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18 January 2014

Formula One is and in my eyes always will be the pinnacle of motorsport, it attracts the best drivers, technical staff and is awash with money.  The problem is that to be successful in Formula One requires a perfect storm and is the reason why many teams will always live on the coat tails of the bigger, well funded teams.  In the beginning the sport revolved around a rag tag bunch of privateers that went racing for their own folly but now the Formula One juggernaut see's 11 teams with over 500 members of staff each spending millions each season to be separated by mere tenths of a second in some races.

Over regulating?

The FIA (Formula One's governing body) is responsible for the regulations that the teams follow, whether it be from a sporting or technical perspective.  However for some time now these rules have not only been influenced by the FIA requiring better safety measures but by FOM (Formula One Management) for whom most of you see as just Bernie Ecclestone and the teams.  All of these groups have their own vested interest in the Sport and stand to benefit from it's exposure in different ways.  The FIA are always looking to constrain the efforts made by the teams to increase downforce and top speed in order to maintain the safety of everyone involved.  The problem with this however is that this can become a costly exercise, if for example we look at the last rule set which ran from 2009-2013 there are some stand out technical issues that were costly for all parties involved.

2009-2010 Double Decked Diffusers

BrawnGP, Toyota and Williams arrived at pre season testing with their respective challengers sporting what many deemed to be an illegal Diffuser configuration.  Having stated they had consulted with the FIA and TWG (Technical Working Group) during the design process they believed their designs to be legal.  In reality however nothing could really be done about this until the cars arrived in Melbourne unless the FIA clarified it's position by issuing a technical directive outlawing the design.  When the FIA continued to give the DDD's the green light in Melbourne it meant the teams without them were forced to adopt them. For the teams needing to chase the development and integrate it into their packages the costs were extreme.  However had the FIA banned DDD's we would have found BrawnGP dead in the water with very low financial backing and the cutting back of their infrastructure due to the loss of Honda. Whilst Toyota and Williams would have also been on the back foot. Were the FIA stuck between a rock and a hard place then? Most certainly but only because the rule makers unlike the teams seem to lack the ability to look laterally. As fans we however thrive on this type of innovation as its what causes the to and fro of power in the sport.

2010 - RW80 / F Duct

McLaren were the team to innovate first in 2010 with their blown rear wing that used a fluidic switch to control drag at the rear wing.  The F Duct was driver operated, by covering a hole in the cockpit (usually the back of the hand or the drivers knee) airflow that usually exited out of the cooling duct at the base of the engine cover was directed along the shark fin engine cover to the rear of the rear wings flaps. Disturbing the airflow meant that downforce was reduced and therefore drag.
As the F Duct was driver operated it soon became clear that drivers would push their luck in terms of its implementation.  The systems became more complex as the season progressed and effectively asked the drivers to cover up their respective cockpit ducts sooner out of the corners.  Just like the DDD's that preceded them the cost to retrospectively design and implement the F Duct was yet another exorbitant cost that the FIA had allowed to get out of control.

The F Duct was however a much needed glimpse for the FIA into how to resolve an issue they'd struggled with some time: wake and overtaking.

2010-2011 - EBD - Exhaust Blown Diffusers

The other major development for 2010 was the emergence of the Exhaust Blown Diffuser. The concept first showed up on Red Bulls RB6 and was swiftly copied by the front runners keen to leverage the potential of the ballistic exhaust plume against the needs of the Diffuser. Of course as ideas mature the teams found more exotic ways in which to exploit its potential. In 2011 the FIA closed off the loophole that had led to DDD's but this simply left the teams looking for gains in other areas to recover their losses. EBD was the obvious route with the diffuser allowing a higher L/D ratio than say a wing design.  The designers already using the engine as an air pump then concentrated their efforts at extorting more downforce at the most critical time; during cornering.

