News Wrap, Week 19

It’s been awfully quiet this week on the Formula One exception of two major issues.
The first is, of course, that of the blown diffuser. Part of the problem is that we can never seem to make it through an entire episode without breaking into childish giggles at the very term. And if we thought that was funny, saying that we ‘briefly touched on blown diffusers’ seemed only to amplify the matter. But we’ll get to that later.
I say there are two major issues, but in truth it’s more like one and a half. Team orders aren’t really an issue at all anymore, not since the FIA realised that they could never really police it in the first place. Speaking of which, it’s difficult to ignore the irony in the FIA’s decision to lift the ban came after an incredibly blatant case.
For those of you haven’t been subjected to either our latest podcast, One HD, friends with AUSSIE PROIDE, or the internet in general, let me give you a brief overview of what the deal is.
Cast your minds and/or DeLoreans back to Silverstone. We’re well into the final stints of those running three-stop strategies and Mark Webber – after having one of his trademark leisurely starts – is streaming towards the top three thanks to an aggressive race strategy. He passes Lewis Hamilton easily – Hamilton was reduced to saving fuel for the final 20 laps after a dramatic underestimation of McLaren’s race pace by his engineers – and is harrying teammate Sebastian Vettel in no time.

Webber in control of his own destiny here

Now into the final handful of laps and Webber is trying to use his clearly superior pace to pass the reigning champion, but Vettel does well to hold position. Then, with only two laps to go, the television audience is treated to a sneaky sound clip from Webber’s team radio of Christian Horner imploring Mark to ‘maintain the gap’. In other words, not to pass Vettel. In other words, a team order. In other words, AUSSIE PROIDE WEBBER BEER OUTRAGE, etc.
While team orders are now indeed legal, the ethical/moral implications of the call are a little questionable. In my view, Horner didn’t need to make the call due to a number of reasons. Firstly, he should trust his drivers enough to race safely. Secondly, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel’s stranglehold on the slowly-suffocating championships are so firm that even if both cars were to be written off, their ultimate success is still virtually guaranteed. Thirdly (and most importantly), Horner spent approximately all of last year denouncing Ferrari’s call on team orders, and proclaiming that his drivers were ‘always’ allowed to race (see: Turkey 2010). Moreover, team owner and energy drinks expert The Shiz himself said at the end of last year that he’d rather lose the Drivers’ Championship than enact a team order. Curious.
I can fully respect Horner’s decision, however, and I understand why he made it. The call itself isn’t what’s irritated me ever-so-slightly, it’s more the hypocrisy. Moreover, while it’s true it’s Webber’s own fault for being in such a position after starting on pole, he was clearly faster than Vettel at that point – so why not make it a call of ‘Mark is faster than you’?
You can read the ample content Rob and I have produced over the week on the matter. I’ve considered the place of team orders in modern-day Formula One as well as plottingRed Bull’s coming of age over the past few seasons. Rob’s summed it all up nicely in his British Grand Prix Analysis. Have a read, you might like what we have to say. Unless you’re illiterate, then you might just find the sheer number of written words insulting.
 
