Daily #F1 News and Comment: Friday 28th March 2014
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FIA offensive on fuel flow sensors UPDATED GMT 12:44 and 13:45
Free Practice 1 and 2
A somewhat unremarkable first practice was summed up in this report earlier by TJ13’s Adam Macdonald.
FP2 – There is hope yet
An eye-wateringly early start for those in the UK and a late night for those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean FP2 got under way with a more murky sky in the Sepang afternoon. The news immediately filtered through of Kamui Kobayashi who would not take any part in the session due to a problem with the electronics. A loss of track time the green team could ill afford after Marussia took the early lead in the World Constructors’ Championship.
Romain Grosjean graced the track with his presence for some early running after only a handful of laps earlier in the day. Super Max Chilton managed to beach himself at turn 3, after losing the rear end as he exited the second corner a mere 5 minutes into the session. This proved to be the end of the session for the man from Reigate.
Jenson Button was next to put his car through its paces going 1.560 seconds quicker even with yellow flags still waving for the stricken Marussia, immediately followed by Hulkenberg who went quicker with a 1:42.293 lap. Jean-Eric Vergne had looked to be set for the top spot before a spin at turn 15 once again demonstrating the lack of grip out there. Valtteri Bottas then went fastest a half second quicker than the 2009 World Champion.
We were treated to many an image of drivers locking their wheels as they struggled with their respective braking systems. Alonso and Hamilton went 1 and 2 as the only drivers into the 1:40s. Bernie Ecclestone was given the perfect platform to complain about the noise of the cars as he was interviewed by Ted Kravitz. He may struggle getting through doors, but his wit is every bit as sharp as ever as the man from Suffolk spoke regarding the engine noise, “if we could get it up a little more…I wish I could get it up.”
A short lull occurred before the field bolted on the option tyre, which for this weekend is the medium tyre compound. The fresh rubber was instantly quicker with Rosberg going 2 tenths quicker than Felipe Massa, with his teammate failing to go quicker. The German driver was the first and so far only driver to make it into the 1:39s for the weekend. Kimi Raikkonen then followed up on his strong FP1 showing by splitting the Silver Arrows 0.035 short of Rosberg.
The Red Bulls continued to be slow through the first and third sectors, but was extremely quick through the tight and twisty second sector. Vettel set the fastest middle sector demonstrating the high downforce of the RB10, even if it is down on power. Any who doubted the Milton Keynes team were soon silenced when Vettel went third with a time 0.61s down on Rosberg.
With 40 minutes left the teams switched focus onto the long runs in preparation for Sunday. Once again, the Lotus of Romain Grosjean required more work on it restricting the running for the Frenchman before he made it out, only to park up with a gearbox issue stuck in 2nd gear. With Maldonado not even setting a time in FP2, his mechanics reportedly retreated to the paddock knowing that the chances of Pastor making it out on track were slim and none.
I’ll leave the analysis of these runs to Dr James Beck in his F1 Forensics piece later. A late run out for Chilton was short and sweet due to wobbly wheels on his Marussia and Ricciardo took a trip through the gravel at 11, as the rest completed their programmes with no real drama.
A more stable Ferrari looks more competitive and perhaps able to challenge the Mercedes’, with the Red Bulls being very kind to their option tyres; unlike anyone else in the field they were able to set a faster flying lap on their second run on the rubber. As they speculated to on the SKYF1 coverage, maybe having the week off in between Melbourne and Sepang was the correct decision.
It all appears to shaping up very nicely for another cracker of a Grand Prix weekend. It seems like Mother’s Day could be an F1 dominated affair for many.
Ecclestone’s not quite “Not Guilty”
Formula One boss – Bernie Ecclestone – has been ordered to pay half of his £8.5m in legal fees despite winning a High Court fight with German media company Constantin Median.
Mr Justice Newey said the 83 year old had to pay a price for giving “untruthful evidence” and ruled Constantin Medien paid half of his legal bills and he settled the remainder.
In February the case had been brought to High Court because Constantin Media argued they had lost out after Ecclestone entered into a “corrupt agreement” with CVC Capital Partners.
The German organisation had an interest in the 2006 sale – of a stake in F1 – which belonged to the German bank Bayern LB. This was bought by CVC Capital following orchestrated moves by Ecclestone and were seeking £85m in compensation.
