Technology

A new dawn approaches…

It appears with breaking news this evening that Bernie Ecclestone, the FOM chairman and CEO of Formula One has been removed from his post effective immediately.

With the aquisition of the Liberty Media group in it’s final stages, it was clear that a shift in the heirarchy of the paddock walls was going to change.

Liberty Media are a company well versed in sports management and broadcasting, making them a great fit into the fold of F1 despite not having any prior experience of the sport to begin with.

Many are quick to point that fact out and hold, what almost feels like resentment towards the new owners despite not really knowing anything about them.

Some even think that the buyout of F1 is nothing more than another investment to create a cashcow.

This is not the case, because of what Liberty are as a company, their investment now rests on the sport to be successful, in all areas. Only then will they see return on their $8bn purchase of F1.

Rumours have been rife for months about the potential plans Liberty are plotting, yet none have been proven to be truthful thus far.

However, it has been pointed out in the last week that CEO Greg Maffei has made comments about how Ferrari recieve too much prize money for their participation in F1, this will no doubt cause feathers to be ruffled in Maranello. 

But, this is a signal of intent by the new owners, Bernie is now no longer the go to guy to help get deals through in their favour. 

This postering by Liberty is a power play that is clearly showing they have intentions and are willing to put them into action, however this could well yet take a while as the current concorde agreement which binds the teams to F1 still has until 2020 to expire.

However, when the time comes, radical changes will no doubt be in the pipeline to be made part of the championship in the future. 

Whatever the future may hold for the F1 world championship, It is now in a pair of hands that will do what’s best for the sport. 

I certainly look forward to what they’ll bring to the table. 

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The Final Push

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

With the european season is now over as Formula One begins it’s final third of the season, teams will be preparing for the final push, the onslaught of seven more races from the bright night lights of Singapore right through to the heat of the desert for the grand finale in Abu Dhabi.

Just two points now separate title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the championship standings, the closest it’s been for a very long time. Both drivers will be looking across the garage at each other knowing that one mistake, one reliability issue or one clash could end their respective title bids, but do not expect they’ll give each other any quarter to claim the grand prize.

The fight behind the warring silver arrows couldn’t more alive, Red Bull have really pushed on in 2016 by taking on the mught of Ferrari and beating them. With Max Verstappen taking victory in Spain ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo’s pole position and near Monaco victory, Ferrari still have not managed to record neither a victory or pole position through major inconsistancies much Sebastian Vettel’s dismay.

The fight for second place will get more intense as each race gets crossed off the list, despite the big prize being out of reach, pride is on the line for both Red Bull and Ferrari. Neither will back down without a fight with just 11 points between them, so don’t expect niceties, expect a dogfight to the bitter end.

Same could be said for the fight for fourth place in the constructors between Williams and Force India, both teams are  performing valiantly for their much more smaller outfits compared to those ahead of them. There is no telling who may come out on top of this fight with them both being so evenly matched. Just three points lie between the two privateers, so every position & overtake matters greatly.

McLaren-Honda recently pinched sixth place from Toro Rosso and with their recent upgrades taking to great effect with both chassis and their power unit. Despite Jenson Button’s recently announced sabbatical and the always fired up Fernando Alonso relishing a fight, it could be a tall order for the junior Red Bull squad to take it back. With no power upgrades available to them and just chassis improvements the only weapon in their arsenal, it’ll no doubt make their efforts more tricky.

The criticism that Renault have faced all season for their results has been quite unfounded, the car was what was leftover from the very underfunded and deeply in debt Lotus team last season. With only six points to their name so far in 2016, it may seem from the outset they’ve had very poor season for a manufacturer, but don’t be fooled, with both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen always pushing to prove their critics wrong, I’d be wary of what the results that could be possible. 

Locked in a fight for that coveted tenth place in the constructors standings, Manor and Sauber are pushing like crazy to beat each other. Manor hold the high ground having scored a crucial single point with Pascal Wehrlein in Austria, while the swiss outfit have struggled all season long with financial woes that have hampered much of their intended progress, there are still seven races that could throw a surprise result in either teams favour, so don’t the fight isn’t over yet. 

