Category Archives: Technical

Why KERS should return to F1 in the future

An F1 KERS unit

An F1 KERS unit

Those who wanted it gone last year called it a monumental waste of money. Those who supported it claimed that it was a pinnacle for envirinmental technology, and could improve overtaking possibilites. Whatever your opinion is, the fact is that KERS left F1 last year, though not through a rule change. The teams unanimously agreed not to use this technology for this year, so as to save money. But my question is: should KERS return to F1?

To those of you not familiar with this feature, I will quickly explain KERS. Normally, when the brakes are applied, energy is dissipitated from the car in the form of extreme heat. As we all know, energy cannot be destroyed or created, it can only be changed into another form. In the case of KERS, the heat from the brakes is taken in, and turned into electrical energy through a generator. There are different ways of storing the electrical energy, but the teams that used KERS last year stored them in batteries behind the drivers. Alternatively, Williams created a flywheel KERS system, which was never used in F1, but now features on the road car, the Porsche 911 GT3 R.

This electrical energy is then used to power the car. It is activated by a button on the steering wheel, or a paddle behind it. Unfortunately, the FIA chose to restrict the power output of KERS to 60kW (80bhp), which could be used at for 6.5 seconds per lap. The use of KERS was very poor at the start of 2009, when the teams who used it struggled massively. Most dropped it, but McLaren and Ferrari kept pushing development, and made their KERS cars race-winners by the end of the year. However, this development was very expesive. Between Renault, BMW Sauber, Ferrari and McLaren, £40m was spent in 2009 on KERS.

Because of this, all of the teams decided not to use the technology for 2010, although the technical rules still allowed it. However, there are many reasons as to why it should return. First of all, it makes sense when applied to road cars. The previous generation of the Toyota Prius, for example, only produced 23kW of power from its regenerative brakes. But, within a few years, this technology has become much more powerful, with Porsche leading the way in the use of the innovation. The new 918 Spyder, for example, has a KERS-derived system which produces twice the power of the unit that was used in F1 last year. To further matters, this Porsche unit was designed by Williams, the the team who wanted it to stay in F1 this year.

Also, Ferrari are close to putting this into one of their road cars. The HY-KERS concept regenerative brakes are heavier by about 15kg, but produce up to 100bhp, which is impressive for a road car. So, if the motoring world is to embrace KERS technology, shouldn’t F1 do so as well?

The second reason why is because of the environmental impact. Now don’t worry, I’m not as much into being an eco-maniac as shutting them all up for a while. If KERS was developed responsibly in Formula 1, I’d say they could reach a power output of 150bhp, with unlimited use across the lap (as long as the FIA allow it to do so). We all know an F1 car’s brakes have massive stopping power, so this shouldn’t be too hard to do. If this sort of unit was placed into an F1 car of reduced engine power, a considerable fraction of the car’s fuel would be saved. Not only this, but the technology would work its way onto mainstream cars in a decade or so, which could mean millions of barrels of fuel could be saved (and burnt in some other way!). If KERS was reintroduced into F1, it would shut up the environmentalists for about 30 minutes, which, according to them, is how long it will take for the polar ice caps to melt, so this would be good work from the F1 world.

Building on my previous point, KERS should be integrated into the next-generation engines that are planned for 2013. The FIA are curently looking into using smaller turbocharged engines from 2013 onwards, so KERS could well be put into the mix here. If these new engines produced, say, 100bhp less, then this could be offset by the KERS unit in the car. This would again improve fuel efficiency in the car by a huge amount.

However, the biggest obstacle to the return of KERS would be the cost. We are all aware that teams are looking into saving money, especially the new teams, so reintroducing KERS at the wrong time could put many teams into trouble. Lotus, HRT and Virgin would seriously struggle, for example, if unlimited use and development of KERS was put into F1 next year. My solution would be to introduce one or two suppliers of KERS units for a few years, then allow teams to develop their own, as long as they stay within a spending cap (on KERS only, I’m not bringing back last year’s massive shootout on budget caps).

