29 July 2012
F1 can be a confusing place for the uninitiated, on one hand you have the battle of the drivers and their skill behind the wheel but on the other you have the ongoing development battle the teams have to produce the best piece of machinery for their drivers. The FIA set the regulations the teams need to adhere to when designing their cars but this is where the waters start to muddy. The rules can be pushed and bent to suit the requirement of the particular team and can be interpreted either on their own or in combination with another rule. Teams also use syntax to their advantage and so if a rule cannot be determined to be correct one way or another they will use this to their advantage. You will have undoubtedly have heard 'it's not within the spirit of the rules' unfortunately for the FIA the rules are written and if they are not correctly worded the teams will use this to their advantage.
In most circumstances the pressure to re-word/ban a new system/innovation/component won't come from the FIA originally but will be insisted upon by the other teams who feel another is gaining an unfair advantage. The inherent problem with one team finding an advantage is that it takes time, money and resources for other teams to understand, develop and implement their own iteration for their package. Dependent on the particular component this can be extremely difficult to implement due to the design being intrinsically linked to the cars original design path.
Some of my Twitter followers may have seen me use the hashtag #InnovateOrGoHome of which is my way of siding with the team who face their innovation being banned. Innovation is one of the key elements of F1 and drives forward it's position as the pinnacle of motorsport. Design features seen at the top tier of motorsport will invariably find their way to our road cars of the future and so choking development could be bad for us all.
This season has seen Red Bull seemingly pushing the limits more than most but they are not the only team to have to change their car specification in order to comply with the FIA's regulations. However as double world champions the spotlight is on the Red Bull team and so whenever a team can find a way to question the legality of their car it would be fruitful to do so.
The holes used by Red Bull in floor of the car in front of the wheels (used last at Monaco) was a response to a similar concept still being employed by Ferrari and Sauber. Red Bull in this situation knew that their design was infact a hole and not a slot like Sauber & Ferrari's iterations but used the design none the less. My articles from the time on this subject can be found here: http://somersf1.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/red-bull-tyre-squirt-duct.html & http://somersf1.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/red-bull-tyre-squirt-duct-part-2-now.html
At Hockenheim Red Bull ran a pedal map that acted in contravention of how Article 5.5.3 was meant but as the statement was ambiguous the team couldn't be penalised. The FIA have since moved to clarify the wording of this regulation in order to prevent it's usage in the future. Essentially the map used by Red Bull in Hockenheim limited the torque available to the driver by offsetting the pedal position to the power being produced. This aided in both increased drivability and a more continuous exhaust airflow allowing the exhaust gasses to provide aerodynamic advantage even when the driver was curtailing his throttle usage.
In Montreal the FIA investigated Red Bull's use of adjustment of the front suspension by hand via the driver. This would glean a large advantage if done between qualifying and the race as in Q1 the car would be at it's lightest (low fuel run) after which point the car is filled with race fuel and so the equilibrium of the car is altered. Being able to adjust either the height/stiffness of the car could lead to a large advantage. This is an operation that under Article 34.5 would mean starting from the pitlane if done during Parc Ferme conditions (ie between sessions) So what does this actually mean was being done I hear you say. Well the adjustment limits the minimum ride height thus allowing an unchanged aero platform giving a similar aero platform whether full or empty of fuel. Its unclear if the system was being employed by the team and whether the adjustment could be made by hand or by foot. If it were in use it would be another situation in which Red Bull have used the wording in the regulations in order to gain an advantage.
This leads me onto McLaren who themselves this season have fell foul of using the wording in the regulations in order to try and glean an advantage. In China the FIA clarified their stance on the way McLaren had designed the tea tray area of the car. The area has an allowable tolerance of 3mm in the design process, however McLaren were intentionally designing their tea tray to be at the limit of the tolerance. This allowed them to run with less ride height at the front as the tea tray almost tilted upward.
Before the start of the season Lotus had also developed their own reactive ride solution which was suitably banned by the FIA in fear that a war would form between the teams to gain both a stability and aerodynamic advantage. The system had already caused a stir amongst the teams and both Mercedes and Ferrari were said to be a fair way into having their own variant before the FIA banned the device.
F1 teams will always push the boundaries of the regulations put out before them and personally I see no reason to stop this. Without innovation F1 would become a spec series which is something that would be of detriment not only to the sport but the road car industry at large. They may have been banned but without innovation we wouldn't have had ground effects, the Brabham fan car, mass damper, F Ducts, Double Deck Diffusers, Blown Diffusers, Double DRS etc etc. In my opinion as long as they don't provide an issue to safety innovation in F1 should be lauded not frowned upon. I have seen many outbursts through social media by fans unhappy that Red Bull have continuously 'broken the rules' this season, I don't see it this way they are simply pushing the boundaries. A decision on it's legality should be provided instantly by the FIA and the rules adjusted appropriately if it's deemed to be inappropriate. This would stop the massive race teams have to gain a similar or better advantage from the device(s) in question. Much like teams adopting Double Deck Diffusers or F Ducts when they were deemed legal putting a huge strain on both resources and costs for the teams. F1 for me wouldn't be the same sport without the current technological environment we have so I part company by once again saying #InnovateOrGoHome