Their lawyers claimed the sale was agreed for an undervalued price and “without normal and proper process”. However Mr Justice Newey rejected the damages claim because it had been ‘no part‘ of Ecclestone’s plan for shares to be sold “undervalued”
Ecclestone confirmed he had paid Mr Gerhard Gribkowsky £10m because of a threatened blackmail attempt but the judge rejected this. Mr Justice Newey found that the payment had been made to facilitate the sale to a pre-chosen buyer.
In a follow-up hearing at the High Court, Mr Justice Newey had been asked to decide who should pay the lawyers’ fees. Despite it being an accepted rule that losers paid the winning party’s legal fees, the Judge decided this would not apply in ‘Mr Ecclestone’s case’.
The German company’s lawyer called Ecclestone’s legal bill of £8.5m as a “fantastic figure” and Ecclestone’s lawyer agreed the overall costs were high but not that high “for commercial litigation.”
Some of the evidence given by Ecclestone was described as “unsatisfactory… even making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.”
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A familiar face
Following his exit from the BBC at the end of last season, one technical analyst doesn’t seem to be missing his former role too much making an appearance in NBCSN’s Paddock Pass, hosted by Will Buxton. I don’t suppose he’ll be making any guest appearances for the beeb this year.
Kobayashi worried about ‘submarining’ noses (GMM)
Kamui Kobayashi has confirmed he is worried about the safety of this year’s low nose designs. Before the season began, Red Bull designer Adrian Newey expressed concern about the new, low front noses, arguing not only that they are ugly, but they might also be dangerous.
The reduced height minimizes the risk of cars being launched into the air, but “I am concerned the opposite may now happen, that cars now (will) submarine effectively,” the Briton had said.
Indeed, alarming images of the crash involving Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa at the first corner in Melbourne subsequently emerged, showing the front of Kobayashi’s Caterham ‘submarining’ under the diffuser of Massa’s Williams. “It was a very serious problem,” Japanese Kobayashi was quoted in Malaysia by Brazil’s Globo, “and it can be very dangerous for drivers. I think I was lucky not to be hurt — if it had happened at Monza, the outcome could have been different.”
“We need to seriously discuss what happened,” he continued, “because the design of the noses was changed just for safety. If they are more dangerous, then I think we need to talk again about what we need to change in the regulations.”
Predicting 2014 winner like ‘winning lottery’ – Alesi (GMM)
It is almost impossible to predict the outcome of this year’s world championship. That is the view of former F1 driver Jean Alesi, who thinks the pecking order in the sport’s all-new turbo V6 era is not as clear as it currently appears.
“I think it is easier to win the lottery than say who will win this season,” the popular Frenchman told L’Equipe sports daily.
Mercedes is undoubtedly the clear title favourite based on winter testing and the results in Australia. But Alesi insisted: “It will take more than three grands prix to determine which car is the most reliable. Today, the engines are playing a more important role than the chassis, when in previous years it was the opposite. I feel that for the moment Mercedes has the best engine, but it is very difficult to say more than that. For the drivers, I think it will be between Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen, but – again – nothing is certain,” Alesi added.
The 49-year-old former Ferrari and Sauber driver is sure, however, that 2014 will be an exciting season.
“Yes, because we see very clearly that no team is really ready today,” said Alesi. “Even Mercedes had the technical problem with Lewis Hamilton after only a few laps in Melbourne. So nothing is certain.”
<Red Bull’s fuel flow problems continue in Malaysia (GMM)
The ‘fuel flow’ saga is continuing in Malaysia.
The Times newspaper reports that, after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification in Melbourne, Red Bull spent over $130,000 on five brand new FIA-mandated Gill sensors for the Sepang race. “We are not taking any chances and we have gone out independently and bought sensors so we know that we will have at least one that works properly,” a team source said.
Red Bull has appealed Ricciardo’s exclusion, and last week at Milton Keynes FIA figures had been invited to inspect the sensors the reigning world champions claim were faulty in Australia. But the trouble hasn’t stopped there. Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that, during the first practice session at Sepang, Ricciardo’s RB10 once again struck fuel flow sensor problems. And correspondent Michael Schmidt said the similarly Renault-powered sister team Toro Rosso also had problems getting a signal from the sensors.
