Archive for May, 2010

Turkey Snippets

May 31, 2010

Wow, what a race! Australia and China gave us rain-affected entertainment-fests but it is a long time since a dry race that was that good. It was a tonic to see that much dicing and overtaking for significant positions. The sequence of the Red Bull crash, then the McLaren men trading position, had this arm-chair enthusiast’s adrenalin rushing and heart pounding, reminding me just how joyous following this sport can be.

I was stunned by the backlash after the Bahrain GP (a race I found reasonably interesting) about it being boring, and the ferocity of the reaction to the refueling ban. I am not going to arrogant enough to tell people they are mistaken to feel so strongly (I believe some people even like soccer-ball but obviously they are wrong) but I did sense a lot of people were much towards making up their minds before that race. I have been following F1 long enough to see refueling come and go, and come and go again. I have mixed feeling about if it should be part of Formula One. I prefer racing to pit-stop strategy, but for reasons to do with cars and circuits good racing is impeded by the difficulties of overtaking anything but a considerably slower car. Perhaps it is much to do with a younger audience, of whom if they did not buy heavily into the pit-stop strategy aspect would not have become fans of this sport, so are losing what attracted them. I have been fascinated by the way this season has been unfolding, albeit with some boring segments as is the norm. If people no longer want to watch or follow the wider soap-opera, that is their decision, but the season has seen a lot of on-track dramas, even some effective pit-strategy, and boy, will they have missed some good races.

Mark Webber, before pitting, had led 158 consecutive laps having led throughout in Spain and Monaco. Hamilton’s 12th win gave him his 30th podium from fifty-nine races. It was the 80th win for Mercedes engines.

Turkey was advertised as Ferrari’s 800th World Championship race. I type, “advertised”, as I have not checked this figure. There have been 827 rounds, including eleven Indianapolis 500s that counted in the early years for the championship, one of which Ferrari contested. I will look into this later.

I have no doubts on blaming the Vettel-Webber collision on the German. Mark held his line and Sebastian turned right. His impetuosity has been evident before, at Australia last year lunging inside Kubica with the resultant collision, and the side-by-side pit-lane drag with Lewis in China when Vettel ruthlessly and recklessly tried to shoulder the McLaren towards the wheel-guns.

Sebastian’s psyche might well have been charged with the frustrations of all his lost opportunities – the dodgy chassis in Monaco, maybe also in Spain, the roll-bar issue in Q3, and the arbitrary reliability issues earlier in the season. The instinct to get away from the dirtiest part of the very edge of the track to brake, and to gain some width with which to turn into the rapidly approaching corner, may have been so automatic that the first he knew of it was the collision, hence thinking it must have been Webber’s doing.

Sebastian seems to have gained in maturity over the too many mistakes he made last season, but a move like that is no way to win a championship. For all Mark’s grumpiness post-race, third with Vettel on nothing was a better title-chase result than first ahead of his team-mate, or indeed second behind him.

Michael Schumacher looks like he is beginning to connect with his vehicle but that the car is just falling behind with the more than a pit-stop lead the top four pulled out on the grey Arrows. Last season, it was McLaren with works support from the German manufacturer that was beaten by the customer team, Brawn; this year Mercedes are being beaten by their new customer-team, McLaren.

When Stefano Domenicali was explaining pre-season that Alonso understood and accepted the team responsibilities of driving for Ferrari, I remembered how smiley-smiley it was when the Spaniard first joined McLaren. David Croft of BBC Five Live had interviewed the driver during the week, and commentating Free Practice mentioned how he had been a joyless interviewee. On The Chequered Flag race-preview podcast, Fernando was spouting about how happy he was at Ferrari and how wonderful the team is, counteracted by the palpable misery in his voice. In Q2, he blew his hot lap but blamed the car for being too slow already, and publically criticised the team for falling behind on development. At Renault, he was loved and favoured, but not so at McLaren when the toys came out the pram like shrapnel. After criticism before Turkey in the Italian media for his mistakes, the team looking not quite up to it in any year soon, and Alonso so obviously disgruntled, the future of the golden partnership does not look shiny. How long ago does it now seem that Fernando led a 1-2 in Bahrain for his Ferrari debut?

Something I suddenly noticed during free practice is just how anonymous the STR team have become. With a ninth and two tenth places, it is only courtesy of the new scoring system they have four points. Red Bull bought Minardi because Mad Max proclaimed customer cars were to be the future (and Prodrive did a deal with McLaren), but it turned out to be a mirage. It made some sense to have the extra team for the brief years both outfits could use the same chassis, and they even got the first win from STR. Obviously, the Red Bull drink company have made an Everest of lucre selling their mildly addictive caffeine and legal-chemical-stimulants concoction (the early versions of Coca Cola contained stimulants that later needed to be phased out). A stated purpose for the second team is to develop new drivers, which has been hit and misses, but I should not be amazed if in the not too distant future it is off-loaded.

The tyre supply for next season is down to Pirelli or Michelin, the former being cheaper, the latter expected to be more prepared. Michelin have modern F1 experience, and compete against rival suppliers effectively in top-level sportscars, whilst Pirelli supply control tyres for rallying and Superbikes. The concern is that Pirelli would be learning on the job, with Martin Whitmarsh arguing to pay the extra for expertise. Surely, Formula One would be more interesting with less good tyres? It is the quality of the Bridgestones in providing good grip without high degradation that has added little excitement to the mix.