Another observation is that is must be everyone or nobody. What I mean by that is, either all of the teams use KERS or none of them will. I don’t want to go back to the situation last year where the Ferraris and McLarens made great starts, then held up everyone else behind them, because nobody could overtake them. If KERS is to be reintroduced, it must be compulsory, so as to keep the racing pure and even, and give everyone a fair chance. The idea of a “push to pass” button has already been used in other racing series, such as the A1 GP. It worked to an extent last year, in that the McLarens and Ferraris were able to make progress through the field easier, when the rest of their car was able to keep up. So, I believe that if everyone used this, it would result in a nice shake-up in the races, and make the racing better (note I didn’t use the phrase of death).

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have a say in the poll below:


FIA: Ride height control systems are illegal

Many teams believe that Red Bull are using a ride height controlling system

Many teams believe that Red Bull are using a ride height controlling system

The FIA, the governing body of Formula 1, has faxed all of the teams and notified them that any type of system that controls the ride height of the car while on track is against the technical regulations, and is illegal.

In the last few weeks, suspicions have been arising concerning Red Bull’s suspension system, after allegations that it can control the ride height while on track. There is suppposedly a device in the RB6 that allows it to be lower to the ground, and therefore gain a downforce advantage, in qualifying.

This device may take the form of a pressure-operated component, which keeps the car as low as possible to the ground as the fuel burns off. Because of the refuelling ban, the cars are full of fuel at the start, and without a ride height controlling system, this is the lowest they would be to the ground in the race. As the fuel burns off, the car would become lighter, and therefore rise, meaning a loss in downforce.

Since qualifying is low-fuel, all of the cars should be quite high up from the ground, since no modification to the car should be made in between qualifying and the race. However, Red Bull seem to have been able to run their car quite low to the ground in qualifying, and keep the car up when they put the fuel in the car for the race.

However, these are just rumours, and nothing has been proven or denied. The Red Bull RB6 cars were heavily scrutineered before the Malaysian Grand Prix, and nothing suspicious was found. Still, the FIA has found the need to clarify this issue, in case other teams try to use an innovation like this. Their statement reads as follows:

"Any system device or procedure, the purpose and/or effect of which is to change
 the set-up of the suspension, while the car is under parc ferme conditions will 
be deemed to contravene Article 34.5 of the sporting regulations."

Article 34.5 reads as follows:

If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set up of 
the suspension whilst the car is being held under parc fermé conditions the 
relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane and follow the procedures 
laid out in Article 38.2.

The only way Red Bull could change the ride height of their cars legally is by doing it during the pit stops. It is rumoured that Ferrari were going to try this method, but there is no evidence to support it.

Outboard mirror ban delayed until Spanish GP

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on last year's Ferrari F60

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on last year's Ferrari F60

The ban on outboard mirrors, which was supposed to come into effect by next race in China, has now been delayed until the Spanish Grand Prix, following complaints from the teams that there was not enough time to make the changes.

After several near misses and incidents in the Australian Grand Prix, which were caused by outboard wing mirrors, the FIA decided to notify the teams that the mirrors would have to be mounted on the cockpit side from the Chinese Grand Prix onwards. However, several teams have complained that they will not be able to do this in time, and so the ban has been delayed for 1 race.

It is understood that the drivers who were concerned about the outboard wing mirrors spoke to Charlie Whiting, FIA race director, who agreed to get the FIA to ban the devices. This ban may affect the performance of the top teams who use this device, such as Ferrari and Red Bull.

The only problem I have here is why the teams are complaining. Basically, they think that two weeks isn’t enough to move two wing mirrors to the inside of the cockpit, and they need four instead. Bloody hell, if it actually took a team more than 2 weeks to change mirrors, then they don’t deserve to be running in the Lada Cup, never mind F1. Of course, the only reason they want extra time is so that they can exploit this new rule in some other way. Don’t be surprised if the teams can find a way of sneaking bargeboards into their wing mirror design.

Outboard mirrors to be banned

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on last year's Ferrari F60

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on last year's Ferrari F60

It has been announced that outboard mirrors are to be banned from the Chinese Grand Prix onwards, due to safety concerns.