A new sensor – costing $26,000 at full calibration – was fitted to Ricciardo’s car for second practice. “So much for saving money,” Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko bluntly observed.
More serious, however, is the risk of further disqualifications. What will Red Bull do now if, as in Melbourne, the FIA asks the team to reduce the Renault engine’s fuel flow? “I don’t know,” team boss Christian Horner answered. “Maybe two sensors should be installed in different places, and the average value should be read in order to reduce the risk of incorrect measurements.”
McLaren struggle with tyre wear
The predicted topsy turvey nature of F1’s pecking order during the first half of the season appears to be coming to fruition. McLaren who had an excellent outing in Melbourne finishing 2nd and 3rd maybe struggling in Sepang.
McLaren have been busy redesigning the MP4-29 ‘nose-box’ and front wing which has a more box like appearance, attempting to increase airflow under the bottom of the car.
But while encouraged by the early signs from the upgrade, Button confessed that the MP4-29, amid sweltering Friday conditions at Sepang, had simply lacked pace in the high-speed corners after he finished Practice Two down in eighth position.
“I think they [the changes] probably have improved [the car], yes, The guys did a great job getting those parts out here, it’s always very difficult especially when you’ve got to crash test them,”
With track temperatures topping 50 degrees in FP2, Jenson Button admitted, “We’re finding it tough out there today – especially in the heat. “We’re not as strong as we’d like to be in high-speed corners – and, when you have downforce issues, they’re further amplified by the hot weather. So our long runs were tricky – in terms of both tyre degradation and outright pace.
We’re now going through the data, but the upgrades we brought here seem to be giving us something – so that’s encouraging – but there’s a lot of work still to be done.
I’m sure people are getting excited about individual lap-times, but they don’t count for too much around here because you can usually overtake. It’s the long runs that you need to analyse, and that’s where we’re finding it a bit more difficult.”
By contrast, the Red Bull was lightning through sector 2’s high speed curves, though down the straights was up to a second off the pace of the fastest cars through the speed gun.
Ominously, the tyre wear on the world champions car appears to be significantly less than that on the Mercedes runners. So it could be a 4-5 stop race for Mercedes and McLaren, and just 3 for Red Bull – now that might put the cat amongst the pigeons.
2014 Tyres become a factor
We heard very little in Australia about the tyres and degradation, as the focus was upon how many cars would finish the race. With reliability less problematic than expected – except for Renault teams – the focus of the team’s analysis is shifting more towards the tyres and how they perform.
One of the most positive results of the new regulations was to see the Ferrari out on track in FP1 within a minute of the light going green at the end of the pit lane. The extra set of the harder tyre issued this year for this session is tempting the bigger teams to get on with proceedings rather than sit in the garage and wait for the first 30 minutes to pass.
Sepang has asphalt which is very abrasive and the event is mostly run with extremely high track temperatures which cause thermal degradation, so inevitably tyres would come to the fore in the attentions of the teams.
Pirelli’s Paul Hembery commented, “As was the case in Australia we’ve seen fewer marbles out on track, but what was surprising was the amount of pick-up that we found on the circuit during FP1, with plenty of non-F1 rubber already laid down on the track”.
The completely revise P-Zero Orange tyre, took to the track in anger for the first time this season, and there appears to be a performance gap of around 1 to 1.2 seconds between it and the medium tyre.
If the temperatures remain high, Hembery believes this gap will remain fairly constant, however should cooler sessions arrive, “we would expect the medium tyre to come more into its own. But we’re still at an early point in the cycle of car development, so for everyone it’s going to be a question of very carefully analysing the data that was obtained today when it comes to formulating a strategy. It can rain at any point in Malaysia, and that’s another factor to consider in preparing for the race.”
A snap shot of the pace the teams were capable of delivering over the long runs gives us some insight into how they may perform in the race, though Dr. James Beck analysis will dig into this further.
Average lap times over the run
The tyre stats are as follows
- Hamilton 1:40:691 Hard Used
- Raikkonen 1:40:843 Hard New
- Rosberg 1:41:028 Hard Used
- Rosberg 1:39:909 Medium New
- Raikkonen 1:39:944 Medium New
- Vettel 1:39:970 Medium New
Highest number of laps on the medium tyre was 20 and on the hard tyre 21.