2011 - Off Throttle Exhaust Blown Diffusers

Whilst EBD's had become common place on the 2011 challengers the lead teams once again started to make steps toward recouping the loss seen from the banning of DDD's for 2011 onwards.  With the teams already using exhaust gasses to 'seal' the edge of the floor an opportunity arose to extend this advantage in the key area where downforce is required most: the corners.  The idea was to use the engine as an air pump with the engine still producing exhaust gasses even when the driver wasn't on throttle.  This method had been used for some time in terms of 'cold blowing' but alterations to the way the car was being mapped led to a development in 'hot blowing'.  Hot blowing is when fuel is burnt in the exhaust itself energizing the exhaust plume, replicating the ballistic effect the exhaust gases provide when on throttle.  Development in this area was swift and the FIA were keen to stop the practice as the benefits being gained were being electronically controlled rather than by the driver.  In a surprise move ahead of the British GP the FIA issued a statement that prohibited the use of exotic maps promoting hot blowing which was swiftly withdrawn when the FIA understood the ramifications of such a bold and swift manoeuvre.

2012-2013 Coanda Exhaust Systems

Having altered the regulations to eliminate the type of EBD's we had seen proliferate the sport since 2010, however such was the performance advantage that EBD offered the teams were never likely to relinquish it's advantage easily.  Dubbed the Coanda exhaust due to the way in which the exhaust was used to manipulate the airflow in the surrounding region, the teams once again set about targeting the exhaust plume at the gap between the floor and tyre sidewall.  McLaren's Semi-Coanda exhaust was the adopted by most teams up and down the grid initially as it likely retained more power (longer exhaust tract) than the ramp style (downwash) exhausts used by Sauber and Red Bull.  However as the latter's idea matured and introduced a cross under tunnel to isolate the airflow around the Sidepod it became apparent theirs could become a better solution.  Not without work though, Red Bull's cross under tunnel went through many variations before the team finally had a base setup that worked.
As always the problem for most teams having to re integrate technology into their machine is that there is always compromise and so although a car is a rolling prototype, in order to maximise a technology like this the cars ethos must be designed around it.  This led to many of the teams running halfway house solutions for 2012 with their full blown interpretations available for the start of 2013.

The FIA as the regulator has a choice to make when a new innovation rears its head, either clarify their position with a technical directive, outlawing the innovation.  Or they allow it's development, the problem is often they can't predict the widesweeping ramifications of what each development will entail and how long the gestation/development period is until it reaches it's maximum potential.
Their decision will hurt one team whether they agree to something or not, as invariably a loophole in the regulations is initially pounced upon by one team.   In terms of cost someone or all the teams will eventually lose out as the costs spiral to integrate the en vogue development of the season or have it's development squashed immediately.  This is a most difficult task for the FIA as innovation is what drives the sport forward and allows the teams to systematically claw back the losses that are made under large rule changes.  The other side of the coin however is cost:

Over Spending?

Looking at how regulation has an impact on cost, it's obvious to see how development is intrinsically linked to the cost of running a team.  A cost cap is a difficult proposal for Formula One as controlling how each teams spends money is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma.  For teams like Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and even McLaren to some extent they have parent companies that can 'hide' associated costs or indeed carry out work 'off the books'.

Max Mosley's initial concept of introducing a budget cap to the sport for me would have made the bigger teams think more wisely about their exorbitant costs as he proposed a 2 tier system.  Anyone operating under the lower budget would be allowed more technical freedom gifting those that couldn't speed the money with tools that would help them keep up on track.   Ferrari, Red Bull and then Renault all threatened to walk away from the sport and create their own series if it came to fruition and so it never saw the light of day.

This caused somewhat of a problem for the new entrants for 2010 who'd built their projections on that figure and have since either folded USF1 (before they really got off the ground) and HRT or operate on a totally different level now trying to attain the same backing as the other teams (Marussia & Caterham).

It appears that history could be about to repeat itself as although the framework for a budget cap has not been talked about (likely somewhat up from the £40m talked about last time around, to something more like £75-100m) the FIA were inviting prospective teams to tender for a 12th slot on the grid available for 2015 or 2016.  Anyone serious about getting into Formula One as a team owner should not have considered the budget cap as viable when creating their business plan, instead they should have looked at what it would take to create a team from scratch under the current conditions.  I'd suggest that anyone without £200m rattling around would steer well clear unless like the rumoured Gene Haas entry you have some facilities or experience in motorsport to call upon.  Furthermore if you have that kind of money to spend you'd be much wiser to simply purchase one of the other struggling teams and invest in them.  Lotus, Sauber, Force India, Marussia, Caterham and even Toro Rosso could be bought for the right money.

