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Teams reject KERS

June 9th, 2009 No comments

KERSIn January I said that if KERS didn’t prove itself in Formula One then it should be abandoned.  Now, after seven races that have seen the number of teams using the devices fall to two, FOTA has decided to drop the technology for 2010.

Introduced as a way of boosting Formula One’s green credentials, the heavy devices have proven to be expensive and difficult to integrate into a Formula One car’s chassis.  Only McLaren, BMW, Ferrari and Renault have raced with KERS this year and of those four only Ferrari and McLaren with any regularity.

KERS stores energy created under braking which can then be converted into power at the touch of a button, giving a boost of up to 80hp.  While this can be an advantage in passing or defending, a KERS device can weigh up to 30 kilograms which negatively affects the balance of the car and can (literally) outweigh any power gains.  None of the top three teams in the Constructors’ Championship have used KERS this season.

McLaren’s KERS system is widely regarded as the best but team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he would go along with the majority decision:

McLaren’s position is we would like to see KERS retained – but we also accept that we have to be responsible members of the F1 community, and if the majority don’t want to have KERS, or can’t afford KERS at the moment, then we have to be realistic.

While KERS is still allowed under the 2010 regulations it remains to be seen whether Williams or any of the new non-FOTA teams will continue to develop the technology.

Williams’s device is different from the others in that it uses a flywheel rather than batteries to store the power and if the team could find a way to make it work well they would definitely have an advantage.  But the fact that none of the leading teams are using the device suggests that this year is the last we will see of KERS.

Image: Getty / Red Bull

Categories: Cars Tags: ,

FIA says diffusers are legal

April 15th, 2009 No comments

Williams FW31 diffuserBrawn GP, Williams and Toyota are free to continue using their controversial double-decker diffusers after the FIA International Court of Appeal decided to deny the appeals of Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault.

The legality of the diffusers had been challenged at the Australian Grand Prix in March but the race stewards declared them legal at the time.

Since then, it has been uncertain whether the results of the first two Grands Prix would stand but Wednesday’s ruling means Jenson Button will keep his wins and Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams will keep their constructors points.

In a statement issued by the FIA, the International Court of Appeal said:

The FIA International Court of Appeal has decided to deny the appeals submitted against decisions numbered 16 to 24 taken by the Panel of the Stewards on 26 March at the 2009 Grand Prix of Australia and counting towards the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Based on the arguments heard and evidence before it, the Court has concluded that the Stewards were correct to find that the cars in question comply with the applicable regulations.

Full reasons for this decision will be provided in due course.

It will be interesting to see the full reasons ‘in due course’ but whatever they are this is a good decision by the FIA.  The worst outcome would have been the stripping of points from the first two races, something that with recent events I wouldn’t have been surprised to see.  Instead, the FIA have agreed with the race stewards (and Max Mosley, and Charlie Whiting) and rewarded those teams that were clever enough to find and exploit a loophole in the rules.

Now it is up to the other teams to develop their own double-decker diffusers (at not insignificant cost) and for the ‘diffuser three’ to make the most of their temporary advantage.  No doubt all the teams have at least started work on new diffusers and Renault may even be in a position to run one in Shanghai this weekend.

Jenson Button will be hoping for a hat trick on Sunday but as soon as BMW and Red Bull get their diffusers fitted he won’t find things so easy.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

Teams’ fancy diffusers are legal (for now)

March 26th, 2009 No comments

Toyota's diffuser after an engine failureThe controversial diffusers on the Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota cars have been declared legal by race stewards after a formal protest was lodged by Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault.  BMW had also planned to join the protest but didn’t get their complaint submitted in time.

This means there will be 20 cars on the grid for Sunday’s race in Melbourne but it is not the end of the story.  As soon as the verdict was announced the protesting teams said they would lodge an appeal against the stewards’ decision and the way these things work means this will not be heard at the FIA International Court of Appeal until after the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Frank Williams, whose car is one of those under complaint, thinks the Brawn BGP 001 could win the Australian Grand Prix:

It is no accident that their new car is absurdly superior – they are making the rest of us look like amateurs. In Australia they will disappear on the basis of what we have seen in testing. I just hope we can be up there, too.