While all of the teams have now converted their full focus to the new chassis regulations of the 2017 season that lies ahead, updates that were pre-planned are still filtering through. Despite this the pecking order we see won’t change dramatically if at all, what we will see is the gladiatorial clashes of that will keep us on the edge of our seats.

With still plenty to fight for regardless of their positions whether it’s the prized world title or the pride of a top ten finish, this season is far from over, I expect the final third of the season to showcase the best of what Formula One always has to offer. 

Let’s Race!

Push It To The Limit

Photo: Williams Martini Racing

One of the most heated debates in Formula One of recent years has been that of track limits. In the past if a driver made a mistake or pushed the limits just that 1% further than the car will manage, they were punished with a trip to the outer limits of grass, gravel and in many cases; the wall.

With the implentation of numerous run off areas over the last decade on most of the circuits that Formula One now travels to, drivers exceeding track limits has now become a chronic issue that is bothering the drivers but mostly, the fans.

Racing drivers are trained to go as fast as possible, to utilise every inch of a racetrack to find the fastest way around it to beat their opponents and that’s what we love so much about them, but give them that inch and they’ll try to take a mile.

Safety

I’ve been asked by some fans over the years “Why do we have these run offs?” As it is with most decisions in Formula One, safety is the number one priority. The idea of creating run offs was to allow a smooth surface for cars to slide on in the event of an accident, as it was deemed gravel could cause a car to flip and perhaps cause more harm.

An example of this is Mark Webber’s accident at Valencia in 2010, despite the fact he did walk away with no physical injuries, had a gravel trap been at least half way in the run off, he may never of reach the tyre barrier in such a violent fashion, however that is mere speculation.

Motorbike riders are also having an issue with this scenario all now for a different reason, with the tragic loss of Moto2 rider Luis Salom at the Catalan Grand Prix earlier in this year, run off areas and track safety are being scrutinised even further in the name of safety.

A lot of circuits that Formula One travels too often have some motorbike action at other points of the year which can often make designing precautions to cater for both very difficult. Bike riders dislike run offs because of they come off the bike and slide, the friction caused by the slide can often burn through their leathers and cause burns, or in Salom’s case a lack of deceleration before colliding with the wall close to the track.

The current modern view is that gravel & grass are deemed as dangerous because of how a car could dig in and perhaps do more harm than good in the event of a violent accident.

Two examples come to my mind when I think about this debate, one of which is at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix Fernando Alonso collided with Estaban Guttierez in the turn three braking zone, as Alonso reached the gravel trap the car pitched into a roll and came to a stop after barrel rolling and a flip. Alonso climbed out of the car and walked away despite finding later he had a few fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Had that of been a run off, would he have scrubbed enough speed before the wall in a similar fashion to Webber’s Valencia crash? Hard to say. But the gravel trap certainly did it’s job.

My second example falls to Jack Miller from MotoGP, at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix during the sunday early morning warm up session, as he exited turn seven he rode the kerb on the inside and it unsettled the bike and caused him to lowside at quite high speed. The gravel trap on the exit helped dissipate the speed he was carrying albeit bouncing his way through it, but again despite a few minor injuries he managed to survive, had it of been a run off he could well of ended up in the wall, something we don’t want to see again after Luis Salom’s tragic incident in Barcelona.

Getting the Balance Right

Fans around the world know that the white lines in any sport is the difference between in or out. Whether it’s a football in a goal or a try in rugby, so fans are asking; Why in Formula One are we having this issue?

The white lines either side of the circuit define the race track, it’s very simple, so when a driver decides to take all four wheels off of the circuit they should be punished for taking the car beyond the defined race track.

Currently there are being placed on specific kerbs at corners where they deem an advantage can be made. Is this the correct answer? I don’t feel it is. The looming threat of a 10 second penalty in the race is no match versus the possible cost of retirement.

I personally would allow a run off that it is just one quarter of the car’s width on every corner exit, followed by grass and gravel, this way there can a tiny room for error, but push any harder whether defending or attacking a position, or if your going for pole position in qualifying, you get punished.