Kimi Raikkonen was a lot more positive today, and appeared to have the better outright pace of the 2 Ferrari’s, though Alonso’s longer runs were marginally quicker.
“This was definitely a positive day and I had a better feeling compared to Friday in Melbourne,” said the Finn, “I was more comfortable with the car today… the handling seemed to be good.”
We are still having some small issues and therefore we were not able to maximise everything today,” Rosberg said. “The quickest teams seem to be closer together than in Australia, so we still have work to do overnight to improve our level of performance.”
FIA offensive on fuel flow sensors
The FIA and Charlie Whiting have made an almost unprecedented move and provided an instructional briefing for the media on the issue of fuel flow sensors. Clearly Red Bull’s attempt to rubbish these devices in the media and possibly see the fuel flow rate restrictions abandoned is something the FIA are refusing to contemplate.
Fabrice Lom of the FIA took to the stage with whiteboard and pen in hand, to explain the reason for fuel flow restrictions and the nature of the difficulty they have been experiencing with the sensors.
Lom is the FIA’s specialist on powertrains and interestingly an ex-Renault employee. An experienced paddock commentator found it necessary to observe that Lom’s parting from his former employer had not been sweetness and light.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the performance of the sensors so far, Lom said, “I’m an unsatisfied person by definition, that is how you make progress. But with this sensor we do a better job than without, better than any other we know about.”
To the accuracy of the sensors, Fabrice Lom is adamant. “We accept plus or minus 0.5 per cent [accuracy]. A lot of them are much better than this, and little by little we will get it down as the target is 0.25 per cent.”
The FIA have claimed the devices provided by Gill sensors will last for 100 hours without requiring further calibration, and they are certain that the readings are consistent until the part fails.
Charlie Whiting has explained, “The first time the sensor is used, you know immediately that something is wrong with it. Why is a separate matter. But there is never any question – if it is working correctly it is always accurate. That is what we have found so far. Sometimes there is a bit of a hiccup. You don’t know why it has died yet, but you know immediately [that it has failed]. And it is very obvious.”
Disappointingly, one female BBC presenter attending the briefing and whose gravitas is questionable anyway, tweeted, “Wow, #F1 is confusing this season but the FIA have done their best to clarify what the rules are and now sensors work.My head’s reeling from the technical jargon & white-board, a bit like being back at school. Some there having a sensor-humour failure! #F1”.
Of course the gossip in the paddock is interesting, and TJ13 reports more than its fair share, yet we expect those employed in the media specialising in F1 to at least attempt to promote the sport in a positive manner, rather than infer it is now a spectacle for boffins and scientists only.
The reason the measurement and restriction of the fuel flow is critical to the FIA’s new engine regulations, is that it prevents the development of the new power trains heading off in the realms of periods of excessive fuel burning, and the even more irrelevant mapping of the engines as we have seen in recent years. Though today Horner reveals today that he believes the fuel flow restriction should be dropped altogether.
“We need a better way of measuring and monitoring the fuel – or get rid of it totally and say you have 100kg, that is your lot. That would be the easiest for the FIA and the teams because the fuel flow restriction would only be qualifying, as you could not go to stupid revs in the race because you have that [100kg] limitation of fuel.”
TJ13 observed last week, there may be more to the appeal than just getting Ricciardo’s 2nd place reinstated, which Horner has finally admitted. It appears Renault do have a vested interest in being able to consume fuel at a higher rate than currently legislated for because when Remi Taffin was questioned about engine noise, his response suggested it could be improved with more revs and higher fuel flows – a tad obvious maybe?
We heard a lot from Red Bull about safety with regard to the Pirelli 2013 tyres mark I, and the FIA are taking a similar position on fuel flow. Lom explains, “Engineers are engineers, so if you have 100kg for the race, you try to be the fastest for the race. If you have no fuel flow limit, the fastest thing is to use a huge boost at the beginning of the straight and then lift off.
There will be huge and very dangerous differences of speed [between cars] on the same lap, with a driving style that is not really F1″. This style of driving is more typical of Le Mans style racing, however the FIA have regulated the same Gill sensors be used in that series this year. Lom adds, “we also put a limit on it for Le Mans because we were really afraid of this type of driving.”