There were several complaints during the Australian Grand Prix weekend about drivers holding each other up. This was mainly because the drivers were unable to look in their mirrors without taking their eyes off the road. For example, the first corner collision between Alonso and Button could have been avoided if the Spaniard had been able to look behind him and see that Button had already taken the inside line.

Many teams were using the outboard mirrors in their cars, such as Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India, Sauber, Williams and HRT. McLaren used them in practice in Australia, but took them off in time for qualifying.

Now, from China onwards, the mirrors will have to be fitted on the cockpit side for safety reasons. Oddly enough, while most drivers didn’t like the design, Felipe Massa claims he has no problem with outboard mirrors:

"I have no problem with my visibility. So, if it is the same I prefer to keep
what I have, but we will see how it is going to be. I hope we don't lose
anything moving the mirrors from one side to the other."

It’s good to see safety be put first, like I was talking about a few days ago. Obviously this rule change couldn’t be put in for this weekend, since it is too close to make the full changes this late.

The thing is, this is the second rule change already this year, because of teams exploiting the rules. The first was closing the loophole on diffuer starter motors, before Australia.

Drivers call to change wing mirrors

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Outboard wing mirrors, seen here on the Ferrari F10

Formula 1 drivers are trying to lobby the FIA to take action on the problems with the wing mirrors this year, following many complaints about a lack of visibility.

Many incidents occured in the Australian Grand Prix this weekend because the drivers were unable to see behind them while concentrating on the road. In Friday Practice, Pedro de la Rosa was given a reprimand after holding up several drivers, although he was unable to see them approach from behind. In qualifying, Michael Schumacher spoke to the stewards after he was held up by Fernando Alonso while he was on a flying lap.

Currently, most teams mount the outboard wing mirrors on the very edge of the turning vanes, so as to improve aerodynamic efficiency. However, while drivers can see them, they have to turn their head to look behind them, which means that they cannot concentrate on the road. Ths results in drivers opting to look ahead rather than take the risk of looking behind them, which is certainly a danger on the track.

The drivers are very concerned about this, according to Rubens Barrichello:

"I hope we put a proposal as the GPDA to see if we can have the mirrors back to 
where they belong – and it is something we mentioned in the drivers' briefing 
on Friday.

We have all been quite honest and said that we all have difficulties – apart 
from Lewis. The problem for me is that we are driven by the aerodynamics, but 
the mirrors situated on the aero stuff vibrates." Just a thought on what Rubens 
said about Lewis there. If Hamilton claims that he does not have problems with 
the wing mirrors, then it is his fault for holding up Michael Schumacher in 
qualifying on Saturday.

Pedro de la Rosa spoke to the FIA race director Charlie Whiting on Friday about this issue. He said:

"Everyone has got a problem with mirrors. The reality is that the mirrors on 
the sidepods, they give you very small vision of what is happening behind and 
they vibrate a lot so you see very little.

So if you don't have a lot of information coming from the radio, then you have 
a problem. You can see when you have a car straight behind okay, but when it 
is two seconds behind you have no idea where it is.

Everyone has the same problem, but since the mirrors have gone outboard this 
is a problem – as they are aerodynamic devices now.

Mirrors are to give the car the ability to look backwards and what is happening 
behind. They have to come back to the monocoque, with the old style, as that is 
the best position to work.

The reason they are out is that they are an aerodynamic device so they give 
downforce. That is the reality. We have to compromise – this is a safety issue. 
Most of the drivers agree – it hasn't been an easy weekend for me because of this 

There’s only one good thing that came out of outboard wing mirrors. When Felipe Massa was hit by a spring in the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, his head was – you guessed it – turned to one side, looking at the wing mirrors. If his head was straight ahead, the spring would have hit him head on, and it could well have killed him. I realised this when I first heard of this news of the outboard mirrors.

FIA closes rear diffuser loophole

Artwork of McLaren's starter motor and diffuser design

Artwork of McLaren's starter motor and diffuser design

The FIA has clamped down on 4 of the teams’ diffuser designs, after they closed a loophole in the technical regulations which allowed the teams to aerodynamically improve their diffuser with the starter motor.

