Wednesday, 27 August 2014

F1 Resumes With A Bang

Let's get straight to it then, the incident. Nico Rosberg has obviously taken a lot of the bad press from this one, and no-one was helped by Lewis Hamilton's post debrief claim that Rosberg admitted to crashing into him on purpose. There are a few angles to cover with this one, but I wonder whether 1 argument blankets the majority - Formula 1 usually protects the driver being overtaken in any manoeuvre.

The undoubted flashpoint in the 2014 Formula 1 season.

The Les Combes complex is the most obvious overtaking spot on the circuit, but the majority of successful passes either take place long before the braking point, or when you can steal the inside line (where Lewis Hamilton was) away from the defending opponent. Moves around the outside happen but carry great risk, simply because you are relying on your opponent not to run you off the circuit. Kevin Magnussen showed Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button exactly how that works on a number of occassions with some fantastic defending at Rivage. You also need to be at least alongside your opponent going into the corner, whilst Rosberg was always behind his team mate. The move never looked on and from there it all gets a bit clumsy.

Whilst Hamilton left room, it wasn't a cars width.

Hamilton claimed he left room for Rosberg, but he shouldn't have had to given that it is his team mate. It is the last person you want to have a collision with, and I'm not sure why Rosberg left his wing in that position to be hit. Nico Rosberg is a driver of great talent and he has shown that he is better than that. But what of the argument against Hamilton? Should he to have left more space than normal given that it was his team mate he was defending against? This is the problem facing the team, with both drivers fighting over the world championship and therefore working as though in separate teams. What was of interest to me was Rosberg highlighting Bahrain in his defense of the move, citing that he had been no more aggressive than Hamilton was there. It goes to show exactly how the dynamic changes from the 3rd race of the year to the 12th...

The race long battle between Hamilton and Rosberg in Bahrain has been a much heralded highlight of the 2014 season so far.

With 7 races to go, everyone would love to see more of the same from these 2 given how closely matched they have been all season. The problem to that formula however is the man who won in Belgium, Daniel Ricciardo. He has been there ready and waiting whenever the main protagonists have slipped, and is now just 64 points off the championship lead, having outscored the Mercedes pair since Monaco. Red Bull might be ruling off his championship chances, but Mercedes certainly won't in a season of apparent dominance and inevitability surrounding Mercedes topping both of the tables. I hope it doesn't come to it, but Mercedes may be forced at some point to employ team orders between their drivers to ensure apparently straightforward 1-2 results return. The next couple of races could just dictate that decision.

Though Mercedes left us all talking about the incident between their drivers, nothing should be taken away from Daniel Ricciardo's race winning performance.

Ricciardo was there once again when things went wrong at Mercedes, but his performance was certainly deserving of the win. Red Bull needed to do something different to mask the performance difference suffered by the Renault engined teams. Despite qualifying being in wet weather conditions, the Red Bull drivers were given skinny, low drag rear wings to help boost straight line speed through sectors 1 and 3. It was Ricciardo who again got the most from the RB10 to take top honours, rather than struggling team mate and 4 time champion Sebastian Vettel. The suggestion that Ricciardo would struggle against the German just hasn't been proven throughout 2014, and it will likely be 2015 before we know whether it is the sign of change at the team.

Vettel struggled with excessive tyre wear after having to use Daniel Ricciardo's race simulation data from FP2.

Talking of changes, I plan on writing a post about the recent shuffles and Toro Rosso anouncement sometime ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. Keep eyes peeled for that one! I also feel that I haven't been doing justice to GP2 and GP3 since writing previews for both. The racing has been incredible in both classes this year and are well worth a watch if not already doing so. Expect something on those soon as well!

Brits lead the way in both GP2 and GP3, but can they stay there?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Rosberg Completes Perfect Week

7 days don't come much better than Nico Rosberg's. Get married, watch home country win the World Cup, sign a new multi-year contract with Mercedes, and then win your home Grand Prix in a German car. The F1 fans and a certain Brit would suggest that the race wasn't quite perfect, given the lack of competition opposed to Rosberg's victory, and such was his margin throughout the 90 minute race that he was barely televised at all. Another "gift" as Hamilton put it after another technical failure left him with serious ground to make up, both in Germany and the overall championship fight.