What’s The Points – Turkey Update

May 30, 2010

Previous entries:
    What’s The Points
    What’s The Points – China Update
    What’s The Points – Spain Update
    What’s The Points – Monaco Update

Below is a comparison of the World Championship positions for this year’s points (left), last year’s points-system (middle) and the older 10-6-4-3-2-1 approach (right). Ties are decided by countback.

1   Webber   93   Webber   36   Webber   30
2   Button   88   Button   35   Button   28
3   Hamilton   84   Hamilton   34   Vettel   24
4      Alonso   79      Vettel   32      Hamilton   24
5   Vettel   78   Alonso   32   Alonso   23
6   Kubica   67   Kubica   27   Kubica   16
7   Massa   67   Massa   26   Massa   14
8   Rosberg   66   Rosberg   26   Rosberg   14
9   Schumacher   34   Schumacher   13   Schumacher   7
10   Sutil   22   Sutil   7   Sutil   2

Kamui Kobayashi scored a modern point for tenth to become the 17th point-scorer this season. Thirteen would have points under last year’s scheme. Under 10-6-4-3-2-1, only ten drivers have scored; after seven races, for only ten drivers to finish top-six is quite surprising.

There is no huge difference in the order between the three systems, indeed only variation in order from third to fifth, and that partially due to countback for tied scores.

The order in the 10-6-4-3-2-1 list exactly matches the order pure countback would give.

These are the points if given to engines:

1   Mercedes   304
2   Renault   244
3   Ferrari   151
4   Cosworth   8

Mercedes are getting good points from McLaren and their own team, with Force-India chipping in a useful 32. Renault have a good chance of overhauling them if RBR finally match their speed with consistency and an improving Petrov starts to add more points to those of his team-mate. Ferrari do not look to be having a coherent season, and customer-teams, Sauber and STR are of little help.

The top six scores by nationality of drivers are:

   Nation Points   Scoring
1   Germany   201     5
2   Britain   172     2
3   Australia   93     1
4   Spain   82     2
5   Brazil   74     2
6   Poland   67     1

With five point-scoring drivers including Vettel and Schumacher, Germany really should get this one, but it would not take that much for Button and Hamilton into push Britain to first place. Webber alone should be able to keep Australia third.

Finally tyres:

1   Bridgestone   707

Not only do I think Bridgestone might just clinch this one but could even seal the season as early as Silverstone.

See also RG’s Turkey update for his championship for new teams.

A Straight Request

May 27, 2010

It is of course excellent news that Formula One is to return to the USA for 2012, at a purpose-built circuit near Austin, Texas. It is not such great news that Herrman Tilke will be responsible for circuit design. According to this on Adam Cooper’s blog, the site is hilly and Tilke has been asked to create a fast track with challenging corners that resemble those of classic circuits.

In his guest post for Sidepodcast, F1 – How It Should Be, Steven Roy pointed out that many circuits have too many corners. Aerodynamically sensitive F1 cars have enough difficulty following the car in front through a turn without the additional handicap of most straights being too short to get a run at the car in front.

In recent years, I can think of two circuits at which if someone qualifies badly, I still think they can overtake their way up the field in the race, Interlagos and Indianapolis.

At the São Paulo track, there is a medium-speed corner followed by a number of flat-out left-kinks onto the start/finish, effectively equating to a very long straight, which gives the driver behind the chance to slipstream up to and alongside the car in front. Additionally, the track then turns left downhill and then right, so even if the driver in front protects the inside going into the first part, the driver behind can attack around the outside for the inside in the second part.

At Indianapolis, it also featured a medium-speed corner followed with a long flat-out blast, onto and along the banking, before the cars swooped down this time into a right-left, which provided good overtaking opportunities.

So Mr Tilke, we know designing straights is boring, that you are just itching with all your being to pack this circuit with as many corners imitating the classics as you possibly can, but please, please, please put in a great long straight off a medium speed corner onto a downhill esse. Is it too much to ask that just for once we get a Formula One circuit designed for F1 cars to overtake on?

At least the owner specified a “fast” circuit. Just imagine how many corners Tilke would put in if asked for a slow circuit!

(I will try to get around to an entry on past Grands Prix in the USA.)

Talking Head

May 23, 2010

I have just been listening to the latest Motorsport podcast – which is a collision of modern technology and old fashioned attitudes – and was struck by what the guest, Patrick Head, said about F1 and the need to be green. I have questioned if Formula One really needs to bother with environmental credentials because it entertains so many for the fuel expended. Patrick Head was questioned on how he now was concerned about such matters, but before had said that Formula One had a right to exist without such wider responsibilities. He responded that every sponsor they spoke to asked about Formula One’s environmental profile.

We all know big businesses are purporting to be green, although it is often little more than PR. So Formula One does need to pretend to be green or the big payers will not pay for it. Even if we find it laughable at times, such as the green stripes on the tyres, F1 needs to be PR-correct. It often seems the case in life we all have to do stupid things so other people will not think less of us, even though one never meets anyone that genuinely sees the point.