At the moment, there is a hole in the starter motor, to allow the car to be started up. However, these holes have since been aerodynamicaly sculpted to allow diffuser improvements. While the FIA cannot do anything about the aero sculpting, they can limit the size of the starter motor hole. They felt that this hole was too wide, which is not a technical infringement, but is against the spirit of the rules.

While there is no strict dimensions for the starter motor hole, the FIA have sent out a letter to each of the teams, laying out the maximum diameter of the hole, and maximum projected area that is now allowed. This rule change affects four teams – McLaren and Mercedes, and Renault and Force India are rumoured to be the other two.

This means that these four teams will have to change their starter motor and diffuser designs before the Australian Grand Prix next weekend.

Renault allowed to make engine improvements

The Renault RS27 engine

The Renault RS27 engine

Renault has been allowed by the FIA to make changes to their engines, even though the governing body had previously rules out any power equalisation for this year.

The changes are believed to be to save costs and for reliability. This comes after Red Bull team principal Christian Horner complained to the FIA that not all of the engines were equal, after the engine freeze. He said:

"I think the problem is if you don't allow some development, then you freeze in an advantage for one team or a 
disadvantage for another.

So there has to be a balancing of that, otherwise we will end up with Mercedes-powered cars winning all the races - 
which I think is not good for F1. And other manufacturers may choose to leave F1 off of the back of that.

The engine isn't supposed to be a key performance differentiator and therefore hopefully the ruling body will balance 
out somewhat the differences there at the moment."

It has been understood that the FIA is moving away from engine equalisation because they do not feel there is enough power difference between the many engine types. Despite this, Renault has put in many requests to develop certain parts of their engine, for cost and reliabiliy reasons. These requests have been mostly accepted.

However, the FIA rejected the requests to make changes to help Renault’s fuel consumption, as they felt that it was purely for performance reasons. Already, teams who run Renault engines can carry about 10kg less fuel than anyone else at the start of the race. Therefore, any further fuel consumption improvements would mean too large a performance advantage to Red Bull and Renault.

At the moment, neither Red Bull or Renault are lacking in engine power – Robert Kubica got the fastest lap at one point in Bahrain don’t forget. But, the Achilles heel of these teams – the reliability – may be getting better, after these latest changes.

FIA to clarify on double-decker diffuser issue

Double decker diffuser

Double decker diffuser

Before the Australian Grand Prix begins in two weeks time, the FIA are to clarify on an issue surrounding the double-decker diffuser.

The FIA’s Charlie Whiting inspected the cars in Bahrain before the race began, and it is understood that many people are concerned about teams using the starter motor to benefit the double-decker diffuser.

The F1 technical regulations state that there may be a hole or slot in the diffuser area, to allow space for a starter motor. The exact rule reads as follows:

"A single break in the surface is permitted solely to allow the
minimum required access for the device referred to in Article 5.15."

There is a mistake in the regulations, however, as Article 5.15 refers to what components in the cars can be constructed of. The starter motor, which they were supposed to be referring to, is actually Article 5.16. The idea of this rule is that there is a hole in the back of the car, where to mechanics can plug the starter motor into (an F1 engine cannot start itself), and fire up the car.

However, certain teams have exploited this rule, in that the starter motor housing and shape has been aerodynamically sculpted, so as to provide an aero benefit.

The FIA is keen to sort out this issue, and has already had a meeting with 3 teams (McLaren and Mercedes being two of them), to sort this out. The FIA are of the opinion that, although no regulation has been broken, the rule has been exploited.

It has been suggested that a clarification will come before the Australian Grand Prix. Martin Whitmarsh had this to say over the matter:

"I think Charlie came came down and looked at all the cars in that 
area, but I am not aware that anyone had any action taken against 
them over it. There were some concerns expressed.

There is a discussion between all the teams about what we are going 
to do. There are holes in the diffuser for the starter, the hole in 
ours is no bigger than the one on the championship winning car last 
year. And also no bigger than it is on about four other cars."

