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Technical Rumblings from Melbourne

One race done and already the muttering about cheating has started. Ron Dennis has been hinting that Ferrari’s speed can be partly attributed to a flexible floor on the cars. Since the scrutineers had a good look at this during their inspection, it may be that Ron made sure that they heard a rumor.


McLaren boss, Ron Dennis

The point is that, if the floor moves downwards at speed, it can alter the under-car aerodynamics and lessen drag, thereby allowing more speed on the straights. That would show up on the speed traps but you could disguise it by increasing the wing angles, thus slowing the car to a believable speed on the straights but reaping the benefit of extra downforce in the corners. All of which would be illegal under the “no moveable aerodynamic devices” rule.

The scrutineers passed the cars in Melbourne but this does not necessarily mean that something underhand is not going on. Apparently, they test at the moment by looking only at upward flexing of the floor – but it would be downward pressure that would clear the matter up once and for all.

Naturally, a lot of people are saying that it’s just Ron looking for excuses for his own cars not being as fast as the Ferraris. But that presumes that he knew before the race that the McLarens would be beaten. It is far more likely that his concern is genuine, having noticed the complex arrangement for keeping the Ferrari’s floor in place at the front.

Probably, Ron hopes that the rumor will activate the FIA and they will have a quiet word in Ferrari’s ear to tell them to get rid of the system. That would be the most sensible way to proceed, avoiding any possibility of legal action and a continuing unseemly fight throughout the season. F1 has had enough of those, surely, with the mass damper fiasco fresh in everyone’s mind and the customer car row about to enter litigation.

This is the kind of thing that happens when the rules become so all-embracing and extensive, however. With the importance of aerodynamics and every constructor having wind tunnels, the cars get ever closer in design and performance increases become a matter of subtle and sometimes dubious tweaks. Since every designer is looking for ways to gain an advantage, it is no wonder that they work in areas that are not completely dictated by mandatory measurements.

And that means they push the boundaries of legality on occasion, thereby forcing the FIA to be even more stringent on what they will allow. It is an endless cycle of increasing complication that needs to be stopped before the rules become so limiting that there is no difference at all between the cars, apart from the color scheme and badge on the front. How do you do that?

Well, you could start by simplifying everything immediately; extend the flat bottom from nose to tail, for instance, and let the designers work out how they are going to cope with that. But it’s a long subject and I could best sum it up with the philosophy of “We need less regulation, not more.”

10 Responses to “Technical Rumblings from Melbourne”

  1. If its safe, Its legal. I’m sure some of the smaller teams try more radical designs in hopes that there gamble could make them competitive with the big boys.

    I was watching the 12 Hours of Seabring Saturday when they had an interview with one of the Audi bigwigs. He went on and on trying to justify the money spent on the new R10, and he had a point. Without quoting he stated that ‘The technology seen on the race track today will be used in road going cars 3-4 years in the future.’ On the other hand Formula1 is trying to go all image and no substance. I would like to see driving aids reduced and a loosening of areo rules, except for the rear wing which should be standardized to allow cars to run closer together.

    If F1 wants to be the most advanced of all motor sports then why not make the teams develop and use hydrogen fuel. Nah, we’ll never see that, F1 doesn’t want to be ‘green’ that just want to paint themselves green with an aerosol can and hope no one can see the difference.

  2. Why not just remove the rule against a moveable aerodynamic gimmick? Let that huge wing pop up into corners and give the drag-shute benefit, then flatten on the straight and moderate here and there around the track. Remember what fun Jim Hall’s Chapparals were, when he messed with those ideas? And Auto Union or Mercedes did it, I think, in the ’30s or ’40s. Give the designers, engineers, and drivers a whole new set of toys to play with. After all, if tradition was really going to play a roll, we’d still be on skinny tires with front engines.

  3. I certainly agree that driver aids have no place in F1, Dan. The problem is how to police them, since the teams find ways to slip them past the scrutineers even when banned (which is why traction control is back in F1). And there is a paradox at work here too – F1 needs to be the cutting edge of technology and yet the cars are reaching the point where they cannot be driven by a mere human. Already the drivers are the fittest athletes on the planet – what will they have to be if the cars go even faster and develop more G forces?

    Simplification is the answer – and things like wings will have to go in the end. We already know their aerodynamic effects so there is little point in continuing with their development. So taking off the wings would immediately slow the cars and demand more skill from the drivers (did you notice how they moaned about the control Bridgestone tires? “They have much less grip” they cried – but I guess they learned to cope as the lap times in Australia didn’t suffer).

    As for going to hydrogen fuels, that will come in the end, probably when the oil runs out.

  4. F1 has a phobia of movable wings, Barry, thanks to some enormous accidents that happened when they tried them. And, considering how speeds have increased even without movable aerodynamic devices, it’s probably it was probably the right thing to do. Yes, they could be made more reliable today but the cars would be so fast, they’d develop G forces beyond human endurance.

    The trick is going to be designing a formula that allows room for innovation but cuts out all the high technology that makes the cars too fast. Perhaps skinny tires would help in that quest… :D

  5. I agree I would like to see less down force on these cars and more mechanical grip (no grooved tires) with lowered speeds .This would lower speeds into turns and allow for better drafting techniques. This should make the cars safer too. Many Fatal accidents are a result of high speed failure going into a turn such as a wing or suspension (due to increased forces by downforce). This would also make the cars drivable because you would be pulling far less G’s going into corners and braking. The only thing I don’t like is that all the cars would then look identical which is one of my major pet peeves.

    As far as TC goes, I understand this is much harder to manage, but with the standardizing of the ECU wouldn’t it be feasible to do the same with a TC system? Something that would be adjustable within a certain range, based on engine and driver preference.

    If the FIA were to make such drastic changes and slow the cars down then that might well be the best time to change to the lower compression and thus lower powered hydrogen fuel.

    Now you may be thinking why would people watch F1 when they slow the cars down 30mph. Personally I watch for two reasons (currently). For the overall skill it takes to manage one of these rocket ships, which is increasingly being taken over by the computer, and because I’m a tech head and love the idea of seeing new and exotic designs, which requires a microscope now. Speed is relative, at least on TV. I would much rather see 4 or 5 cars fighting for position at 150mph then 22 cars spread through out the track racing a time sheet at 180mph

  6. Agreed totally, Dan. And you have summed up very neatly what makes an F1 fan – it is both the skill of the drivers and the technical wonders of the car that we watch for.

    You’re quite right in saying that traction control is the reason the FIA have introduced a standardized ECU – it should even out any advantages and disadvantages for the drivers. But why have it at all? Could they not design the ECU without TC so that the driver has to control power to the wheels, rather than a computer? Or would the teams just go back to sneaky ways of regaining TC?

  7. Not much to say this time, just have to agree with previous posts.

    But i honestly believe that tractioncontrol, wings and other aerodynamic advances and EDU’s should all be banned permanently. In all it’s precent and future forms.

    Racing should be all about driver performance, and not the performance from an engineer’s way to look at it. But ofcourse, this is F1, and it is and should stay as the top in performance and agility.

    But the cars need to slow down, because there should not be any need for a driver to sign his testament before he enters the car.

  8. Yes, it’s a difficult balance to maintain, Björn, leaving plenty of room for driving skills but keeping the cars as technical masterpieces. And then we have to think about how to keep speeds from going through the roof…

  9. See Honda is WAY ahead of the gang, They already have there ‘green’ car AND they slowed there pace in relation to last year. Those Honda guys are genius.

  10. Oooh, that smarts. Maybe Button could still be champion if the Honda guys can persuade the other teams that their way is the right way… :D

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