The victory was assured as soon as Hamilton crashed on Saturday, but Rosberg will not complain if they all come like that.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Making Sense of FRIC Suspension Ban and Pirelli Test

Following last weekends British Grand Prix, the teams stayed behind to complete an in season test on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The main news to come from these days were the banning of FRIC (Front and Rear InterConnected) Suspension, and Pirelli testing a prototype set of 18 Inch wheels on an adapted 2014 Lotus car. This post will try to explain exactly what these are and the affect of Formula 1.

Charles Pic completed 14 laps on the experimental 18" Pirelli wheels.

Pirelli 18 Inch Wheel Test

For a number of years now, Formula 1 have used 13 inch wheels with large tyres whilst other motorsport series have moved to lower profile tyres. Finally though Pirelli have responded to constant query over lower profile tyres by trialling 18 inch wheels on Wednesday, with a view to their possible introduction in 2016 or 2017. Charles Pic ran 14 laps on them in a modified 2014 Lotus to accommodate the larger overall wheel size, but given how early in development Pirelli are he was told to stay off the kerbs and stayed within a limited straight line speed.

The goal was to try and run them and see how they react. The overall grip was very low, I think it was five or six seconds off the pace, mainly for the reason that the rest of the car was made for the normal tyre, not the prototype. It is true that they are more reactive and nervous, and then on top of that you lose a lot of aero. It is not even like you are in Monza configuration, it is even less because of this type of tyre. If you look at handling, of course it is not good - but that was not the point of the test. This was really the beginning with this type of tyre and for sure they will improve it. I think in the philosophy it will be a type of tyre that will react quickly, and the reaction you get in the steering wheel is more nervous. Each time you get the snap it is quicker.
His first impressions are interesting, however they also mean very little in relation to the end product if these are introduced in a couple of years time. The main thing that is directly comparable is the appearance of the larger wheels, which have been mixed from the reviews I have seen but leaning towards the positive. I wasn't sure seeing the pictures, but when moving I think they are a definite improvement.

Video was recorded by Daniel Bates

The teams will have a lot of work to do to get Formula 1 cars suited to the new tyres, starting almost completely from a blank canvas. As a result, car designs will also be best suited taking the "ground up" approach in the literal sense, with the tyres being the first form of suspension on the cars. The lower profile tyre means a smaller sidewall, which in turn means the tyre will have less "give" in it when going around corners. The suspension arms themselves will therefore need to do more of the work in order to produce a similar ride to current Formula 1 cars. The stiffer tyres will change the way engineers and drivers fine tune setup for both tyre pressures and camber as well, which again will need to compensate for the reduced flexibility in the tyres themselves. Finally,
the engineers will also need to find out the working temperature for the new tyres, and how to keep them at that temperature. This will see a large change in the way the brakes are arranged along with the axles and ducting that keeps the brakes from overheating, leading to aerodynamic tweaks as the teams direct airflow around or into the brakes and tyres.

Pirelli have come under a lot of fire for the way in which they have constructed their current tyres.

One final point of note is Pirelli's current contract as tyre supplier to the Formula 1 grid. Their current deal expires at the end of the 2016 season, having renewed of the back of a difficult year for the Italian company in 2013. It never seemed likely that a different supplier would be announced just 6 months before the first pre-season tests, but it was Michelin who looked closest to saving Formula 1 should Pirelli walk away from the sport or to at least join them as a joint supplier. Michelin have already made it clear that the only future they share with Formula 1 is with an introduction of 18 inch wheels, as they look to showcase their technologies rather than to artificially create a spectacle. It is an area where Formula 1 is already behind Formula E, a rising motorsport series that is set to grow in following dramatically if they can live up to their own promises. So with the introduction of low profile tyres, the debate would open up as to whether we were going to see Pirelli continue as the sole tyre supplier, Michelin step in and become the new supplier to all the teams, or a tyre war with both offering services... There are strong cases for all theories, and I'm sure they will develop alongside the tyres themselves.

Formula E test car complete with Michelin's low profile tyre, which they claim will operate in both wet and dry conditions.

FRIC Suspension Ban

News a little more out of the blue was the FIA's directive to all teams that FRIC (Front and Rear InterConnected) suspension systems are to be banned within Formula 1 from the German Grand Prix onwards. There is a possibility that the ban will be implemented for the start of the 2015 season instead, but that is only in the case where all current teams unanimously agree to the postponement. So what is FRIC suspension? In layman's terms, it is simply the joining of all the suspension components so that they work as one. It is done using hydrualics, and reservoirs as shown below.

