Thursday, 23 June 2011

Rule Changes, Rule Changes and Changes to the Rules

The FIA have finally decided to implement the long discussed ban on blown diffusers from the British Grand Prix onwards. But of course, that on its own would be too easy, so an there is an extra change to the rules (effective immediately) which bans any change in engine mapping between qualifying and the race. Just to add a little more entertainment it has also been decided to postpone the major engine regulation changes to make Formula 1 greener, from 2013 to 2014.

The ban on hot blown diffusers has been talked about for a little while now and the FIA have finally got round to making a ruling on it. From Silverstone the teams must change their engine mapping so that when the throttle is closed no more than 10% of the maximum fuel flow is allowed into the engine. Some of the teams have been using a system where the fuel flow is kept high but the ignition is retarded so much that the fuel burns in the exhaust. This allows hot gas to exit the exhaust and create more downforce under the car. Now that this is to be restricted, we are left to wonder which cars will be most affected by the change. Its widely believed that Red Bull will see the biggest hit but nothing is certain until the British Grand Prix.

The teams have also been issued another ruling which will take effect this coming weekend in Valencia. Once qualifying is finished there are to be no changes to the engine mapping until the race is underway. Previously it was not regarded as a breach of Parc Fermé rules to plug in a laptop and make alterations to the ECU settings. This allowed the cars to use a far more aggressive mapping during qualifying, and then change the setting down for the race in order to stop the floor and exhaust from overheating. Again Red Bull are thought to be the biggest loser in this change. Their cars never quite seem to have the domination in the race that they show on Saturday.

It should be interesting to see if this has any noticeable effect during the European Grand Prix. Theoretically it is possible to change the engine mapping during a pit stop. But due to the time required, no-one seems to believe that it will happen, which means that the other cars may be a little closer to Vettel than normal. Some are unhappy that these changes weren't left until the end of the season but it does seem to slow down another (presumably) expensive line of research and may even help to close up the championship race. Which is never going to be a bad thing!

Finally the major engine changes that were to be introduced in 2013. It was believed that the FIA had secured agreement for a change to 4 cylinder turbo-charged engines to be introduced in 2013 but now, after a meeting with all the teams a new agreement has been reached. And this time that means that everyone agrees. This will see Formula 1 moving to 1.6 litre V6 turbo-charged engines instead of the current 3.5 litre V8. There will also be a reduction in fuel flow along with a rev limit reduction from 18,000 to 12,000 rpm which should see fuel usage drop by up to 35%. These changes should see the current power output of around 750bhp stay roughly the same. KERS will also be beefed up to twice its current output.

These changes are intended to make the sport greener, but how green can a sport like motor racing really be? These are cars that have no purpose other than moving one man around and around in a circle as fast as possible. Not going anywhere as quick as you can is, by its very nature, a waste of fuel and energy. It is hoped however that the turbo chargers and energy recovery systems may boost the use of the same  technologies on road cars, which can only be a good thing.

In my opinion, the only real way to make F1 greener would be to limit the total amount of fuel used per race and drop that amount season by season. The teams would be allowed to use whatever other sources of energy they can (KERS, solar power, Mr. Fusion etc.) to make up the shortfall and increase the efficiency. Then we might see a technical battle worth watching and it might have a greater impact on the rest of the road-going world.

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