The question must be raised though with so many teams struggling financially is it the right time for the FIA to increase the grid numbers?  Sponsorship is ever becoming more difficult to come by for the midfield teams and so adding another team will almost certainly decrease the opportunity for everyone to lure and keep sponsors.

It has been talked about before but perhaps a fresh approach to the topic of customer cars is one way in which to reduce the overall costs for those partaking in the sport.  Yes it can be argued that teams like Force India, Toro Rosso etc that have spent considerable amounts of money establishing themselves as constructors in their own right would be cheesed off.  However when we consider that many teams are close to financial ruin it must at least be considered.  Many teams already share technology and so it has to be questioned why restrict the smaller teams to not buying chassis' off the shelf too.  I've always been a firm believer that you can't offer up last years car as it's pretty much obsolete and would leave the team buying it chasing development/spending money at the same rate just to catch up.  Besides it's not like Red Bull could sell Caterham a 2013 car to compete under the 2014 regulations is it?  No this is something that would need serious consideration from the FIA and unanimous support from the teams.  The most vocal figure to oppose customer cars in the past has been Sir Frank Williams citing the dilution of being a Constructor in it's own right.
I'd argue that there are negatives behind customer cars but it certainly isn't something Formula One hasn't had in it's past.  It can also be argued that the 'Constructor' teams stand to make a substantial financial benefit for no more than selling their cars.  I could also see it making it viable to increase the grid number with the cost to go racing cheaper than ever before.  It would of course need to be managed in a similar way to the engine suppliers with a maximum amount of chassis' being able to be supplied by the constructor.
If we see Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus and Williams as full blown constructors, with some of the other teams obviously having the capability to be so but realising the costs to operate at that level outweigh the cost and performance benefits it means each of the above could supply 1 team (based on a full 12 team grid).

When the FIA did away with in season testing in 2009 the teams simply went off and spent the money they'd been spending at the track on, off track simulation techniques (CFD, Wind Tunnel and Simulation).  The FIA have re-introduced an element of track testing for 2014 with teams staying on after GP's to develop their cars and processes, on the other hand for the first time they are actually limiting the amount of work that can be done via CFD leveraging it against time spent in the Wind Tunnel.  This will of course mean that the teams will once again funnel their spending toward different facets of their design programme to maximise performance and won't spend any less than they had previously.

At the end of the day Formula One teams aren't in existence to make a profit, they're a mobile advertising vehicle and spend (usually more) than they make.  The teams that are better funded tend to be the ones at the top of the grid and this will never change.  Adding in a budget cap will simply alter the way in which the budget is spent to leverage performance and will still leave a divide amongst the teams.

Over Reacting?

At the end of 2010 Bridgestone left the sport opening the door for another supplier to which Pirelli answered the FIA prayers.  The FIA along with FOM realised the potential for increasing 'the show' instructing Pirelli to throw caution to the wind and mix up the strategies furthermore being schooled by the teams in 2010 utilsing the F Duct the FIA introduced their Drag Reduction System (DRS).  You'd have thought that the introduction of quickly degrading rubber by Pirelli would have led to the FIA making their recommendations for limitations on pressures, cambers etc a mandatory element of the race setup.  This of course didn't happen and even when fair warning of the extreme settings caused blisters post qualifying in Spa (2011) for Red Bull still nothing was implemented.

No wonder then in 2013 when Pirelli revolutionized their tyres construction in order to give the drivers more mechanical grip we found the teams pushing the limits once again.  The tyres being constructed with a metal banding inside not only made the tyres directional but in my opinion safer, in previous years when a tyre had failed the whole carcass of the tyre disintegrated more than often mortally wounding the rear of the car in spectacular fashion, forcing retirement.  The 2013 construction did lead to several failures not only from debris but moreover from miss-use by the teams but instead of causing drivers to retire, they could in most cases either limp off to the side of the circuit without too much commotion or make it back to the pits for another set of tyres.