Red Bull are claiming that there is nothing in F1’s regulations that demands the fuel-flow limit of 100kg per hour is measured by the FIA’s homologated fuel-flow sensor. There was a technical directive issued on March 1 which states all measurements will be taken by the Gill sensor, and Horner’s view is that this document contains only the opinion of Whiting and holds no regulatory value.
Charlie is having none of it and re-stated today, “Article 5.10 makes it quite clear in my view that the only way the fuel flow will be measured is with the homologated sensor. As you know, Gill is the only sensor that is homologated by the FIA. To me it is perfectly clear.”
The FIA today have pretty much indicated it will be their way or the highway over the fuel flow sensor issue, and that Red Bull have no chance of winning their appeal against their DQ in Australia. Even Christian Horner appears more conciliatory on the subject stating the sensors whilst inferior at present, require improvement. “We need to work with the FIA to find a better solution because there is so much hanging on it. At this level, it’s not good enough.”
Yet for now, this appears to be an issue on which Red Bull are choosing to be highly vocal, whilst others are saying little publicly.
It has been interesting though to see the more engaged members of the paddock media begin to understand the reasons behind the fuel flow regulations and accept it is crucial for the FIA to deliver engine development focused around the electric aspects of the powertrain.
Sebastian Vettel’s crass comments that ‘batteries belong in mobile phones’ appear most ill advised and set him at odds against a force which is far greater than he. And when you consider that the total investment in the V6 turbo’s is in excess of $750m. There is no turning back, whatever Marko or Vettel have to say.
Lom makes it clear the FIA will stand by their responsibility to enforce fuel flow. “Our role is fair regulation. It seeks to create and enforce rules which can apply fairly to all 11 teams, not individual exceptions, they feel that they have a strong case and the other teams hope that the FIA prevails otherwise rule enforcement could get like the Wild West”.
As has been proven with the issue of engine noise, it seems as though those critical of the new Formula 1 and the regulations on fuel flow rates and sensors are out of step with the fans opinions. One of them tweeted, “In LMP1 there is 2wd & 4wd, energy storage by flywheel, capacitor and battery, V4, V6 and V8 motors, turbos and atmos. F1, sort yourself out”.
FIA briefing notes, from Fabrice Lom
Why is there a fuel flow limit?
Because with a turbo engine you have to limit the power otherwise you would have drivers using over 1,000hp at times, while others were fuel saving, the speed differential would be enormous and dangerous. Additionally the message from the new hybrid F1 rules is efficiency, 35% more performance from a drop of fuel than the old V8s. It’s not about monster power for short bursts.
How are the sensors calibrated?
THe FIA takes steps to ensure that the sensors are accurate and the same for all teams. Team X gives its sensors and a sample of it’s fuel to the FIA and they contract a company called Calibra to calibrate the sensors to the fuel, by placing them in series and checking each against a known reference sensor. This is carried out in various conditions and at five different temperatures.
During the race weekend the teams tell the FIA which sensor they are using. Each sensor is bought and owned by the team, at a cost of £4,500 each and is regulated by the FIA.
Where does the fuel flow sensor sit?
Inside the fuel cell, in the low pressure area.
What is the limit the FIA will accept for a car going over the 100kg/hour limit before they act against the team?
If a car goes 1% over the 100kg/limit for 10 seconds in any given lap, they are warned by the FIA and asked to make an offset or switch to a back up. This adds up to 3 grammes of fuel per lap above the limit, which is the cut off for intervention (NB The FIA contends that the Red Bull sensor was not faulty and had not broken on Ricciardo’s car in Australia)
What happens if a car hits that limit?
If the FIA feels that a sensor is drifting in its reading (which it contends is very obvious) it reverts to the back up, which has been planned for and the back up has been calibrated against and official sensor. They cannot accept an alternative system for measurement because it has not been calibrated against a known sensor.
Article 5.10 of the technical regulations says that the fuel can only be measured by a homologated sensor and there is only one sensor, which is made by Gill Sensors.
How long do sensors last?
They need to be recalibrated after 100 hours and their life is 400 hours. It should be theoretically possible to do the F1 season on two sensors.