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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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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.

Ron

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.”

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The Dampers Controversy

It seems I was premature in congratulating the FIA for dealing with Renault’s and Ferrari’s weighted dampers so quickly and efficiently (see my post The FIA Dampens Some Ardor). The Hockenheim stewards have thrown a spanner in the works by accepting them as legal when the Renault team presented their cars for scrutineering with the dampers still fitted.

So we have the interesting situation of stewards appointed by the FIA disagreeing with a ruling by the FIA. We can look forward to a storm of protest, argument and law suits as a result and the possibility of race results being changed once everything is decided finally. Ah, the glories of Formula One.

Scrutineering

A steward at scrutineering

Personally, I wonder what Renault were up to when they left the dubious dampers on their cars. Do they make such a performance difference that they were worth risking the ensuing fuss? And it is a risk; getting them past the stewards is one thing, but a later ruling that they are illegal could result in any points won in Germany by the Renaults being taken away. Surely it makes more sense to accept the FIA’s judgement, knowing that Ferrari will be without the tweak as well and therefore without any advantage it gives. At this stage, Renault would be better employed making sure that Alonso finishes no lower than second in the remaining races.

At least it seems that everyone is happy with the banning of BMW Sauber’s upright wings. The FIA’s reasoning that they interfere with the drivers’ vision seems a bit flimsy, given that all three BMW drivers maintain that they can see fine, thank you. Admittedly, their case is a bit weakened in that they were saying so long before the FIA made their ruling; they must have known that any objections would center on the restriction of the driver’s view of the road.

But we all know the real reason why the wings were outlawed: they are just plain ugly. Is this the first time the FIA have had to step in on a matter of aesthetics?

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