Silverstone 2013 will of course always be remembered for the many tyre explosions that dogged the race and ultimately ruined Lewis Hamilton's race who had qualified on pole the day before.  The problem however is that because most of the 'mainstream' media simply didn't understand why the tyres were failing but it remained a focal point for their them to concentrate on.  This led to the teams getting off almost scott free in terms of their abuse of tyre swapping, excessive camber and pressure settings.  It did however lead to a situation whereby the FIA took note and regulated these settings prior to each GP rather than just having Pirelli recommend them.

The ensuing change back to 2012's tyre construction was an example of a sport that sometimes knee jerk reactions rather than analyzing the root cause.   The change in construction hurt and improved the fortunes of teams up and down the grid based on how well their package was suited to the given tyre and effectively changed the landscape of the championship.  Pirelli have never really veered much from the remit set by the FIA/FOM yet have taken a serious amount of flack in the process, meanwhile the teams flouting their recommendations have got off scott free..

Going back to the original introduction of the Pirelli tyre lineup alongside DRS, it can be argued that the sport didn't/doesn't need both to achieve it's goals.  DRS for me is more or less a tool enabling the trailing driver who's tyres are not operating in the same window as the driver he's chasing an easy way past.  For DRS to work in the way it is intended (give the chasing driver the opportunity to get alongside his opponent) it must either be scaled based on tyre wear or with a time component, which in reality isn't achievable.  The former for obvious reasons but the latter because of safety, DRS already being restricted to zones for 2013 whereas during Free Practice/Qualifying in 11/12 it had been unlimited.  Unlimited usage had led to some teams/drivers being extremely bold in it's use and so the FIA decided against it.

KERS will be encompassed by the larger ERS for 2014 and so will no longer be a push to pass style system for overtaking / defending like it was initially intended.  The power due to the complexity of managing several systems at once will instead be controlled by the torque (accelerator) pedal effectively creating a 3D map.  This will allow for a graduated release of the power based on throttle position rather than simply lumping an additional 80bhp (or whatever power output they had their rotary set to 0-80bhp) at the driver in one hit.

Another item of moveable aerodynamics that could be once again relevant was tried in 2009 but failed due to DDD's is the adjustable Front Wing flap.  Being able to adjust the AoA (Angle of Attack) of the front wing was seen as a way of decreasing the distance between the following driver and the car he followed.  The increased wake turbulence of the DDD cars meant the adjustable front wing was a flop but with exhaust energy at it's lowest for years (due to the attached Turbo/ERS) and a mandated centreline position it could be trialled again.

Formula One's approach has become systematic of the world we live in where information is available at a frantic pace but often taken out of context or misunderstood.  Many people look back at years gone by through rose tinted glasses, if you actually take the time to watch back racing from decades ago all but a few close fought battles between arch rivals made up the sum total of overtaking manouvres. 

This leads me to the new rule for 2014 offering double points for the season finale in Abu Dhabi, now I'm not sure who cooked up this idea or if it's another smokescreen for a bomb shell that's about to be dropped on the F1 world, however I know it's something the fans of the sport are not happy about.  The idea is to keep the Championship alive toward the end of the season and smacks of involvement from the broadcasters.  When a championship is concluded early the fringe viewers of the sport tend to get disenchanted, this leads to smaller viewing figures and in turn, less revenue.  Double points for the last race in my opinion devalues the races that preceeded it and furthermore is diametrically opposed to the budget cap the sport wants to introduce.  This will incentivise the last race, making it more important to continue development on the car right up until the end of the season.  This comes at a time where a teams development curve is heading downhill as attention turns to the following season.

Underachieving?

2014 brings Formula One to a new precipice in it's evolution, with the 3 engine manufacturer's (Ferrari, Mercedes & Renault) having already spent sordid quantities on money developing the latest and most technologically driven power units to grace the Formula.  Will this change the racing? Yes most definitely, for the better? Who knows but most likely not.  The change to the new V6 units has had vocal derision from some of the leading figures from the start and so if they cannot accept it, it plants a seed of doubt in the audiences mind.  The new power units will sound different to what we have had before but there is nothing else out there like them, they are intrinsically Formula One.  Formula One and it's figureheads like humans in general are not good at accepting change, the same arguments arose when the sport has moved from V12's or V10's in the past to their smaller capacity counterparts.