The other interesting titbit was that although Williams are pushing their KERS flywheel technology outside of F1, they do not plan on using it next year in F1. It was explained that without refueling (which makes fuel tanks about three times bigger), packaging it into the car is not practical, whereas lithium-ion batteries can be fitted with greater flexibility in other areas of the car. With the extra cooling lithium-ion batteries need requiring extra space and weight, I do wonder why the slightly heavier and more reusable lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are not to be employed instead.

Engines III – The Future

May 22, 2010

(I initially saw the story about the possible new engine rules, decided to write about it, decided to write a bit about the history, a bit about current engines, an article on KERS, and finally now the article about the future regulations. Sorry for the delay.)

Previous entries in this series:

Engines I – The History
Engines – Interim
Engines II – Contemporary

Although not confirmed, the plans mooted for the new generation of engines from 2013 are 1·5 litre turbo-charged with KERS and direct fuel-injection. The first thing that struck me on reading this is that the monster turbo-engines used in the ‘eighties, that produced around 900 bhp in races and perhaps as much as 1500 bhp in qualification, before being limited then banned, were 1·5 litre turbo-charged! They were replaced by 3·5 litre normally aspirated engines that were less powerful, with engine-size now down to 2·8 to further reduce power and speed.

Clearly, it is not the plan to return to an engine specification that with modern developmental advances would provide about two to three times as much grunt as current engines, plus whatever they could add with KERS. These new engines are supposed to be smaller and more efficient, presumably with a significant drop in power that can be made up with much less restricted KERS. The old turbos crammed extra air (thus extra oxygen) into the cylinders, so more fuel could be added for a bigger bang when combusted, so extra power came with heavier fuel consumption. Presumably, these proposed regulations for 2013 include strict limits on how much boost is allowed from turbo-charging, with the advantage this limit can later be lowered to cut engine-power without wholesale changes in engine rules.

I wonder how low this limit will have to start at. In the last two years of turbo engines in F1, the limit was four bars (four times atmospheric pressure at sea level). This would make 1·5 turbos over 50% more powerful than current engines. They would have to restrict it to two bars or less for a reasonable drop in power, which is mild turbo-charging.

That the engines will feature direct fuel-injection will aid fuel-consumption. This means the fuel is squirted directly into the cylinder whilst the air enters through inlet valves. Currently, the fuel is injected into the air before entering the cylinders. I must admit I am not sure why current F1 engines do not use direct injection – it may be that direct injectors have to be more robust because of the huge pressure changes in cylinders, and this somehow makes it more practical to avoid them. Direct injection is more fuel efficient because it creates a more even fuel-air mix and has a cooling effect in the cylinder that enables higher compression rates without the risk of premature detonation.

(The compression-rate is how much the fuel-air mixture is compressed in the cylinder before ignition. 10:1 means it is squeezed by the compression stroke to a tenth of the volume it started at. Compressing increases the temperature of the fuel-air mix, which if it gets too hot in an already hot cylinder will ignite before compression is complete. This would be very bad because the piston would still be pushing the air-fuel mixture into a smaller space as it exploded, which would involve pieces of metal violently traveling in directions they were not designed for.)

No details are given on the KERS. However, it is interesting that no other energy-recovery systems are mentioned. It is possible that KERS may allow the collection of energy from the front wheels (which provide the majority of the braking retardation) as well as the back, and perhaps with the ability to put some of that power back through the front wheels, since the generators that might collect energy from the front could double as electric motors. Also, will it be push-to-pass, with energy collected used in bursts, or will the stored energy be allowed for use gradually which would make for faster lap-times?

It is a long time until 2013 and these plans will probably change. I was hoping for something a bit more imaginative. I question if it is Formula One’s role to be green but, if that is the agenda, what would be the best way to go about it?

The first thing to examine is the probable future of more efficient road-cars. I will avoid the debate on global warming, but even if it turns out to be bad science (as in the ‘sixties when the story was we were heading towards a new ice-age), it strikes me as a jolly good idea that the World consumption of oil and other fossil-fuels is reduced, and motorists offset rising fuel costs.

Those developing electric cars have often said that in twenty years, they would be as good as petrol cars, forgetting by then that gasoline cars would also be twenty years better. However, in return for lower running costs, if it gets around the city, does 70 mph on the motorway, and has a reasonable range, a lot of people would take that.

The big step is in battery technology. The Tesla, built by Lotus Cars, uses lap-top batteries. A Tesla spokesmen argued that although these batteries are very expensive, if widely used in production cars, through economics of scale, the cost of the batteries would come down to affordable levels. The Tesla uses lithium-ion batteries for which repeated use gradually erodes the amount of charge they can hold. However, new technology reported last year (BBC news story) suggests the future may be lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. These are cheaper, now with the ability to charge many times faster. They are slightly heavier but do not lose their capacity to hold charge, and do not heat up when charged, saving space and weight on the cooling system required for lithium-ion batteries. According to my rough mathematics, this would enable a car with a range of 150 to 200 miles that would recharge in about ten minutes. Looking at the very confusing efficiency data on Wikipedia, I think in cost and resource use, it would be better than 100 mpg.

