Thursday, June 30, 2011

European Progress?

It appears that if you combine A) restrictions in engine map usage with B) a low-downforce circuit, you end up with a situation where at least one of the Ferraris can run comfortably ahead of the McLarens, and with -- if not in front of -- the Red Bulls.

This race was always going to be a totally unique situation, what with the transition of regulations. Restricting the engine map usage a race before the off-throttle-blowing becomes illegal creates a single snapshot moment, one that is not really worth developing for.

It appears that Red Bull and Ferrari were well positioned for this race. The McLarens for whatever reason did not have the downforce needed to really run with the front cars. I am sure that McLaren will be better positioned in Silverstone, where the high-speed track is more likely to suit their cars. One can speculate that this may be more due to the Ferrari and Red Bull falling back into McLaren's clutches, as they have so far apparently avoided the performance loss due to engine mappings; one might speculate that this was more due to McLaren using the regulation to a better advantage than their rivals.

So all that verbiage aside, I fully expect that Silverstone will bring us the usual top three battling it out, albeit rather closer together than Valencia showed. There is a very small chance that Red Bull's performance advantage is completely due to the off-throttle blown diffusers, meaning that they will suffer disproportionally when the rules change -- but frankly I doubt it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

FIA Doublespeak

Charlie Whiting talks engine maps and diffusers:

Q: Why now?

A: Because it's illegal.

Q: So why not punish the teams that have been using it?

A: Because we say that it's 'arguably' illegal. The FIA technical department can only give an opinion. The stewards are the ones that decide whether or not the opinion of the technical department is correct. [...]
I'm sure the logic of this comes down to a couple of things: first, the Stewards don't want the Technical Delegates making definitive declarations of what is or is not illegal. That would be like parking officers making declarations about what you can or cannot do with your car.

Second, the Technical Delegates don't have standing to bring forward a complaint to the Stewards as they can't be the aggrieved party. The FIA likes the system where things are investigated as they are complained about, as enlightened self interest tends to keep complaints to a minimum. In this case, practically everyone is doing exhaust-blown diffusers to some extent, so if anyone protests them they are likely to get counter-protested right back and nobody wins. An example of I'll let you cheat because you know I'm cheating.

The other thing that this system does is it encourages teams to keep knowledge of any technical violations on the parts of their competitors quiet, so that they can be sprung at a tactically opportune time. Say for example when there were Bridgestone and Michelin tires in the series, and the Michelins got excluded at a critical juncture of the season because of the way they were constructed.

The whole thing is borderline unethical. If the rules are there, play by them. If you know of a rules violation, report it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stupid Regulations

I'm more than a bit peeved that I added an entire extra hour on the end of the scheduled grand prix time, and it STILL managed to cut out just before the end of the 2 hour rain delay. So I got to see almost NO racing.

Also disappointed by the poor Ferrari showing. Alonso's tire gamble for intermediates backfired, and Massa managed to be in the wars. The rain was always going to make Sunday into a lottery, effectively wasting the good qualifying showing. As I commented on Saturday, it's amazing what a poor season will do for lowering standards of good news.

Also pathetic was Hamilton's trail of "incidents". He banged wheels with Webber with no consequence, then banged wheels with his team mate which managed to only put himself out. He also had a safety car speed violation, which was rendered academic by his self-inflicted elimination. I think Lauda goes too far when he claims Hamilton is going to get someone killed; but I think he needs to settle down just a bit perhaps.

But hey, let's give props to Button for being the clear master of the conditions -- fighting back from extra pit stops and a drive-through in order to put pressure on Vettel at the end, and being able to take advantage of a Vettel's uncharacteristic mistake on the last lap. I agree with Button, this was probably his greatest victory so far in his career.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Continuing the theme of taking decisions for 2012: Ferrari has selected the first scapegoat for the poor results yielded in 2011. Technical Director Aldo Costa has stepped down, and has been stashed in the Ferrari road car division (at full F1 pay, good for him) to work out the remainder of his contract.

Moving Costa to the road car division is a curious decision on Ferrari's (or Fiat's) part -- it could be seen as an effort to honor the contract they had with him, or it could be seen as an effort to deny his services to a competing F1 team.

Either way it doesn't look good. In the first explanation they are admitting that this could be more of a political shake up at the F1 team; in the second, they are admitting that Costa might be good enough to make a difference at another team -- which is also an admission that this is a political, rather than a technical, change.

Also consider statements claiming that the 2012 car has already been started. May is a bit early to be actively designing the next year's car, this usually starts in late July or August. This all makes it look like the 2011 season is already being written off as sub-par.

CFD Not Wirth Exclusivity

...ok that was a bit belabored.

Virgin Racing has split with Nick Wirth:
Following a board meeting post-Monaco, Marussia Virgin Racing has halted its technical collaboration with Wirth Racing Technologies and boss Nick Wirth, the designer of the Virgin race chassis.
This represents a serious setback to those backing Computed Fluid Dynamics (or CFD) as a primary driver of chassis aerodynamic design.

CFD theoretically eliminates the need to spend expensive time using wind tunnels and models to study the effects of aerodynamic elements on a car. If a team can rely on CFD, it either reduces the potential design and development costs for the team, or it frees up money for other parts of operating the race team.

Many of the current teams use CFD as part of their process, however the bulk of the work is still done in wind tunnels.

Virgin was the first team to commit to using CFD as the primary source of aerodynamic design information. Both cars that the team produced have come from this method.

The results have been lacking. This year the Virgins are still struggling in Q1 with little to show that they are ready to take on even Team Lotus, let alone the other "3rd tier" teams that have longer histories in the sport.

This is the time of year to be taking decisions which will affect the 2012 campaign, and Virgin has decided to return to a more traditional way of developing cars.

In the long run, development of more advanced CFD systems coupled with cheaper and faster compute cycles will lead to CFD being a more reliable source of aerodynamic information; however I think the state of the art still has much further to go before it can replace the wind tunnel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Green Tires

For a sport obsessed with their "green" image, the FIA certainly makes some strange rules decisions.

While there are some changes which are arguably more "green" -- for example, removing the need to be on "race fuel" during qualifying sessions, and eliminating the need to "burn off" fuel prior to qualifying runs -- there are others which clearly are not "green".

I'm thinking of the tires specifically. While the number of tires used through a weekend is still limited, the tires themselves have a useful service life of perhaps 20 laps before degradation starts to impact performance. So you end up with more pit stops.

You also end up with a lot of this:

...a lot of little rubber balls, colloquially referred to as "marbles", accumulating off the racing line.

Not the best "green" image for a sport in general, or for the tyre manufacturer in particular.