In terms of digital and social media the sport is a considerable step behind with fans reliant on their countries broadcasters, media and teams to provide meaningful content.  The problem there however is they are hamstrung by the contracts signed with FOM in what they can use.
The expansion of Social Media over the last ten years has been mind blowing and opens doors for communicating information in a totally different way.  I'll admit I'm not a fan of Facebook but admit that Twitter has provided a platform for my own rise as a blogger/writer within the sport.  A visit to F1.com provides you with no obvious statement that the sport engages in Social Media at all with no links to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube etc visible on the front page.
It's staggering to think that a sport of this magnitude doesn't interact with the fans especially when you visit Nascar.com and the first thing you are presented with is a big spread about who to follow on Twitter.  At the base of their page you find the usual buttons taking you to the official Nascar feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.  The same can be said for btcc.net and so many of the other motorsport formula's that I could be here all day.  F1 does have a twitter account but it's basically an RSS feed churning out links to content added on the website.
YouTube is another bone of contention when it comes to F1, as anything related to the sport posted on the site is generally taken down within seconds of it being uploaded.  It's a platform that the sport should embrace and have it's own content on.
Formula One needs to stop hiding in the shadows as a faceless corporation and interact with it's fans, afterall they are the ones that fund the sport.

The sports move to the pay to view model was inevitable, Bernie attempted his own channel many years ago that faded rather fast but modern living has edged us all closer to the pay model since then.  It's not a bad thing as paying for something normally weeds out the less serious amongst us but it certainly doesn't encourage a new audience.  In the UK we are fortunate (at the moment) to have both a pay model (SKY) and terrestrial offering (BBC) and although the latter don't have all the races live, they do show a highlights package after every GP.  I can't speak for other countries but it would appear that Formula Ones viewing figures in the UK have taken a tumble since the pay model was introduced but then viewing habits have also changed.  Life is becoming a succession of sprint races where everything is done at a million miles per hour and so our viewing habits are changing.  3 hours in front of the TV to absorb some of the pre and post show and the race is too much for the casual viewer and so an extended highlights package is perhaps F1 could look at marketing via the internet.  Of course there is also the other end of the scale with obsessives like me who don't feel they get enough access, an online pay model with extensive post race weekend footage would be a most welcome addition.

Formula One's growth over the last few years has been about developing into previously uncovered territories, perhaps now is the time for it to embrace the technology at hand that will develop growth in the regions it already has.

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Written by Matthew 'SomersF1' Somerfield

Formula One is a sport that pushes technological boundaries, with the pace of the changes to the cars as swift as the laptimes. This blog looks to keep you upto speed with these alterations.

10 comments:

  1. Great article! I really liked the part about team spending, budgets, how much you have to put on the table to get to F1 - would love to see some more of that "technical" aspect. Also something about how teams are organized, how many people work on what, what can team do "off the books" etc.

    The part about Social Media is something many people do not see as a problem in F1 and as you said it's a serious problem. SM could be used so much better to make sport more entertaining and gain more viewers. Also more viewers = more sponsors so that may be some teams could stay with us for longer or on bigger level. If even teams like Lotus are struggling for finance there's something you have to do about sponsors and more viewers would attract more sponsors.

    Also you said you do not know how it's looking in other countries. Well let me tell you how F1 is looking in Poland.
    TV coverage of F1 races is free to access it's on the biggest private TV in Poland but it's free TV. The problem is that coverage is only from qualification and race. Coverage is as poor and as cheap as you can get:
    Show starts 15 minutes before the start of the race but there are lot's of commercials since (thank God) they do not run commercials during the race. So only like 5 minutes of talking and some important highlights from Quali or previous races and to the race we go. Race coverage is the same as everyone get directly from F1 but commentary is just so freaking bad. The studio is also bad - there are like 4 people and 3 of them are complete morons that do not know anything about the sport - they are only there because they are somewhat famous in our country and one of that morons comment the race also and is main commentator. It's so painful to watch F1 in Poland - you have no idea.

    So after the race is over you get another 15 minutes of idiots talking and then it's over. Since Kubica left less Poles watch F1 and that's not surprising at all with such bad coverage. It's just a matter of time when they will push F1 to another (less popular) channel in their network, cut the studio out and show just the race like it was around 10 years ago.

