News Wrap, Week 18

It’s been a pretty solid week in Formula One news, and I’ve had just enough spare time/just too little care for my day job in the morning to write proper news-y articles about most of the major happenings.
We’ve seen Williams set up a deal to revive their legendary Renault partnershipHRT’s licence sold off to a previously-bankrupt investment firm and Virgin sign up to a McLaren tie-up worth far more money than anyone thought they had. Each story is fairly big in its own right, but they mean significantly more overall.
What’s wonderful about this week’s news is that it’s really showing some of Formula One’s more shaky teams shore themselves up slightly for next season. I’m willing to include Williams as one of those teams with somewhat cloudy futures, though it does look like they’re on a (slow) turnaround – off the track, at least.
Lotus-Renault-Lotus-Lotus-Team Lotus-(Caterham) made their jump forward towards consolidation at the end of last season. Buying the Team Lotus moniker was amongst a number of clever business moves followed through by Tony Fernandes, who seems to be guiding the young team well through its early years. In just 18 months they’ve survived contract terminations, a court case and a change of engine supplier, and they’re still putting gentle pressure on the midfield to make it through to Q2. It’s only a matter of time until they succeed.

Sir Frank Williams with Bernard Fey

Williams, meanwhile, have made more of a psychological step forward. The once-great team hasn’t won a race since 2004 and, despite their promising end to 2010, their 2011 design has failed to produce the desired results. Although he Renault deal has no necessary performance benefits, it represents a spiritual return to the team’s most successful decade during the 1990s.
With the re-invention of their technical department after Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson leave their posts at the end of the year, the Renault deal gives Williams a chance to rule a line in their history and start afresh. Let’s hope it works.
 
Hot Blowing (and other terms to make Rob James laugh)
Stop giggling, it’s a serious matter. As mentioned countless times in previous weeks, the FIA is set to push through with their ban on so-called ‘hot blowing’ on the diffuser to create downforce. But it’s rather more complicated than this, it seems.
To describe briefly, the concept of the exhaust-blown diffuser keeps the engine throttle open despite the driver taking his foot off the accelerator. The fuel continues to be injected into the engine but is ignited before it enters the cylinder. The exhaust gasses are still created and still pump down through the exhaust pipe and onto the diffuser, but don’t create drive. Yes? Easy.
As for the ban, it seems that Renault and Mercedes have sought exemptions from the ban on grounds of reliability. Both claim that the off-throttle blowing is integral to the design of each of their engines in some way, and that a ban on hot blowing would cause reliability issues. Each engine supplier was awarded their concession – an upgrade from 10% off-throttle power to 50%.
However, it was announced on Saturday that Renault would no longer be eligible for the concession and would have to revert to the 10% allowance originally set to be enforced. Christian Horner marched immediately off to Charlie Whiting to plead his case – we may have to wait until qualifying to discover whether or not he was successful in having his handicap reinstated.
 
Narain Karthikeyan

Karthikeyan – he’s unhappy

Last week we learnt that Narain Karthikeyan would be forced to make way for the Red Bull-funded Daniel Ricciardo for all but the Indian Grand Prix this season. Discounting the Indian’s generally poor showings so far this season, rumours circulated as to why such a sudden decision was made by HRT’s management.
It was discussed by the BBC that the matter may have regarded sponsorship. Tata – the Indian car manufacturer sponsoring Karthikeyan (and subsequently HRT itself) – was allegedly late with their money. Maybe.
Moreover, Karthikeyan supposedly discovered his immediate redundancy via the internet, with HRT only telling him of the developments once the media had been informed of the change. He’s not happy, and it sounds as if he might be looking at a way to pull his Tata funding from the team’s budget, which would be a real blow. But we’ll have to wait to see what happens here…
 
The CFD experiment

Virgin heading in the right direction

In sport you can have quiet successes. Virgin has been quite the opposite – a team in quiet decline. Despite us having a good laugh at HRT for predicting that they’d be overtaking Virgin come midseason, the Spanish outfit has actually done it, though they undoubtedly owe some of their success to Virgin’s mismanagement and recent round of technical sackings. However, realising that they’re in a spot of trouble (thanks to hired consultant Pat Symonds), they’ve splashed out to create a technical share with McLaren and bought WRT outright. Their focus is now on sorting themselves out for next year, becoming the first team to essentially write off their 2011 season entirely.
The most interesting part of the developments over at Virgin is their adoption of decidedly conventional methods of running and developing their team. They entered the sport last year boasting of the powers of CFD technology, declaring that a competitive car could be designed with computing power exclusively. To be clear, all teams make use of CFD, but also rely on data gathered from wind tunnel testing to compliment and validate their models. We saw earlier in the year how important the wind tunnel is in the case of Ferrari – they had a scale problem with their wind tunnel set up and their performance and development suffered for the first third of the season as a result.
Virgin have decided that their experiment should end this season and will next season make use of McLaren’s facilities in a historic deal for the faux-Russian team. Not only that, but they’ll get some McLaren boffins sitting in on their operations. It’s exciting stuff, but the pressure’s on now to produce some proper results next season and jump off the bottom of the championship standings.
Read the full story here.
 
Hispania Pizza Racing
Okay, I’ll be honest. The most exciting part of this story, for me, is that HRT are now owned by an investment firm that also owns Spain’s biggest pizza chain.

It’s not that cool, in my opinion

But that’s not entirely fair. It’s a big deal for the team, not least because they’re still a totally Spanish team, which is something they were quite proud of when they kicked off their squad last year.
Rob and I were bold/stupid enough to suggest we might see Hispania fold come the mid-season break. True, this could still happen (and we can pretend that the sale represents as much), but it looks like they too are finally taking that important step off the bottom rung, even if it does mean sharing a previously bankrupt investment company’s portfolio space along with a Spanish pizza chain. Beggars and choosers, and whatnot.
What’s more is that they now look to have a future considerably more secure than it was when former team owner Jose Ramon Carabante was at the helm. Now that the finances will hopefully be out of the way, HRT may be able to focus on producing some results that doesn’t make Spain’s motorsport governing body hang its head in shame. Maybe. Even if it’s at the expense of becoming STR MkII and train up Red Bull’s junior drivers.
Read the full story here.
 

 You can follow me on twitter, if you have nothing better to do: @MichaelLamonato 

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