The first bottleneck on this technology would be that a domestic electricity supply could not provide the sheer amperage for a recharge of less than hours, and even if fast recharging points appeared at fuel stations, for cars to have recharging couplings that could handle that much current without melting might not be practical for some years. The second bottleneck is the time it would take for the price of the lithium-iron-phosphate batteries to become affordable enough.

Listening to an edition of Radio Four’s In Business, I heard of a Chinese start-up that seem to have the most practical solution. It is basically an electric car with a range of fifty to eighty miles with a small conventional engine that charges the batteries if you need to go further. A hybrid, such as the Prius, uses a conventional engine backed by the electric system, which is not that efficient. (The current Prius can not be charged externally so all the charge has to come from the engine or the KERS, and is less efficient than many diesel models.) This Chinese car always runs off the batteries, saves the weight and space of a regular transmission, and even when the batteries are being charged by the engine, runs at higher fuel-efficiency than normal, because the combustion engine can switch on-or-off as needed, always runs at its most efficient speed, and its power is transferred to the wheels more efficiently, essentially with the electronic equivalent of CVT (continuous variable transmission).

So if I was envisaging the car for the near future, it would have enough battery-range for most journeys, the ability to charge up in a few hours at home (also maybe at work), electric motor/generators on all four wheels (so it could use braking to generate electricity), and a small efficient combustion engine to generate electricity beyond the battery range on longer journeys. I would imagine that engine would be a diesel specifically designed to run efficiently at one speed, with a turbine taking power off the exhaust emissions, not to drive a compressor as for a turbocharged engine, but to drive the generator in addition to the engine (a trick the Prius seems to miss). It might have a flywheel (electrical not mechanical) for short-term storage of kinetic energy between stops and starts.

(This brings up the point that mass-manufacturers often ignore what could be learnt from motor-racing anyway. Cosworth, when designing their turbo engine in the 1980s, asked FIA whether if instead of using the exhaust-turbine to power an intake-compressor, they would be allowed to add the power from the turbine directly to the output shaft of the engine (to be told, “No”). Not only in hybrid cars could this exhaust-emission energy be used to generate extra electricity, but there is no reason I can see why normally-aspirated road-cars have not added this recoverable power to their output for the last twenty years. In the ‘nineties, Williams developed CVT strong enough for F1 (to have it banned), but manufacturers ignore this technology that would make engines more efficient.)

Obviously, we do not want diesel-electric cars in Formula One – they just have to be loud petrol engines. My proposal is not to limit engine-size or aspiration-type or energy-recovery options, but to limit fuel usage. Initially, I thought to set a maximum amount of fuel for the race-distance (which would not preclude refuelling) but how to do that for qualification? So instead set a maximum rate for the injection of fuel into the engine (whether direct or not). Leave it entirely up to the designer how to exploit this for maximum effect. The other proviso I would add is a strict limit on replacing batteries so sustainable ones have to be used. It would also be necessary for a qualification lap to limit the use of recovered energy to a small percentage over the energy recovered during that lap, otherwise one-lap speed could get hairy.

It would be fascinating to see what solutions they come up with. Would they use CVT? Would they consider electric generator/motors on the front wheels an advantage, or too much of a packaging issue? How much power could they get off the exhaust emissions, and would they use it to add extra power directly to the rear wheels, to make electricity, turbo-charge the engine, or a combination? How much power would they try to hold in batteries, or would they favour flywheels, and if so, electrical or mechanical? Surely, they would come up with something the car industry could use, and bring back the excitement of true variation in design that F1 has lacked for so long. Just how much less fuel could they use?


The biggest technical challenge would be to manage heat-energy recovery which I doubt even the collective ingenuity of F1 folk could manage any time soon. One of the biggest packaging issues for F1 cars is getting rid of heat, mostly via the oil and water radiators in the sidepods, with more heat leaving with the exhaust gasses. If only this energy could be instead be converted into usable energy, the advantage in efficiency would be ground breaking.

Power stations that burn coal, gas, oil or rubbish, and even nuclear plants, use the heat to make steam to drive turbines that generate electricity, in what is essentially updated steam-engine technology. Nuclear-powered submarines use steam-power in which the same water is repeatedly condensed and re-heated to steam. Could something like this ever be made small and light enough for Formula One?

Lear VapordyneAmazingly in 1968, a project was instigated, led by maverick engineer, Ken Wallis (somewhere between genius and scoundrel), and funded by Bill Lear (of Lear jet fame) to build a 4WD steam car to win the Indianapolis 500 (fueled by kerosene). 130 staff were recruited for the project which was also to produce pollution-free road-vehicles. To provide a ‘sanity-check’, the project was based at an ex-air force base in the desert north of Reno, within which Lear announced the intention of building an exact copy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track!

The car was heavy and bulky, and never really worked. 4WD was banned for Indy and it became apparent that the equivalency rules when set for steam would not upset the established runners. After two years and many millions of dollars, the Lear Vapordyne project was canned. A senior designer on the project, Bud Fraze, believes that with material and production techniques available today, that it would have worked giving 1000 bhp, tremendous acceleration and high fuel efficiency. Maybe it is not such an unimaginable stretch that modern Formula One could do something with this technology.