    Because of this I must watch bad quality streams online to get BBC or Sky coverage. I can't even pay Sky to get me all their online features since I live in Poland and they do not have the rights to broadcast to Poland which just freaking stupid. So the only option for me are online streams...

    Once more thanks for great article!

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    1. Thanks for the feedback and insight into Polish broadcasting from a fans perspective :)

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    2. Interesting-Though I disagree with many of his thoughts.

      Specifically he complains about over regulation, then argues for the enforcement of pressure and camber settings.

      He does get the fundamentals of spending right, that a testing ban just leads to dollars spent elsewhere. They had a great idea years ago giving the bottom half of the grid extra testing opportunities to encourage parity. The best way to "spice up" the action would

      But like most of the writers in the loop he misses the fact that it is the failure of technology that not only illustrates technology's importance to the sport, but adds the randomness that increases the drama.

      He also dismisses spending caps. If the FIA spent $1-2M per year on "compliance police" for each team I think controlling costs is more than possible. Give these accountants bonuses for uncovering cheating and the program will be incredibly successful

      What about the importance of the driver? Did I read that the new ERS power will be automatically applied because the drivers can't handle the 200HP at the push of a button. If we don't see guys occasionally losing it on corner exit with 50-75% increases in torque I'm going to be flat out pissed. These should be the fastest and the HARDEST cars to drive in the world. The sport should strive to get to a point where a pay driver that's in over his head isn't worth the cash he brings to the team.

      I'm not a fan of allowing purchased chassis. We only have three engine suppliers left, no doubt we'd have at best three cars with in a few years, and if a manufacturer like Mercedes bailed we'd likely have two. Ferrari and someone else (likely McLaren)

      What frustrates me most is that the Euro-superiority of the sport. He's right on the ball with comments about NASCARs superior efforts to create loyalty. I love how F1 has NEVER given credit to Champ-Car for pioneering the requirement of running multiple compounds. Maybe when Bernie finds himself preoccupied with staying out of German Prison some new ideas can come to the front


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    3. sorry...

      The best way to "spice up" the action would-be to allow teams at the back of the grid extra testing sessions

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  2. Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking article. With regard to costs I did notice a news item here in NI that Wrightbus have a new contract to provide UK bus company Firstgroup with 301 MicroHybrid buses and guess what, "the new buses recover braking energy, store it and use it to power pneumatic, electrical and hydraulic systems. These systems would otherwise require power from the engine but, by using the energy harvested from the braking system, it reduces overall fuel consumption by around 10%" - quote from a BBC News website page. Now I do not know what came first - the technology, or F1's use of it, but if the development of the energy recovery system was helped by F1 then perhaps the new energy recovery systems in the 2014 power trains and their potential commercial use on road going vehicles might be something for F1 to shout about from the rooftops?

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  3. Great Article!!

    As an automotive engineer myself, I see the best solution for all the problems is aerodynamics!! All the teams combined are maybe spending 1 billion Euros a year to develop technology which will have no use to road going cars. My suggestion is to have a standard aero package, made by a single entity for all the teams. Like this they will only spend money on other more relevant technologies like electronics, powertrain etc...

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Hi Matt...

    First, great article. Second, what a staggering bunch of great articles! First time I've seen your blog, I was led here by a link from The Judge's page to your article about tea-tray mass damping (having been led to Judge's page by a rather acerbic comment from a punter on Joe Saward's blog) and I found it absolutely fascinating! So I thought I'd have a look at what else you'd written... And here I am, 5 or 6 hours of reading later, taking a much-needed break for some tea and a ciggy, so I thought I'd take a moment to thank you for the excellent work you're doing. I look at quite a few different sites and blogs, and although I enjoy them all, I've always wanted a bit more of the technical stuff and a bit less of Lewis's love life LOL! Now, it appears my prayers are answered. You can be sure that I'll be checking your blog regularly, and that I will be even MORE dull (but terribly well informed) when talking F1 with my slightly less fanatical mates. Nice work, fella.

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    1. Hey Ned

      Nice to have you onboard, apologies for your hours in front of a monitor yesterday ;) Thanks for the feedback too.

      Matt

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    2. No apologies necessary, sir. Now then, let's have a look at FW36...

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