Many would argue on the safety front and while I agree to a certain extent, these drivers get in these cars knowing they may not get out again, so we should them as such with the right balance between safety and common sense, driver skill must prevail above all else.

Powering Into The Future

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Recently Mercedes executive technical director Paddy Lowe stated that with the current power unit regulations ending in 2020, discussions should begin on what will power our formula into the next decade.

Plenty of fans since 2014 have spoken out on their displeasure with current 1.6 hybrid V6 turbo era because of the lack of the high screaming pitch that had become so accustomed to the nature of the sport.

Yet despite all of this this we’re seeing the evolution of the fastest power unit the sport has ever seen, with the first iterations of these in 2014 showing not much more than around 750-800 horsepower. Heading into 2017 with no development tokens to hold them back, the fourth evolution could well take us past the 1000 horsepower barrier, in just four years a rough estimate of a 200 horsepower gain is incredible.

But alas, the current units are extremely technical and is alienating some of the fanbase who can’t understand the technology and are often finding that they don’t give the same thrill the old engines once did because of the noise generated. 

So how do we power into the future? 

With a move away from the current power unit the most likely scenario, the biggest question is; what will be the next power plant in the back of these cars?

A move back to the 3 litre V10s of old as some of the fanbase have called for is almost out of the question, the world markets and manufacturers are quickly steering away from such units as they are just simply to fuel thirsty. The V10 would run at nearly 190kg of fuel per hour, this versus the current V6 hybrid turbo running at 100kg per hour and producing the same power now if not more so, it would appear that progression of efficiency has clearly made the V10 now a cast into shadows of history in the technology stakes.

How about a move to an even smaller unit similar to that of the LMP1 Porsche 919? A 2 litre V4 block with a hybrid system that still as a package produces 1000 horsepower? A world away from a normally aspirated V10 sure, but it certainly would be an idea put forward by the manufacturers to allow the V4 to be the I.C.E (Internal Combustion Engine) and perhaps allow a the hybrid system to have a massive development window to increase the electrical power output. 

This might be more difficult to achieve in terms of technicality and with fans being put off already by some high tech being put out there, it might be a path the FIA may not want to adopt.

How about sticking with the 1.6 litre V6 format? It’s certainly not the most popular choice, but with the continuation of any regulation set will always sees the performance gap shrink, so why steer away again at possibly a great cost to again move to a different power unit? 

With 1000 horsepower, the removal of the development token system and the 30% fuel efficiency that has been achieved, it ticks all the boxes for manufacturers to continue down this path, but with some fans who still haven’t quite bought into the concept it might be hard to convince them that this is the way forward. 

The most common suggestion that has been put forward is to bring back the 2.4 litre V8 engine, but with perhaps a version of the current hybrid system attached including the turbo. While some of the technical aspects would remain because of the hybrid systems attached, a V8 ICE is something the teams know very well and would be easy to work with.

Fans want to hear the scream of an engine that makes their hairs stand on end and rightly so, the hybrid setup will give the power unit a very different scream because of the energy recovery systems at work, but no doubt it would satisfy fans as well as keeping manufacturers interested in sticking around. 

The tricky task would be efficiency, the V8 was roughly consuming 130kg/ph on fuel, to get back towards the 100kg/ph limit we have now would be a task for the manufacturers to work on, but no doubt they would be up to it; perhaps maybe even decrease the displacement to 2 litres  could help with this?

Parity With The Rules

With Paddy Lowe making the suggestions we should start talking about it makes perfect sense. When discussions started for the current era of power units back in 2011 there was a lot of things that just haven’t succeeded in the way they were intended, with limited power units and the early frozen development on a regulation set so new really hasn’t worked out.

To get discussions underway with 4 seasons remaining makes great sense, decide the unit, get the rules and regulations fixed fairly at a reasonable cost, all of this with some wiggle room for development without complete restriction would certainly please many in being prepared for the coming change.

It’s going to be a long way until 2021, but it all starts somewhere and I don’t think many would disagree with Paddy’s suggestion to start discussing it all now, I know I don’t.

Allison Parts Ways With Ferrari

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

As I wrote last week, there was mounting speculation that James Allison was leaving his post with Ferrari to move back to the UK. An announcement was made by Ferrari today that this was now confirmed.

Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene said “The Team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavors.

James Allison also made a statement in which he said “During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it. I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”

It is unclear the long term goals that Ferrari may now have, but they have announced that Mattia Binotto will take over the Chief Technical Officer position within the team.

This is probably not a massive surprise to Ferrari, however this will still no doubt have be a shock to the team in the long run; especially as this stage of the season the massive upward turn in development towards the 2017 regulations will be taking place.

Alongside this story is the talk of an apparently unhappy Sebastian Vettel. With Allison leaving the team it will no doubt unsettle Vettel about the long term ambitions of the team and how they will move forward with the new regulations.

Allison’s long term future plans are unknown and I wouldn’t like to speculate as to his possible ventures, but after a devastating year for him and his family, I hope you’ll join me in wishing him well for his future.

Ferrari’s Engineering Dilemma

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari.

Heading into the 2016 season, Ferrari were very keen to dish out the battle cries in the hope of hunting down the all dominant Mercedes team. A management reshuffle saw Maurizio Arrivabene replacing Marco Mattiaci in becoming team principal and Jock Clear finally arrived from Mercedes to help run the technical team, so the signs were looking good for the Scuderia that they were going to live up to their own expectations.

Since the opening Australian Grand Prix in March at least two victories have clearly slipped through their fingers as well as many other good results through poor strategy calls and unreliability; it’s clear that whatever the plan was, it hasn’t been executed properly or was missing certain details in the run up to the season.

Unfortunately after the opening race James Allison’s wife Rebecca passed away very suddenly and he immediately flew home to be with his family, he did return to work not long after, but it is understood that he is due to leave the team to return to work in the UK to be closer to his family.

Jock Clear could very take over engineering operations for the short term until a long term option is found; but the question turns to who do Ferrari turn too?

It’s been no secret Arrivabene has been in talks with former technical director Ross Brawn, one of the great architects of Ferrari’s dominance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The talks involved a chance for Brawn to perhaps return to the team in some capacity, even possibly as a consultant, but Brawn has turned down the opportunity.

Ross Brawn has been in retirement since leaving Mercedes at the end of 2013 and hasn’t looked back to Formula One since enjoying his exploits (which include fishing among other activities). Brawn recently made a public appearance at the Goodwood festival of speed, he stated in an interview with SkyF1’s Martin Brundle with regards to a potential comeback. “Never say never about any of those sort of things, but I’m quite content doing what I’m doing and nothing has come along that I would be motivated and interested in.”

So who could Ferrari get for the long term?

James Key, current technical director at Toro Rosso is a well renowned technical expert in the F1 paddock and could well want to take on such a huge project with the Scuderia. However, Red Bull are keen not to let him leave, potentially grooming him to replace Adrian Newey if and when he decides to leave the Red Bull team.

Paddy Lowe is very well bed in to the Mercedes team and has been one of the most involved with the creation of the current Mercedes package that has been on top of F1 since 2014. Could Ferrari attempt to prise him away from the German squad for a new challenge? It’s a highly unlikely scenario, but in the world of Formula One, nothing is impossible.

Whomever Ferrari bring in will surely have a huge challenge on their hands on all fronts, whether it’s the technical side or the management side, they must be prepared to get stuck in and succeed as it’s clear Ferrari are not willing to put up with the poor results any longer.

Alonso Crashes in Barcelona Test

Today on the last day of the first test in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren left the circuit exiting turn 3 and hit the inside wall, he came to a rest just before Turn 4.

He was airlifted to hospital after his crash as his G-Meter sensor in the car had been activated. Fernando was conscious and talking with trackside doctors before his visit to the hospital. A further CT scan revealed he has suffered no injuries, but will spend a precautionary night in hospital.

Any driver has to go to hospital if this sensor is activated to ensure they are checked over after any crash.

McLaren had been experiencing MGU-K issues with the car prior to this accident, no official reports have been made public as to the cause of this crash, but Sebastian Vettel following Alonso on circuit said “The speed was slow – maybe 150kph,” “Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange.”

We still await news on what caused the crash, but I’m sure you’ll all be glad that Fernando is doing well.