Monaco Snippets

May 18, 2010

I miss the old days when a first-corner crash at Monaco was almost an inevitability, the prospect of a smash-up involving a few cars adding to the pre-race tension and overall entertainment value. I put some blame on the modern points scoring, but improved reliability has made F1 much more about consistency, and modern drivers are more collectively sensible.

I heard an observation on a podcast that the Monaco Grand Prix has been the centre-piece of Formula One since its first running in 1929. The Monte Carlo Rally had existed since 1911 and the Automobile Club de Monaco wanted to be upgraded from a regional French club to having full national status. The Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus refused, as Monaco did not hold a major event within its borders, so in 1929, the Grand Prix was originally held on the Monte Carlo streets. Of course, Formula One did not exist until 1946. Monaco was included twice in the seven inter-war European Championships, with that series picking three to five Grands Prix in a season to count for points. Monaco was included in the first Formula One World Championship in 1950, but not again until 1955, between only being run in 1952 for sportscars.

Fernando Alonso’s absence from qualification after his FP3 accident made me rail at the silly rule banning spare cars. This is to save money but, as I have observed before, the teams just spend it on something else. Under the old rules, even without a spare, he could have shared his team-mate’s car in qualification. In Q1, Massa had set a good enough time to make Q2 with 12 minutes to spare and an even better time with eight minutes to spare. In Q2, he also set a time to make Q3 with eight minutes to spare.

Where the no-spare-car rule may really bite F1 is in a scenario such as the 1998 Belgium Grand Prix. The first start on a wet track resulted in a massive pile up out of the first corner (see clip above) involving most the field. Only 18 of 26 cars were on the grid for the second start because teams had just one spare car. By today’s rules, there would be only be six or seven cars available for the restart. It would also be good for teams to be allowed, as before, to run third drivers on Fridays.

Robert Kubica impressed more with his third place around the principality streets than his fine second place in China. It was the only performance that seemed to buck the perceived pecking order. It is a shame for Renault that he does not have an experienced team-mate to help them challenge Mercedes in the Constructors’ competition. Kubica’s committed performances in FP2 and FP3, as well as for qualification and the race, will for me go down as one of the highlights of the season.

Flavio Briatori was around at Monaco and rumour is Uncle Bernie might give him a job helping to promote the sport. Many years ago, when Briatori was between running Benetton and running Renault, Ecclestone suggested to a meeting of team representatives that the flamboyant Italian be put in charge of stewarding. Apparently, the howls of laughter in response to the suggestion did not go down well with the F1 boss. I suspect, hard though it may be to believe, that Mr Ecclestone would see Flavio as the best candidate to be his successor.

So both RBRs managed not to fall apart at Monaco and Webber had two races in a row without being unlucky. Their reliability issues have been the sort of things that should be one-offs – the spark-plug failure, a wheel-nut problem, and a faulty brake disk. One theory is that Mark was more effected by his leg injury last season than he let on, which is believable, but it has been Sebastian that has had the three race-damaging problems. To be fair on Mark, his poor result in Australia was because the team bought him in too late for slicks, but his poor result in Bahrain, with a qualification mistake and a weak race, looked his own fault. They are tied on points at 78 each. Without the reliability issues, Vettel would probably have won Bahrain and Australia plus second in Spain, putting him on 119 points, and Mark would be on 94 if we blame the team in Australia. Vettel has shown much better consistency than last season with the team looking fundamentally reliable and downright fast. It looks like Red Bull could run away with this, and in Vettel’s favour, unless Mark can improve on out-racing his team-mate more than twice in six attempts.

Considering how HRT barely scraped into F1 this year, it is not surprising that there is doubt as to if they can complete the season. Since Uncle Bernie seems to want them to, they probably will, possibly with a piece of the team belonging to Ecclestone by the end of the season. Lotus and Virgin drivers were about a second to a second-and-a-half behind making Q2, but the HRT drivers were two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half seconds off. Having split with Dallara, there appears to be minimal chance of any new development parts, and why would anyone want to sponsor them? Colin Kolles has claimed the team is close to revealing its plans to build their car for next year, but as we learnt with US F1, such proclamations cost nothing. Surely, the only feasible possibility is a buy-out with Bernard collecting his cut. It might be Stefan GP’s only way in.

(What happened to US F1’s punishment for not making the F1 grid in Bahrain that we were told was going to be made by FIA? I was looking forward to them being given a suspended race ban.)

I know there have been arguments aplenty on both sides of the Schumacher penalty issues but I have decided to tackle it anyway.

40.11 When the clerk of the course decides it is safe to call in the safety car the message “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” will be displayed on the timing monitors and the car’s orange lights will be extinguished This will be the signal to the teams and drivers that it will be entering the pit lane at the end of that lap. At this point the first car in line behind the safety car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten car lengths behind it. In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart. As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the yellow flags and SC boards will be withdrawn and replaced by waved green flags with green lights at the Line. These will be displayed until the last car crosses the Line.

40.13 If the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.

The sticking point is rule 40.13. At first reading, it seems clear that Schumacher’s overtaking move was just wrong. However, this rule is designed so if a race ends under safety-car conditions with the circuit still under yellows, then the safety-car peels off to let the winner cross the finish line for TV pictures uncluttered by the pace-car.