A simplified diagram of a Formula 1 car and the FRIC suspension setup.

During a lap, a Formula 1 car is subjected to massive forces in order to accelerate, slow down and turn in the same way that a road car does. The suspension is a lot harder so the movement is far less, but the forces are also so much more (forces up to 5G around fast corners and under braking) at the speeds Formula 1 cars achieve. All of the movement upsets the aerodynamics and balance of the car, so the engineers want the car to be as stable as possible. Active suspension was introduced in Formula 1 do exactly the same thing but using complicated computers to analyse and react to what each corner of the car was doing. FRIC suspension is a passive system but a very simple one, in that hydraulic fluid is used to balance out the forces across the cars 4 corners. the result is a a more stable car if the teams are able to get the balance and timing of such a system correct.

FRIC suspension is believed to be one of the systems giving Mercedes their advantage in 2014.

The result of losing these systems could mean a number of factors for the teams, such as reduced mechanical grip leading to reduced performance. This will likely be Mercedes biggest fear, with reportedly the most advanced FRIC suspension on the grid (rumours were circled of the system back in 2012). For those using the system before, simulator work will be key before Germany to analyse and estimate how tyre degradation will be affected. Other design teams will be frantically looking over aerodynamic parts that only work when the body is kept stable by the system, as Formula 1 cars are always at the limits between working perfectly and failing. It should make the practice sessions ahead of the German Grand Prix very busy and testing times for the teams indeed.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Best of British

12 months ago, the 2013 British Grand Prix made spectacular viewing for all of the wrong reasons. The Pirelli issues first came to light in a number of high speed and very frightening blow-outs, which nearly saw a driver boycott in later races. It was Lewis Hamilton that suffered the first of these incidents, and it took away his lead and all hopes of winning his home Grand Prix for the second time.

What a difference a year makes.

Hamilton's bad luck struck during the race in 2013, but his weekends fortunes reversed come Sunday in 2014.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Quieter Than a 2014 Formula 1 Engine...

Once again I find myself writing a blog post to apologise for the lack of updates recently. Again, I am not stopping but just taking a short break. Very good reason this time - my lack of it. VERY good reason for that - I am getting married this Saturday! Weddings take quite a lot of planning, and of course the blog was just 1 of many things that has been put to one side to make it happen.

Of course the moment that I don't have the time to write what I feel about Formula 1, the championship erupts with views, developments and intrigue! I found time to gradually do a Monaco write up, but Blogger managed to ruin that for me as well and I had to abandon that post halfway through. Knowing as well I may not have time to write a full report on all incidents, here is the 1 minute summary:

1. Rosberg has done a good job of breaking the Hamilton dominance.
2. I think Rosberg parked deliberately.
3. Hamilton could do with reviewing the safety car periods so far and why he always seems to lose out to Rosberg.
4. Red Bull on the up, fantastic job by Ricciardo.
5. Where are the other teams? Ferrari especially faltering
6. Newey's decision good for Red Bull. "If we can't have him, no one can".
7. Red Bull may rue losing Prodromou to McLaren.
8. What was Raikkonen thinking (Monaco move), or was it payback to Magnussen?
9. Great job by Marussia to score points!
10. Chilton unfortunate but definitely at fault for Canada collision.
11. Perez's fault.

12. Pirelli told to make tyres softer? They just can't win...

That's all for now, more in the near future hopefully!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Team Mate Struggles Surface

The first European Grand Prix of 2014 took place last weekend at the Catalunya circuit near Barcelona. The track is not notorious for providing stand out races, but it does highlight the cars aerodynamic strengths and weaknesses. With all of the teams bringing update packages to this Grand Prix following the 3 week break, it was hoped that the advantage enjoyed by Mercedes previously would be reduced. They of course brought updates of their own as they are pushing equally as hard to maintain the gap to the rest of the field.

Excluding the pitstops, Hamilton leads over Rosberg never exceeded 5 seconds.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

GP3 2014 Preview

This weekend sees the Formula 1 world championship make its first visit to Europe in Spain. Local hero Fernando Alonso will be hoping to capitalise on the home support that last year propelled him to victory, whilst Pirelli are hoping it doesn't take 4 tyre changes to do so again. GP2 returns to the calendar again having missed China, but we will also see the beginning of the 2014 GP3 championship. The 2014 calendar is shown below.

Daniil Kvyat won the 2013 GP3 championship before his promotion to the Toro Rosso F1 team this year.