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Pascal Vasselon on Mass Dampers

F1 Racing-live dot com has a very interesting interview with Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s senior chassis manager, today. Perhaps the most revealing part of the whole interview was what he had to say about the mass damper controversy (which the International Court of Appeal is due to give a ruling on this Wednesday):

“Mass damping is one of the critical things that engineers have to sort out. We are forced to use stiff suspensions to maintain a stable aerodynamic platform. And, on the tyre side, we use low pressure for grip. So it means we put stiff suspension on top of very soft tyres and that causes a lot of problems. The combination means that at some frequencies the suspension is locked and the car is effectively bouncing on the tyres, which are not damped. The mass damper is one of the possibilities to control the frequency.

“From our side, we disregarded this because we considered it to be moving ballast, which is not allowed. Our development focused on suspension and another route that, for us, was more in line with the regulations. The mass damper is not an innovation, it is well known in engineering. It was actually used on the Citroen 2CV to counteract wheel hop! The question was: do we apply it to F1 or not? I would say it is obviously borderline. But then we also believe the issue of – it should be banned for the future, but it has been accepted, so why ban it in the middle of the season? Let’s wait the end of the season – will be answered by the International Court of Appeal very soon. That’s probably the true question that has to be answered.”

This is the clearest explanation of mass dampers I have yet come across and gives us a much better idea of why it is such a contentious issue. Had the FIA described it as “moving ballast” in the first place, instead of their vague reference to moving bodywork, I think everyone would have understood the problem sooner.

Toyota

Toyota TF106

Pascal also puts his finger exactly upon the most important point in the whole matter: the FIA’s choice to outlaw the mass damper right in the middle of the season. One could see the necessity for so hasty a decision if it were a safety matter or some tweak that gave an unfair advantage, such as Brabham’s fan car of 1978. But the mass dampers have been used since last year and to ban them suddenly in the middle of this season seems either stupid or deliberately antagonistic.

Do the FIA actually enjoy these trips to court where the whole business of F1 is made to seem contentious, chaotic and obsessed with trivialities? Is it impossible to reach some sort of agreement between the governing body and the teams that the rules will not be tinkered with during the season? So one team or another might make some huge technical breakthrough midseason that gives them a big advantage (unlikely but possible) – is that really the end of the world? Ban it at the end of the year if it’s so important.

With a little common sense and a spirit of compromise, so many of these storms could be avoided. I suppose we have to be grateful that there are still men like M. Vasselon involved in F1 who have plenty of both.

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Looking Forward to Istanbul

At last we approach the end of the Great Mid-Season Break, when nothing but speculation drives F1 and we debate the tiniest details of old news in an effort to ward off our withdrawal symptoms. Rumor has merged Mercedes and McLaren, sacking and then re-hiring Ron Dennis in the process, popped Jacques Villeneuve out of his seat at Sauber BMW and plugged in Robert Kubica instead, created a superteam at Ferrari with Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen as joint lead drivers, and had an all-Spanish driver team at McLaren.

Okay, some of these have turned out to be true but, in general, we won’t know the truth until Monza, at least. And had there been some racing to concentrate on, most of them would have passed virtually unnoticed. So it will be good to get back to the real thing this weekend in Istanbul, especially as it is that rarity amongst new circuits, an interesting and varied course with plenty of passing opportunities. Any circuit that is likened to Spa has to be a good one.

Istanbul

The Istanbul circuit

Now the battle between Ferrari and Renault can begin again after their joint embarrassments in Hungary. I will stick my neck out and suggest that Ferrari will retain their advantage for the next two races but thereafter the pendulum will swing back Renault’s way. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

There are dark horses to consider too, teams who have solved their early and mid-season problems and now look increasingly competitive. McLaren is always one of these but Honda and Sauber BMW look as though they could get in there and steal a few points as well.

But whatever happens, it will be a huge relief to the fans when the engines burst into screaming life again on Friday. The real meat of F1 is the racing and all the politics, driver swaps and logistical struggles mere seasoning. And a diet of sauce alone can get pretty boring over three weeks.

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A Bit of Fun

Today, F1 Racing-live dot com has a very good article on evolving safety measures at Grand Prix circuits. I was going to write a little post on how things have developed in this area and knew immediately that I would need some relevant photos. But then this happened:

I was looking for a photo of Monaco to show the impossibility of having runoff areas there when I came across the picture below. At first glance it seems quite normal but then one notices some strange things about it. Since when have ordinary members of the public been allowed to sit and watch the race from the inside of the Loews hairpin, for instance?

Loews

At which point, we see the Mercedes just ahead of the two Williams and presume that this is the pace car and there must have been an incident somewhere to bring it out. Only the Williams team has caught it as yet. But then we see the parked cars before the hairpin and realize that this cannot be a race; it’s a demonstration run of some kind.

The picture was so unusual that I had to include it in this article and, while I was doing that, I decided to have a bit of fun with it:

Loews and caption

Then, having made the guy in the pic ask the question, naturally I had to answer it with this:

Senna\'s lift

It is, of course, Mansell giving Senna a lift back to the pits after winning the British GP of many years ago. Senna’s car had broken down a long way from home and “Our Nige” took pity on him on his victory lap. I am pretty sure that this would not be allowed today, just as they have long banned the practice of picking up your national flag for display on your winning lap.

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Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa is putting on a bold face, maintaining confidently that he will have a race drive for 2007. Looking at his performances with Ferrari this season, I think it would be a shame if he is relegated to test driver status. In the last few races he has been getting very close to Schumacher’s times, something few of the German’s other teammates have managed.

There are signs that Massa has matured greatly in this year with Ferrari. From being the guy with a bit of a wild reputation, he has begun to put in some solid, responsible drives that have supported Michael’s campaign to overhaul Alonso in the championship. He is quick, too, and getting quicker.

Massa

Felipe Massa

But nothing is guaranteed in F1. There are plenty of talented drivers around, all looking for a seat, and the number of available places gets smaller as the season draws on. Unless Massa has something lined up already, he may find himself out in the cold.

It was only a few years ago that Michael Schumacher seemed unassailable at the top of F1. We looked around for drivers that could beat him, placed far too much hope in Frentzen, and almost gave up in despair. Times change, however, and now there is at least one Finn who looks more than good enough, a Spaniard who has already demonstrated equality at least with the Shoe, and several young drivers who have the potential to be world beaters.

Which is great for the fans as the competition warms up, but less so for drivers trying to hang on to what they’ve got. The old guard are thinning out and even the ones who were new two or three years ago are having to look over their shoulders.

Massa is one of these, of course. His experience and speed are enough to make him a good buy for any team. But, when all the seats are taken, what can you do…?

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