore could take whichever line he suited.

It now means that drivers will be able to fight and go into combat with much more risk in 2013.