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All Quiet on the F1 Front

Okay, I admit it, I do like a bit of controversy, something that I can throw a few ill-chosen words at to get everyone even more outraged. And F1 has let me down badly this morning, having apparently fixed the flexi-floor debate and the customer car row waiting for arbitration. The only thing happening seems to be testing in Malaysia with times that are all over the place, confirming the old adage that testing proves nothing.

Sato

Sato in the Super Aguri

Silverstone is threatened with a buy-out by a shadowy group called Spectre, prompting PitPass to speculate on a return of James Bond’s old enemy, Ernst Blofeld, but Damon Hill has denied that the circuit is up for sale. So much for any fun with that one.

Even F1 Fanatic is reduced to a post on a Formula 1 photograph exhibition in London. Definitely a day with no pots to stir and no fur to ruffle.

Which leaves me writing what I refer to on my personal blog as “a nothing post”. I am expert on these, having resorted to them often in moments of desperation. Mention of my personal blog reminds me that there are a few motor sport posts on it, however, and it occurs to me that I could duck this one by sending you over there to read them. They’re hugely out of date but might at least assuage my pangs of guilt at not being able to think of anything to write about today.

The Indianapolis Grand Farce

The Other Italian

Motor Racing Memories

Okay, there are only three but I do have other interests, you know…

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The FIA Nails the Flexi-Floor Problem

Well, it seems we are going to find out just how much difference to lap times the flexi-floors make. Autosport magazine has a very revealing article reporting on the FIA’s response to McLaren’s suggestion that they be allowed to fit the same system that Ferrari are using to enable the floor of their car to flex at high speed. Predictably, this has galvanized the FIA to action and they have replied that they will test for moving floors with such devices removed.

Charlie

Charlie Whiting, FIA F1 Race Director

Bang goes Ferrari’s little tweak. Which is what McLaren wanted all along, of course. There will be those who say that the tweak should be allowed, that this is just the designers introducing new technological ideas and that McLaren are only looking for ways to handicap Ferrari. But that would ignore the fact that this particular tweak is deliberately designed to circumvent the rules. If the tightening of the test does interfere with the Ferrari’s competitiveness, then its speed to date has been thanks to an illegal modification and McLaren are quite right to protest.

The idea of moving the floor to increase or decrease aerodynamic efficiency is not new; clearly, the FIA test for this is to prevent it happening. So this is not a case of a brilliant technological innovation being killed by spoilsports. The engineers are aware of the effect of a moving floor but have not employed it before, knowing that it would be illegal. It is no great step of the imagination to design something that will resist the known force used in the FIA test but to move when higher forces are applied.

What amuses me most about the saga is the way in which McLaren “sought clarification” on the tweak. They did not protest the Ferrari but asked whether the FIA would allow a device intended to pass the test but function at higher forces. I can almost hear Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s head of the F1 technical department, spluttering as he wrote in his reply:

“Quite clearly, any such device would be designed to permit flexibility and is therefore strictly prohibited by Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations.”

This from the same man who passed the Ferraris as perfectly legal at the Australian Grand Prix. It seems that McLaren know from experience that, to get a fair ruling from the FIA where Ferrari are concerned, you must suggest that you are going to do the same thing as the Italian team.

It may be that removal of the device will have no great effect on the Ferrari’s performance, in which case McLaren are going to have to work that much harder to get on terms with them. But, if the tweak has had something to do with the Ferrari’s superiority so far, its removal can only be good for the sport. We might still have the closely-fought season that we have all been hoping for in that case.

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Flexible Floors – The Plot Thickens

I see that BMW are also under suspicion of having a flexible floor on the F1.07. Which makes it harder to believe the dismissive “Oh, Ferrari always gets accused of cheating when they’re fast” statement from the red brigade. Let’s wait and see what the FIA have to say on the matter, shall we?

BMW F1.07

BMW F1.07

It is interesting that it is BMW who are accused along with Ferrari; they were also suspects in the flexi-wing saga of last year and I begin to wonder if they have a mole in the Ferrari camp who passes along all the latest tweaks. Industrial espionage in F1 – who would have guessed it?

But mention of moles reminds me that I have been meaning for some time to point at a rather entertaining occasional column on GrandPrix dot com. It is called simply The Mole and is well worth a read, especially if you’re British (some of the humor is very English).

To return to The Amazing Moving Floor Scandal, however, it strikes me that the idea might be related to Ferrari’s much-questioned longer wheelbase this year. All the other teams have gone for shorter wheelbases (although I seem to remember reading somewhere that Honda are another exception – hmmm, could that be an explanation of their poor performance so far?). It is just possible that Ferrari discovered that the flexi-floor worked really well with a long wheelbase and so went against standard theory on the Bridgestone tires. Which would argue against BMW adopting the system since they have a short wheelbase – except that they could have found that it still gives them a measurable performance advantage.

All conjecture, of course, and I am no engineer – I just like to look at possible motives behind all these upsets in F1. And, as long as I’m doing that, we could consider what would happen if the FIA decide that the floors are illegal and must be changed. That could really mess with Ferrari’s performance, as we saw with the Renault handicapped by the banning of mass dampers in 1976 – design your car around a certain tweak and you’re in big trouble if it is suddenly made illegal.

But I suppose the fuss will die down and be forgotten in due course. And, whatever Ferrari and BMW are doing, you can bet that everyone else will be by the end of the season.

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