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Here’s to the FIA

I have been fairly critical of the FIA in this blog to date and it’s only fair that I should adjust the balance a little. It needs to be said that their job is extremely difficult, encompassing many contradictory interests, as it does.

They need to increase and hold on to the F1 television-viewing public by presenting an exciting and fascinating show; yet this often conflicts with another important concern, that of driver safety. How to make the races close and involving without endangering the lives of the participants? It’s not a problem with any easy solutions.

The most obvious way to increase safety is to slow the cars down and so the FIA spend much of their time working on ways to do this without losing the spectacle and charisma of F1. Over the years, we have seen all sorts of clever ideas banned because they just make the cars too fast. Skirts came and went, the Brabham fan car had only one race, turbos lasted a while before being shelved, the rear wing gets lower and smaller all the time.

But the engineers and designers are working in the opposite direction; their job is to give their car an advantage over the others and they are always searching for some new tweak or invention that is not covered by the rules. And so there is constant development in the areas that may be tinkered with. We live with this continuing evolution of the F1 car and it is easy to forget how much things have changed over even a short time.

Consider, for instance, how cars have sprouted all sorts of weirdly-shaped wings and protuberances in the last few years, all in the quest for some tiny aerodynamic advantage. This is the rear of the sidepod of the current Renault:

2006 Renault

Note how the sidepod swoops inwards towards the rear and how the space so created contains all manner of wings, scoops and deflectors. Compare this with the Osella FA1E of 1983:

Osella FA1E

This was the year after skirts had been outlawed and the designers were desperate in their attempts to claw back the downforce they had lost. It is interesting that their solution was the exact opposite of today’s – the Osella’s sidepods are much wider at the rear than the front. And no fancy little winglets have sprouted yet.

F1 is in a state of constant development and the FIA have to oversee it all and make sure that no-one gets an unfair or illegal advantage. In such a highly competitive technological environment, that is no easy task.

So I recognize how difficult it is for the FIA to reconcile all the conflicting interests they must deal with. It is probably impossible to keep everyone in the sport happy. I just wish that more of their decisions had that essential ingredient for good government: common sense.

9 Responses to “Here’s to the FIA”

  1. Now, you know how the FIA has, for years now, been looking for an effective (and lasting) way to slow down the cars? Well, I think maybe they finally cracked it!

    Haven’t validated it yet, but according to a teletext news report on the BBC, not only have the FIA awarded the single tyre supplier contract to Bridgestone today, they’ve also awarded a similar contract for the single suppy of engine electronic control units.

    Surprised me, this, not only because I didn’t even know they were proposing to do this, but also because I really wouldn’t have thought it possible to use a single type of such unit on all the different makes of engines that we have in F1 these days.

    But, the reason this decision will be so effective in slowing down the cars? Well, against all logic, they’ve given the contract to that denizen of embedded, real-time, electronic systems, Microsoft! Now, I could be wrong, and I’ll admit to being a self-confessed critic and hater of Microsoft and all of its drity deeds, but AFAIK, Microsoft does not have a history of engineering excellence (which is, after all, what I thought F1 was supposed to be about), does not produce any embedded, real-time software, has little track record in ANY form of electronics (mice, keyboards et al, but even those are bought in and ‘badged’), and has no reputation in automotive engineering.*

    So, is this report possibly true? All I can say is that the BBC don’t get things that glaringly worng, very often.

    Regards
    Nigel

    * – of course, reminds me of the retort that Microsoft got from the boss of GM: the one about “If Microsoft made cars, they’d crash every five minutes……” ;-)

  2. Let’s see, is it the 1st April…? Nope, that rules out that possibility. I must admit that I hadn’t heard this one yet, Nigel, but, if true, it must count as the most horrendous blunder by the FIA ever (and they’ve made some biggies). Microsoft electronic control – surely that’s an oxymoron? Would any cars finish the race? And what about the bloat – would cars have to become trucks to accommodate all the “upgrades” MS insisted on over the years?

    The really awful thing is that it might just be true. The FIA is so money-centric now that I can see them accepting a huge cash payment from MS to accept their system. Remember all the problems that resulted from the FIA’s decision to limit F1 fuel delivery systems to just one supplier. For years we had races ruined by sticking fuel nozzles. Even now, the darn things cause more problems than they’re worth. Engineering excellence indeed.

    But please not Microsoft. Please…

  3. FTR, there’s an online copy of the BBC report at .

    I’ve been websearching for more info on this strange decision, but nothing’s appearing on my screen!

    What might be a ‘good thing’ if this report is true is that it would be a glorious way for MS to reveal their incompetence to the world, don’cha think? ;-) Just imagine, every car on the track grinds to a halt simultaneously, due to a synchronous glitch in the ECU software! You couldn’t buy publicity like it!!!

    Of course, it might not do F1 itself a lot of good – but then, Michelin’s little debacle at Indy last year didn’t seem to do any real lasting damage – after all, that’s the FIA’s role, isn’t it? ;-)

    Nigel

  4. Oooh, slightly cynical, that last, Nigel! ;)

    I’ve been digging around too, looking for any confirmation of the report but nothing so far. It looks as though it may just have been a parting shot by a disgruntled employee or something similar. I recall that in Zimbabwe, where I lived for many years, a newspaper employee was fired for “allowing” the following typo to slip through in a job advert: Sewerage works shit attendant required. It’s a small thing to omit the F from the word “shift”, after all.

    As for revealing MS’ incompetence to the world, haven’t they already done that with the various iterations of Windows? It might be more interesting to see whether the teams have to phone MS to activate their software after every engine change. Will the mechanics have to get past dialogue boxes asking whether they really want to do that when working on the cars? And will Google come out with a free and better alternative to the whole thing?

    It’s almost a pity that it looks as though the report got it wrong somehow.

    Incidentally, you seem to have hit upon my one vaguely pro-FIA post. I’m not usually this kind to them, you know! ;)

  5. Hmmmm, now I do like your idea about free open-source engine control units!

    Could it be worth checking out the OSF website on this, perhaps?

    There’s a whole lot of the world that doesn’t apparently ‘know’ about Microsoft’s incompetences (in my book, they have far more than one). I mean, why else would people keep buying their stuff?

    Still, we don’t want to turn your threads into an anti-Microsoft thing, do we? Not when there’s still the FIA to contend with.

    Nigel

  6. I guess that’s true, Nigel – one paper tiger at a time. But Microsoft are such a huge target that I can hardly help it if the occasional stray shot hits them. ;)

  7. So, I just got a reply from the BBC and they have provided a little more info that may be of interest. I quote:

    “To answer your query about Microsoft’s expertise, it appears – although
    it has not yet been officially announced – that Microsoft are in
    partnership with a McLaren subsidiary called McLaren Electronic Systems.
    They are presumably providing much of the electronics expertise.”

    Now, how do you spell ‘conflict of interest’?

    It all gets increasingly dubious! ;-)

    Nigel

  8. You’re right, Nigel – that looks extremely dubious. I used to think that the FIA were in Ferrari’s pocket (well, it was amazing how often the FIA came down on Ferrari’s side in any argument – and vice versa) but that may have changed now that Ferrari are well capable of competing without, ummm, outside assistance. Has the FIA decided that McLaren need a bit of a boost to continue to compete with the manufacturer teams? Very interesting…

  9. [...] One of my commenters has pointed out a BBC report that suggests the FIA has agreed that Microsoft supply all engine control units in F1. The full thread of the resulting conversation can be read on my post, Here’s to the FIA. [...]

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