On the last lap of Sunday’s Grand Prix, the track had been cleared and the procedure was followed for a racing restart. The safety-car lights went out, the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” message was displayed, and the waved green flags with green lights at the line were shown. This meant the safety-car had been un-deployed, therefore rule 40.13 did not apply. If the safety-car was still deployed, the yellow flags and safety-car boards would still be out, the safety-car lights would not have been extinguished, and the “SAFETY CAR IN THIS LAP” message would not have been displayed.

In past years, this would have made no difference because no overtaking before the start/finish line was allowed even when racing resumed after a safety-car period. Now, overtaking on such a restart is permitted from a line before the pit-entrance. The race had been restarted, Schumacher overtook Alonso between this line and the finishing line, and was penalised for overtaking under a green flag!

I really do not like Schumacher, and if Damon Hill took the opportunity to take a little revenge for Adelaide ’94, good luck to him, but it would not seem like his style. The other stewards were three FIA officials, one from the Automobile Club de Monaco, a Mexican FIA Vice-President, and the President of the FIA Hill Climb Commission. It is quite possible that none of them have stewarding experience even at club-event level, with these F1 stewarding positions an all-expenses paid junket for unpaid FIA and national-club officials, that surprisingly often turn out to be Ferrari fans. (New policy this year to address the inexperience issue is F1 stewards first attend a Grand Prix to observe the stewarding process, which allows additional perks, and strikes me as the blind leading the blind.)

Even if they deemed the manoeuvre illegal, I suppose I am expecting far too much common sense that with the green flags and stuff, and obviously strong arguments on both sides (otherwise why such a long time for a decision), that the fairest outcome would be to demote Schumacher back to seventh place. Of course, the drive-through represented by the twenty-second penalty is the automatic punishment, which is automatically harsher if a race ends bunched up after a safety-car period, and will be irreversible even if FIA allow an appeal to re-examine the decision.

(Reading the rules, Button was lucky to get away without a penalty in China.)

What’s The Points – Monaco Update

May 16, 2010

Previous entries:
    What’s The Points
    What’s The Points – China Update
    What’s The Points – Spain Update

Below is a comparison of the World Championship positions for this year’s points (left), last year’s points-system (middle) and the older 10-6-4-3-2-1 approach (right). Ties are decided by countback.

1   Webber   78   Vettel   32   Webber   26
2   Vettel   78   Alonso   31   Vettel   24
3   Alonso   75   Webber   30   Alonso   23
4      Button   70      Button   27      Button   22
5   Massa   61   Kubica   24   Kubica   15
6   Kubica   59   Hamilton   24   Hamilton   14
7   Hamilton   59   Massa   24   Massa   14
8   Rosberg   56   Rosberg   22   Rosberg   12
9   Schumacher   22   Schumacher   8   Schumacher   4
10   Sutil   20   Sutil   7   Sutil   2

A bad week for Jenson Button however the scoring is applied. Last time he was second by last year’s points and first by the other two standings, but now is down to fourth in all three. All the other top-eight drivers finished top-seven in the race.

The third double-podium for RBR (one-twos in Monaco and Malaysia with a one-three in Spain) is looking ominous for the opposition, with Webber or Vettel leading all three systems. Despite reliability issues, Vettel has finished top-six five times in six races, and Webber has finished top-two three times and 8th/9th three times. Mark leads the real World Championship on countback, and his two-wins-and-a-second alone give him twenty-six under 10-6-4-3-2-1. He is third under last year’s scheme as his 8ths and 9th are worth proportionally less than this year, and his top-twos worth proportionally less than with the even older system.

Massa is now the one benefiting most from the consistency emphasis of the current points, being the only driver other than Webber to have scored in all races. Kubica’s third place moves him up from eighth last week in all three standings.

The orders for 10-6-4-3-2-1 previously this season have mostly matched the orders a pure countback system would have generated. Only Rosberg’s two fifths and two thirds in the first four results made much exception to this. However, this has now been bucked higher up. On countback, Jenson on two wins (next best score a fifth) would be second but is demoted by the top-six consistency of both Vettel (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-6th) and Alonso (1st-2nd-4th-4th-6th).

See also RG’s Monte Carlo update for his championship for new teams.

(I made the decision that since penalties are usually announced within an hour or so of races, and having read the rules I did not think one applicable, that I would start this post. I had to redo most of it when finally the penalty was announced.)

1950 British (European) Grand Prix II

May 14, 2010

On Wednesday night, I remembered about meaning to write that anniversary piece about the 1950 British GP, and looked up the date to discover, “Hell, its tomorrow!”, thus I compiled the piece yesterday annoyed I had not prepared it sooner.

I suspect the official F1 site people were even more caught out as when I visited yesterday to look up the first-race results, I did not spot the report that has since appeared.

The article includes the information that the Alfa Romeo mechanics drove the race-cars from their Banbury base to Silverstone on race-day morning, that in the race the Alfa Romeos made tidy pitstops of under thirty seconds, and the suggestion Fangio broke an oil-line after losing control competing with Farina.

Since the general consensus was the Alfa Romeos were not really racing, and had Fangio lost control of his car, it is difficult to understand how he broke an oil-line without hitting something therefore sustaining more notable damage, I question that info; especially as the article describes the race as being, “almost two and three-quarter hours”, (2:13:23), and puts Fagioli 2·8 back instead of 2·6. Also, the piece insinuates the ERAs and Altas were manufacturer entries when they were definitely privateer. Methinks it was written in a hurry.

