F1 Soap Box – Changing the Goalposts

The world of F1 has an interesting argument brewing.  The FIA is reinterpreting their rulebook and is now in the process of banning some of the exotic engine mapping techniques that the teams are using to gain downforce in the corners.

Last year, Red Bull stunned the paddock by venting their engine exhausts directly onto their rear diffuser.  In qualifying, they would use a different engine map that would keep engine revs high, even when the driver was not applying throttle at all.  This allowed the car to gain additional downforce in the corners, allowing for faster cornering speeds and helped Red Bull gather 15 of the 19 poles last year.

Well, the entire paddock caught on, and this season has shown all kinds of exotic interpretations that keep the engine revs high when the driver lifts off the throttle.  From Lotus Renault’s underbody air curtain to Red Bull’s revised diffuser arrangement.  It would be fair to say that millions of dollars have been poured into development of these blown aero components teamed with engine mappings.

I Shall Dub Thee, “FIA the Arbitrary”
Now the FIA has made it clear that they view these engine maps to be in contravention of article 3.15 of the technical regulations which bans moveable aero devices.  Note that they don’t appear to be against the practice of blowing exhaust gasses onto the diffuser or the underbody.

Apparently, they FIA informed the teams after Istanbul that the new engine mapping techniques were against the rules, but it took until Tuesday for the story to leak out to the media.  The original intent was to make the teams remove their exotic engine maps for this weekend’s race at Barcelona, but the FIA could not determine an easy way to police the engines to insure that nobody used was cheating.  So instead, they are going to refer the issue to the Technical Working Group and intend on making the change official after Monaco is over.

So, we have to ask the question…  Why now?  Red Bull was using this method throughout 2010.  If the FIA did not approve of using engine exhaust gasses in this way, why didn’t they ban it right away?  Or, why didn’t they ban it for 2011?  Instead, the teams were allowed to design their 2011 challengers with the belief that the FIA approved of using the engine maps in this way.  Now that clearly Red Bull has the advantage, it would appear this move by the FIA is solely intended to allow other teams a chance.

History Repeating Itself
One can’t help but be reminded of the FIA’s ruling on the Renault mass damper in 2006.  The mass damper was used on the 2005 Renault from the Brazilian GP, and was deemed legal by the FIA.  However, in the closing stages of 2006, the FIA changed their interpretation of article 3.15 and deemed the mass damper to be an illegal aero device, even though it had been deemed legal by the FIA for a year and a half.  I still have a bad taste in my mouth from that, given that Alonso was involved in a fierce title fight with Schumacher.  One has to wonder if the recent comments made by Ferrari regarding their disdain at the current state of F1 where aero development is the only area where they can improve the performance of the car, and their recent internal lateral moves for their aerodynamics staff had anything to do with the FIA’s changed opinion on their rulebook.

If the FIA moves forward with a ban on exotic engine maps, then several of the top teams will have to scramble to redesign their exhaust systems since the current system of engine mapping and blown aero components relies on very intricate compromises.  For the current system to work, the teams have to balance the additional fuel weight caused by increased fuel expenditure caused by running the engine revs at nearly 100% while no throttle is being applied and the additional drag on the car caused by the blown aero components on the straights and high speed corners with the increased cornering speeds in the low speed corners and come out ahead in the balance sheet.  If the teams are no longer allowed to use the engine maps, then they will be dealing with increased drag on the straights with minimal to no increased downforce in the corners.  In that scenario, it would be best for the teams to bring back the exhaust chimneys.  The only exception may be Lotus Renault, whose clever underbody air curtain may just come out to be the innovation of the season.

Goalposts? What Goalposts?
Regardless of how things turn out after the ban is put in place, this is dirty dealing by the FIA.  This is an abuse of the teams who have spent millions developing these systems with the understanding that the FIA approved of them.  It will only lead to further abuse of the teams as they will have to spend more money developing new solutions to change the exhaust porting on their cars.  Lastly, it is going to make everyone take a sidelong wary look at Jean Todt because we thought this kind of crap ended when Max went out the door.

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One Thought to “F1 Soap Box – Changing the Goalposts

  1. Great take, Mike. Agree on all counts.

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