Very interesting. Whitmarsh is going down the route of  “It’s been done before, and everyone else is doing it, so why stop?”. A bit cheap, I suppose, but it would be expected of them. Personally, I want the exploitation of the rule to be banned, but of course teams would then be complaining about it being allowed last year.

McLaren rear wing to be inspected

The slot and rear wing desing of the McLaren MP4-25

The slot and rear wing desing of the McLaren MP4-25

McLaren’s MP4-25 rear wing is to be inspected in Bahrain, following concerns from Red Bull and Ferrari over its legality.

While Ferrari have since been less concerned about the issue, they and Red Bull have asked Charlie Whiting, FIA race director, to closely inspect the rear wing. Christian Horner in particular has seeked clarification over the concept of McLaren’s rear wing.

The issue deals with a slot just above the driver helmet. It feeds air away from the rear wing, which “stalls” the wing at high speed. It reduces drag and still increases downforce. It is believed that the McLaren in faster in a straight line by 6mph because of this innovation.

While McLaren have already invited Charlie Whiting to inspect the innovation, his flight from South America was heavily delayed, so he cancelled the trip to Woking. The car will instead be examined at Bahrain this weekend.

Although Christian Horner is still asking the FIA for clarification, he still believes the innovation is legal:

“There’s a bit of a fuss over McLaren’s rear wing. They have a slot
on it and can pick up a lot of straight-line speed. Basically, if you
stall the wing you take all the drag off it and pick up straight-line
speed. It’s something that’s been done quite a lot over the years,
but with the wing separators you’re not supposed to do that.

I think it will get resolved before the first race. We’ve asked the
FIA for clarification, although I think Ferrari are probably more
excited than we are to be honest. Our question ultimately will be,
‘Is it clever design or is it in breach of the regulations?’ They
must be very confident that it’s legal. I would think it will be

McLaren is much less worried about their design, with Martin Whitmarsh saying:

"The wing is different and innovative, yes. But we have been in
contact with Charlie over a period of several months to check that it
complies with regulations. We have been assured that it does."

It’s unclear how important this design is to McLaren’s car, but rest assured that they won’t be winning races any time soon if it’s declared illegal. If it is legal, which it probably is, then we may see another scramble, like last year, with all the teams trying to copy the design.

As I said when the cars were launched, I’m more worried about the diffuser design than this. Still, this design seems to be legal, so we might see another development battle.

How F1 cars have evolved from last year

As you all should remember, 2009 was the year of massive technical regulation changes, which hugely shoock up the order of the grid. Brawn GP were the best to learn from the regulations, which required a perfect aerodynamic balance. Since then, many teams have caught up, and the 2010 testing season has shown us that technical innovation  has moved on from last year. So, let’s have a look at what the teams have been inventing.

Accomodating larger fuel tanks

Wheelbase and fuel tank capacity changes

Wheelbase and fuel tank capacity changes

The main change to the 2010 regulations was that refuelling is banned. This meant that the fuel tank capacity has increased (2) from 120 to about 235 litres. This huge increase in size ensured that the teams would have to deal with two problems: 1) Adjusting the car’s balance and 2) Moving the mechanical components to facilitate this.

The inevitable solution was to increase the cars’ wheelbases. However, it was critical that the increase was not too big, in order to save handling, and thereby tyre wear. Through multiple innovations which we will now analyse, the wheelbase was only increased by around 15cm. This means that the extra 160kg of fuel has less effect on the weight distrubution of the car. However, the increased tank size meant that mechanical components had to be moved. It is believed that some teams have moved the oil tank  behind the fuel tank (since 1998 it has been ahead of it), to allow space to be saved, and therefore meaning minimal increase in the wheelbase.

Shorter gearboxes (5) save unnecessary wheelbase extensions

Shorter gearboxes (5) save unnecessary wheelbase extensions

Another innovation was to reduce the size of the gearbox, again to reduce the need of moving the wheelbase. This was combined with the fact that all of the other mechanicals were moved slightly more than the wheelbase adjustment. This space deficit was countered with a smaller suspension system (see picture above). Only Red Bull seem not to have gone down this route, instead choosing to keep its pullrod rear suspension, which moves further down the car.