As well as the hasty article, also provided a good set of images from the race. The main reason for this additional entry is that there were two photographs in the 50th Anniversary edition of Autosport I would have loved to have included as I alluded to them in what I wrote:

Admire at the splendour of the Royal Grandstand.

The start featuring the oil-drums with plants in them.

The 1950 British (European) Grand Prix

May 13, 2010

Today is the 60th anniversary of the first ever Formula One World Championship Grand Prix held at Silverstone on 13th May, 1950. FIA had decided to link races at Silverstone, Monte Carlo, Bregarten, Spa, Reims and Monza into the new World Championship. Also included was the Indianapolis 500 (to the annoyance of statisticians) in a cosmetic attempt to make the series more intercontinental.

(Whilst more recently the European Grand Prix has been a separate event used to name a second GP in a country already hosting one that season, back in the ‘fifties, “Grand Prix d’Europe”, was an appellation added to an existing event as an honour, which in 1950 was assigned to the British Grand Prix.)

Silverstone had been an airfield in the Second World War. This is a 1949 aerial shot of the site.

Below is the crazy configuration used in 1948 for the first post-war British GP. Note that cars would have been approaching head-on towards the centre at a combined speed of hundreds of miles per hour before turning off onto the other runway.

Sanity prevailed and the GP was run on the perimeter road as below in 1949 and 1950. The pits were simply at the edge of the track unprotected by a pitwall.

Apart from moving the start/finish and pits to the modern position, the track used for Silverstone GPs remained almost unchanged until the introduction of the Woodcote chicane for 1975. Below for reference is the 2000 to 2009 configuration.

Europe had been financially crushed by the war in a way that made today’s British national-debt problem look like small change. There was a shallow grandstand opposite the pits but around the rest of the track, the public stood many deep behind ropes. Apart from some leftover hangars and a rudimentary wooden structure for the pits, tents and motor-vans stood in for lack of permanent structures. Since the drivers could see where the tarmac ended and the grass began, the cement-filled oil-drums marking out the edges of the track, with straw-bales behind that, were presumably to protect the public from accidents. (I can not help thinking the oil-drums would quite likely break the fuel-tanks, with the straw behind to help any subsequent conflagration.) Looking at a magazine photograph I have, it seems the oil-drums on the start/finish had plants emerging from the top of them that look like geraniums with the flowers blown off, presumably by the passing cars.

The event was attended by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (subsequently the Queen Mother), Princess Margaret, Earl Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten. After meeting and greeting the drivers, they adjourned to an especially built ‘grandstand’ made of scaffolding, covered by a canvas awning, and barely big enough for the five of them to stand on through the two-hour plus race. No wonder they never came back.

None the less, it was an event of great jollity and celebration in austere post-war Britain, attended by somewhere between 100 and 200 thousand spectators, but humble beginnings for the modern World Championship.

Ferrari declined to attend the event considering the starting money insufficient. Alfa Romeo entered cars for Giuseppe ‘Nina’ Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Luigi Fagioli plus an extra car for British driver, Reg Parnell. Talbot-Lago entered Yves Giraud-Cabantous and Eugène Martin, with three privateer entries of that make. Maserati entered only one factory car for Louis Chiron with five other Maseratis including two entered by Scuderia Ambrosiana for Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh (aka B. Bira) of Siam and Baron Toulo de Graffenried. The rest of the 21-car field was made up with a ragtag of Altas and ERAs driven by British drivers*. The new BRM was on display for royal inspection but was not entered.

(*Joe Kelly was born and raised in Ireland before moving to Britain and info is sketchy as to if he raced with a British or Irish racing licence.)

Despite being essentially pre-war machinery, the Alfa Romeo 158s with supercharged 1·5 litre straight-8 engines were in a class of their own. Farina, Fagioli, Fangio and Parnell filled the front row of the grid with ‘B. Bira’ and the two factory Talbot-Lagos on the second row.

Once the flag dropped, the Alfa Romeo drivers showboated swapping the lead a few times with Farina leading Fagioli home, and Parnell 52 seconds back after hitting a hare (scoring his only F1 WC podium). Fangio retired with an oil leak, which in retrospect was critical as he lost that year’s title to Farina by three points. The fourth-placed car was Giraud-Cabantous’s Talbot-Lago two laps down. Farina finished the 70-lap race (of about half-a-lap over 200 miles), having netted pole and fastest lap, in 2hr 13m 23·6s at an average speed of 90·97 mph (146·38 kph).

Leslie Johnson in his ERA on lap two recorded the first ever retirement (after his supercharger failed), although Felice Bonetto, entered in a Maserati, failed even to turn up!

The Alfa Romeos won on Pirelli tyres with most of the rest of the field on Dunlops. Ignoring the Indy 500, Farina and Fangio won all six races in 1950 and won four races to Ferrari’s three in 1951, giving Fangio his first title. The World Championship switched to Formula Two in ’52 and ’53. Alfa Romeo did not return until 1979.