Blown Diffusers
It’s interesting to write about a topic that’s now been sorted, but I’m going to do it anyway. Allow me to describe the timeline for you.
First of all, the FIA decided that, come the Spanish Grand Prix, so-called ‘blown diffusers’ would be banned. This is misleading, however, as it’s actually the function of the engine that’ll be subject to the rules, rather than the diffuser itself. It gets a little complicated here.
WARNING: VAGUELY NERDY CONTENT AHEAD.
Before the rule change, when the driver would lift his foot from the accelerator the throttle would remain open. However, the fuel would combust outside of the cylinder, thus the engine produced no thrust and the car would slow down. The purpose was to have a consistent flow of exhaust gas travelling through the exhaust system to blow on the diffuser. The more gas passing over the diffuser, the more downforce there is to be had. The effect was that cars would react more predictably and behave in a more stable manner through the corners, allowing the driver to corner faster. Fairly straightforward, no?
The downside of this is that engine wear is increased, as well as parts of the car becoming rather more hot than usual, occasionally leading to fires. While safety and sustainability may have been part of the FIA’s decision, it had more to do with their interpretation of adjustable aerodynamic aids and the purpose of the engine. They felt that solutions were becoming too exotic and thus the engine mapping had become a way of influencing the car’s aerodynamics, which is banned. Plus, they were worried about how much teams were spending developing such a method.
However, after a number of protests, the FIA moved the date of the ban to the British Grand Prix, with an intermediate rule change for the race in Valencia. Valencia saw a ban on engine mapping become subject to parc fermé conditions, thus unable to be changed after qualifying begins. This was called in to stop teams from running aggressive open throttle maps during qualifying when runs were short (thus limiting the damaging side effects), then switching to milder maps for the race to preserve the engine.
BREATHE AGAIN, THE WORST IS OVER.
While that all went down well, the ban at Silverstone was significantly more complicated. First of all the FIA granted concessions to both Renault- and Mercedes-engined teams on reliability grounds, with neither group of teams being happy with the other’s allowances. However, Charlie Whiting on Saturday morning decided that Renault engines didn’t really need the concessions, so stripped them from the teams running with them. This made Red Bull very cross, and Christian Horner and Adrian Newey were off to what we assume to be a very shouty conversation with the race director. Nothing came of it, however, and they were forced to race under the ban. They came second and third.
The FIA, after seeing the mess they’d caused, suggested that they would reverse their interpretation of the rules upon unanimous agreement amongst the teams that the rules could be rolled back, and that no team would protest this season. This has been achieved, though not without a brief struggle from Ferrari and Sauber.
Read the BBC’s wrap on the blown diffuser row.
You can also read about it in our British Grand Prix Qualifying report.
Alternatively, consider James Allen’s view on the issue.
What’s most curious about this entire saga is the fact that it existed in the first place. It’s quite unusual (though not entirely so) for the FIA create such a comprehensive ban mid-season – especially when the technology was being run throughout the previous year. As we saw with the double diffusers, bans are normally implemented for the following season.

The FIA have made some curious decisions

Moreover, with the FIA privy to each of the teams’ various engine mapping solutions, it should have been evident to them how difficult it would be to apply such a blanket law when so many alternative designs were being run. Mercedes and Renault engines, for example, were using two different methods of achieving exhaust flow, and thus claimed different reliability issues would occur and were subsequently awarded different concessions.
‘Farce’ is a word I’ve already used once this season to describe one of the FIA’s decisions, but I think it’s an appropriate term for this case also. It’s especially so when you consider that it wasn’t just the fans who were confused, but engineers from the most affected teams were unsure throughout most of the weekend as to what they were or weren’t allowed to do.
Now’s usually the point at which most would say that this is somehow hurting the sport’s image. I disagree, however. While it’s irritating and nonsensical – and provides ample fodder to conspiracy theorists who believe it to be merely a method of slowing Red Bull down (coughPeterMcGinleycough) – I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Formula One’s image is being tarnished. Over Bahrain, yes, but the technical side of the sport is generally more likely to intensify the interest of those more deeply interested.
Adam Parr has a similar opinion, and you can read it at autosport.com.
All that said, it’s now been sorted with Formula One returning to the rules as they were for Valencia. Most of the confusion has thankfully been eliminated for the time being, and this technical innovation can continue its reign until the end of the year.
 
In-season testing
Briefly, it’s been noted that Formula One teams are now looking at ways to reintroduce in-season testing for the 2012 season. Despite their opposition when Todt raised the possibility of in-season testing earlier in the year, the teams have since decided to have another think on it, probably with the angle of young driver testing in mind.
As it stands, Formula One teams have four pre-season tests of four days each with no in-season testing. A number of days are also allowed after the conclusion of the final race for the purpose of evaluating young drivers.
Testing was abolished to dramatically cut costs from the 2009 season. Prior to this, Formula One teams would be comprised of two crews – one for race weekends, the other for test days. The teams’ major opposition to in-season testing has been the money, with the smaller teams unable to afford the second arm of team members.
The proposal remains under consideration.
 
Mike Coughlan
And just one final bit of news, it’s coming to light that Mike Coughlan – most famous for his role in the so-called ‘spygate’ scandal of 2007 when he and his wife photocopied piles of Ferrari secret technical data – is being sued by the NASCAR team that employed him during his ‘time away’ from Formula One.
They claim he broke his contract when he left the team to join Williams a short while ago. His contract allegedly ran until the end of next year, whilst he informed them of his termination in April.
Michael Waltrip Racing – the team in question – claims that the expenses needed to hire and train Coughlan’s replacement are hurting it, and are seeking damages for the expenses that went towards Coughlan’s contract, ‘the benefits of which will go unrealised’.
Apparently it costs quite a bit of money to train someone in efficient photocopying procedures.
 
 

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

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