Ross Brawn has always said his car was legal and thinks those who are protesting are just mad because they didn’t spot the loophole themselves:

The accusations are coming from teams who did not come up with the idea and now they are getting angry.  For anyone who has read the rules it was quite obvious. Ferrari have only woken up because someone has driven faster than them.

I think it’s a shame that the teams have chosen to appeal the decision as it means that should Brawn GP score points or even a podium on Sunday the result will be uncertain until the teams’ complaint is heard in court. We don’t need another situation like Spa last year when Lewis Hamilton’s win was taken away after the race had finished.

Formula One has a long history of teams finding and exploiting loopholes in the rulebook and I don’t think these three teams should be punished for doing just that.  The other thing to bear in mind is that Ross Brawn is the chairman of the FOTA Technical Working Group so you would assume he has a pretty good understanding of the rules.

It will be interesting to see, now that the stewards have declared it legal, if McLaren or any other teams fit a new diffuser to their car for Saturday.  McLaren might feel that if they don’t have a chance at points anyway they won’t have much to lose.

It’s all about the aero

March 16th, 2009 No comments

McLaren MP4-24 in testingMark Hughes has written an interesting piece on the ITV F1 website about the problems McLaren have been having with their new car.

McLaren won the 2008 Drivers’ Championship and were among the favourites going into the 2009 season after early testing.  But recently the Woking squad have been falling further and further behind the other teams and drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen have been lapping a couple of seconds off the pace.  After much speculation team boss Martin Whitmarsh confirmed McLaren weren’t sandbagging and those lap times were the best they could do.

But how could such a beautiful car be so slow?  And how could something with a nose like the Renault be faster?  It all comes down to the black art of aerodynamics.  While McLaren have banks of supercomputers running CFD analysis and a state of the art wind tunnel back in Woking, all it takes is one little disturbance in the airflow to effectively “switch off” a perfectly good aero part.

McLaren’s problems highlight the importance of aerodynamics in Formula One.  With no development allowed on engines, aerodynamics is where most of an F1 car’s speed can be won or lost.  Take the Brawn GP BGP 001; it has the same engine as the McLaren, but better aero and Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello have been putting in some scorching lap times.

The good news for McLaren fans, according to Hughes, is that once the McLaren engineers find the problem it should be pretty straightforward to fix.  The question is can they find the problem before they give away too many points?

In other aerodynamic developments, the Brawn GP diffuser’s legality has been called into question along with the Toyota and Williams.  According to Cologne newspaper Express, the BGP 001 design links the floor with the diffuser in a sneaky (and illegal) way to generate more downforce.  The FIA have already inspected the Toyota and Wiliams cars and found them, in their opinion, legal.  As Max Mosley says:

The current FIA view is that Williams and Toyota have been clever and found a loophole in the rules. It’s probably wrong, but they’ve exploited the wording of the rules in a clever way.

But because of the way these things work, the teams have to wait until Melbourne if they want to lodge an official protest.

And finally, Williams have decided to remove the cockpit-mounted ‘skate fins’ that appeared on their car in testing.  It seems like FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting didn’t like the safety implications of two massive spikes on either side of the driver’s head and I can’t say I disagree.  They did look kind of cool though.

20 ways Formula One is changing our world

March 12th, 2009 No comments

K-2 all-terrain wheelchairWe all know about the spinoffs NASA’s space programme have brought to daily life back on Earth, particularly in medicine.  Now a new exhibition at the Science Museum in London will show us the benefits Formula One can bring to the real world.

The exhibition will feature unique items such as the Baby Pod II, Solar B Solar Probe and Ovei Wellbeing Capsule. The Ovei Capsule has been developed by McLaren Applied Technologies.

There is also a flywheel KERS device similar to the one used by the Williams F1 team, a carbon fibre table that is four metres long but just two millimitres thick and the world’s first commercially available ‘monocoque’ wheelchair.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday, McLaren CEO Ron Dennis said:

We make a change to our cars on average every 20 minutes throughout the entire F1 season.  And we do that every season.  We innovate at such a rate, in fact, that technologies whose applications are far broader than racing are created as a matter of course.  Such technologies often have their genesis in racing cars, but then find suitability to products or situations never foreseen by their creators.

The exhibition is free and runs until April 2010.

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