More space for the double-decker diffuser

Ferrari's engine mounting allows more space for the diffuser

Ferrari's engine mounting allows more space for the diffuser

Like it or not, but the double-decker diffusers meant that the teams were looking to extract maximum downforce in the rear area. The front section was dealt with by the front wing, so the diffuser was the best area to work on. An interesting solution introduced by Ferrari replicated that on the very intelligent design of the Arrows A2, from 1970. Their F10 engine was mounted at a 3.5 degree angle (1). This meant that the exhaust pipes are located further forward than usual, which allowed for more space at the back for the diffuser. This solution was first done by the A2 in 1970.

All of that means that there is more space to play with in the back of the car. The concept of the double-decker diffuser was that there was a slot in the underside of the car, which fed a much larger diffuser on top. The extra space generated by the exhausts being moved forward means that the diffuser will be larger, meaning more downforce.

Higher gearbox positioning allows for more diffuser space

Higher gearbox positioning allows for more diffuser space

A more simple solution from Red Bull here. Adrian Newey’s idea was to elevate the gearbox instead of shortening it, which had the same effect without difficulties with the shorter gearbox afterwards. The yellow area in the photo shows the difference made by a simple adjustment. This explains why they retained their pull-rod suspension (see 3rd paragraph on larger fuel tanks) in stead of reverting to the traditional push-rod system. Since the pick-up points of the pull-rod suspension are now lower, it means that space for the diffuser is increased. These are two completely different solutions to the same objective: Make space at the back for the diffuser. This is why Formula 1 is such a great place to show technical innovation.

Rear aerodynamic airflow

McLaren's rear aerodynamic layout, which aims air at the rear wing and diffuser

McLaren's rear aerodynamic layout, which aims air at the rear wing and diffuser

As well as the diffuser, airflow management was important on the outside of the car. McLaren’s MP4-25 is the best example of this. First of all, completely the opposite of Ferrari, their exhausts have been moved further back (red arrow). The second part of this solution is to use the airflow of the airbox exit to cool the air from the gearbox radiator (blue arrow). The smaller red arrows show how these two airflow systems go over the diffuser, and the lower part of the rear wing, at certain speeds.

At lower speeds, this air goes through the diffuser, to generarte low-speed grip. When the car becomes faster, and the front and rear wings become more powerful, this airflow then moves to the lower part of the rear wing (black rear wing section). This creates a certain amount of grip without the original drag of the diffuser. This solution shows how the car’s aerodynamic system can change between grip and speed as it gets faster.

Frontal aerodynamic airflow

McLaren's front nosecone splitter, which separates airflow

McLaren's front nosecone splitter, which separates airflow

Again, McLaren’s aero setup is noteworthy here, as it incorporates a solution used by Williams last year. The nosecone splitter (black arrow) changes the airflow passing over and under the front of the car, and thereby the entire aerodynamic layout of the car.

The Sauber C29's endplate system

The Sauber C29's endplate system

As well as this, the cars’ endplates are getting more and more complicated, as the teams look for more methods to divert the air away from the front tyres. Last year, it was more difficult, as the tyres were wider, and the endplates were therefore creating more drag as they pushed more air sideways in the car. This year, because the front tyres are narrower, the endplates now feature more sections to create as little drag as possible, while still ensuring that the tyres weren’t making turbulent air by mixing with the car’s airflow.

While most teams opted to push the air outside the front tyres, Sauber went for a mixture of two solutions: To move the air around as well as over the tyres. The inner part of the endplates is traditional in creating as little drag as possible while diverting airflow. However, the interesting section is the outer part, which moves air over the tyres. As well as having a dual layout system, it means that slightly more downforce is generated by the cars at speed.

So, as we can see, there have been plenty of new technical innovations for the 2010 season, and we haven’t even started yet! Hopefully, across the season, we will see some morenew inventions, which I will feature on the blog in several round-ups across the year.