Silverstone has hosted forty-five British Grands Prix including the ’48 and ’49 events. Aintree held the race in ’55, ’57, ’59, ’61 and ’62. Brands Hatch held the race in all the even years 1964 to 1986 inclusive. All the others were at Silverstone.

It is realised much more today what a huge landmark the event was. A report in Autosport on the 1950 Italian Grand Prix included only one sentence mentioning that Farina’s win sealed the World Championship.

I recommend watching this report on the event:

Spain Snippets

May 11, 2010

Barcelona provided the dullish race we all expected. It does have the longest run of the season to the first corner but even that let us down with the top runners holding position. At least Vettel’s problems and Hamilton’s deflation added a couple of points of interest. Fine drive from Barrichello to finish ninth from seventeenth on the grid; shame we saw so little of that. The season looks poised with Red Bull fastest but struggling for reliability.

Mark Webber became the 52nd driver to win leading from start to finish. Aryton Senna managed this nineteen times from his 41 wins, Jim Clark 13 times amongst 25 wins, and Michael Schumacher on 11 occasions from 91 victories. Other current drivers to achieve this are Alonso (twice), Barrichello, Button, Hamilton and Vettel.

That Red Bull seem to have extended their advantage should be treated with a pinch of salt. (Apologies if this gets too technical.) McLaren are better at the straight bits and Red Bull the bendy bits, and Barcelona has a high proportion of turns that are long curves rather than pointy corners. Not only does this exasperate the lack-of-overtaking problem but was bound to play to the superior downforce RBRs. Last year, Red Bull were better with high-speed corners than slow ones, but claim to have solved this, so are expecting to be strong at Monaco – as long as they do not fall apart!

I wrote here about Red Bull’s rumoured ability to run a low ride height for qualification. To partially reprise, teams have to set the ride-height for qualification allowing for how much it will sink when race-fuel is added next day. In race commentary, it was mentioned that because the Renault engine is more fuel-efficient, the Red Bulls start with a smaller fuel load. The weight-saving this provides will help for a quicker start, be of the biggest advantage towards the beginning of races (with the standard single pit-stops not that far into the race), will enable a smaller fuel tank for a trimmer, more aerodynamically efficient tub, and will decrease the difference between ideal ride-height setting for race and qualification. The way these advantages snowball, I wonder if rival teams should have fitted slightly smaller tanks and planned on running races with leaner fuel-mixes and lower rev-limits?

We are all aware Ferrari decided to remove their Marlboro barcode logo. It was seen as caving in to the accusation that it was subliminal cigarette advertising. Marlboro were probably hacked off at the latest attack on them but probably also pleased the publicity reminded (or informed) the viewing public they still sponsor Ferrari. Did they change it to offset the criticism or to extend the coverage of the story into the race weekend? (I was amused a few years back watching the British GP when a car crashed into an advertising board, which fell off revealing underneath an old Marlboro hoarding for the rest of the race.)

The F-duct is to be banned for 2011 which is eminently sensible. It is a very clever dodge that drives a tank through the spirit of the rules. This season, McLaren deserve the advantage, but next year everyone would have had it. Last year, Brawn deserved the advantage for the double-diffuser, but why could it not have been banned, be it by FIA or FOTA, for this year? Without it, overtaking would be that bit easier.

Monaco qualifying is to remain unchanged. The idea of split sessions with twelve randomly chosen cars in each was not that great. Unfortunately, it is probably in the interest of the new teams to have the first section of qualifying traffic-ridden. Normally, Q1 is lose the new teams plus one other driver. With six slower drivers on a shortish track, maybe one or two extra established team drivers will fail to reach Q2, allowing one or two from the new teams to qualify top 17. With the ability to block for position, points for the top ten and a good chance of a high attrition rate, it will probably be the only glimmer for a new teams to get a point-scoring finish, and in one blow win the season over the other new teams.

(There was a time when they allowed less starters at Monaco. In 1983 at Long Beach, McLaren’s John Watson and Nicki Lauda qualified 23rd and 22nd but finished first and second, reflecting a trend of the team qualifying badly but finishing well on temporary circuits. It was presciently pointed out only twenty starters were allowed at Monaco, and indeed neither driver qualified. It is to date the last time a World Championship Grand Prix started without McLaren. Knowing Ron Dennis’s hatred of failure, if he kicked the cat on getting home, it is probably still in orbit.)

Finally, Michael Schumacher outshone his team-mate. Not only were the cars updated but Schumacher was given a new (used in testing) chassis. On the debate of if he is still good enough, he had so much talent that even if he is not quite what he was, that would still make him pretty damn good (damn him). Watching how painfully he struggled in the China GP, there had to be something wrong with the car. Mercedes look in trouble in the battle of the big four with the prospect of race-wins looking bleak.

However, in the internecine battle, Nico should watch out as he has interests outside F1, like studying economics and having a life, whereas Michael is obsessive and will be at the factory again and again reminding everyone what he needs from the chassis. Teams tend to worship drivers that do that. John Watson complained to Brabham boss, Bernie Ecclestone, in 1978 that Nicki Lauda was getting better treatment. Ecclestone told him he could make John number one and it would not make a difference. It pays to be pushy in Formula One. It is no coincidence that the introverted Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Räikkönen are not driving this year.