#F1 Features: An extraordinary FIA public offensive

Editor’s note. This piece began as a news story, and was updated several times over a number of hours. For indexing purposes and for those who only read an early edition, we are publishing it as a feature piece.

Even this final post has additions not included in the news DN&C.

An extraordinary  FIA public offensive.

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.

This is indeed was an extraordinary course of action for Charlie Whiting to take, as I heard him comment recently to a group of people that it was not his role to explain the actions of the FIA, just enforce the regulations. This is a U-turn of that position where Charlie had been responding to the question which inquired as to why either he or the stewards didn’t do a press conference to explain decisions they take during the race weekend.

However, Red Bull’s decision to disobey an instruction from the FIA during the race in Melbourne and their subsequent appeal against Ricciardo’s disqualification has placed the controversy over fuel flow sensors squarely in the mainstream of F1 debate.

The delay required before the appeal hearing can be concluded which is due to the amount of technical information that needs to be gathered meant that a swift end to the matter could not be expedited. So clearly there would be a lot more positioning from Red Bull this weekend and the FIA decided they could not lose the PR war over this.

The very fact Charlie Whiting arranged such a briefing should itself stress the crucial nature of this topic to the FIA and their new generation of engines and the emphasis they wish to see in their development.

the result saw the little known 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. As an aside, 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 further 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.

untitledThere 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.

But Charlie Whiting is having none of this 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 alone 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.

However, 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 fan 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”.

F1 is facing some very serious issues in the immediate future. 2 or 3 of the current teams may not be on the grid in 2015 and TJ13 has learned that customer cars are again on the agenda for the F1 strategy group.

It is pointless for the same voices who complained over the tyres which didn’t suit their car in 2013, to once again drag F1 through weeks and months of further negative debate over such a fundamental issue to the FIA’s new direction for the sport.

We need advocates for the new F1, because the pragmatists realise there is no turning back. Is it too much to expect the world champions for once to set aside their personal agenda’s to promote the new F1 instead of dragging the sport once again through a bitter debate?

The positive in all this is that F1 fans are once again discussing automotive engineering, and not a 0.002 incremental radius across a 100mm section of bodywork which may or may not improve airflow.

Here are the 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.


20 responses to “#F1 Features: An extraordinary FIA public offensive

  1. Great job reporting and commenting on this, Your Honour. I stopped at another site where alleged F1 Fanatics gather, and saw no mention of this as a lead item, though it may’ve been embedded in one update or another.

    This is great that you’re leading with it right now.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments you express vis-a-vis Red Bull Racing’s willingness to bring the sport of F1 into disrepute by lodging a frivolous appeal at the same time they seek to undermine the very foundation of fair and and level playing field (track surface? lol): the ability of FIA to apply and enforce a uniform set of rules applicable to all 11 teams.

    When RBR lose their appeal, they should face additional sanction for bringing the sport of F1 into disrepute.

    I don’t think any F1 fan would object to a team appealing a truly unjust, unfair, or incorrect ruling, but this is a transparent, near-naked attempt by RBR to undermine a fundamental regulatory regime simply because their Renault engine is, for once, limiting their car’s performance.

    For shame, RBR – for shame!

  2. There is one question from my side. If all sensors are within 0,5% tolerance, why had Merc set back 3% to get into the limit?

    • Well, it’s always possible that the teams’ own injection management systems aren’t as accurate as they might like to suggest (especially in DSQ appeals)…

        • 🙂

          Ok – to play devil’s advocate… There is a lot of new technology throughout F1 this season. Christian at RB says that the FIA sensors are not acceptable for F1 – in fact that the technology is too “immature”. Let’s assume he’s right, and the sensors are out by 3% or so.

          Well, as far as I can tell, the Renault PU in the back of Seb’s car was a LOT more than 3% off – he had to retire. Lewis’s Merc had 12.5% of its cylinders “inaccurate”. Lotus had 100% of it’s cars fail. and so on, down the field…

          Given that EVERYONE is having failures and inaccuracies, why is the FIA’s tiny weeny one so unacceptable?

          ok, I’ll get my coat…

          • EXACTLY.

            Some teams and manufacturers are overly quick to demand perfection from the FIA, Pirelli, Magneti Marelli, etc. to distract from their own dismal failures.

    • Hi Quirl the injectors themselves are simply not that accurate, hence the fishing around in Australia for a unit of time that represents what the FIA were after without unduly penalizing the competitors. Merc turning their engines down to 96 kg/hr simply represents the amount that keeps the variability of the injectors from exceeding 100kg/hr as measured at the FFM.

      I think. 😉

  3. ” … 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,” … “

  4. Very informative Judge! Your blog is know my main source of credible info regarding F1. Well done!

      • Come on, whow[sic] can i edit my comments in order to correct an unforgivable spelling mistake?

        You can’t.

        His Honour believes in instilling in each and every one of us an appreciation for the wise aphorism,

        “Measure twice, cut once!”

        And I, for one, am greatful!

  5. Despite all the apologies from FIA, I am still not convinced we need those fuel flow sensors. Formula 1 should be about racing, not about being a fuel effiency lab. Simply limiting the fuel cells to 100kg per race should have been enough.

    • Two points:

      1. If you restrict cars to 100kg of fuel, you are already making it a fuel efficiency test. Otherwise, you’d let them have any amount of fuel that they wanted…

      2. Remember that the teams and the engine manufacturers created these rules themselves. These weren’t dreamt up by some mad fuel efficiency alien or Greenpeace… The rules are intended to contribute to manufacturers’ long term business plans.

    • another point you forgot Tim ….

      3. The 100 Kg limit is for the RACE ONLY – lights out to chequered flag.

      Nothing else.

      So what are the drivers supposed to do for the warm up laps and the slowing down lap ?

      Are the drivers supposed to pedal the cars round a la Fred Flintstone ?

  6. Maybe the BBC presenter has a lack of gravitas. But if everyone covering F1 had the gravitas of TJ13 the world would spin out of orbit.

  7. Judge – Well done here.

    As one becomes familiar with the fuel flow sensors, and the reasons why they exist in F1, the reasons for Red Bulls’ complaint and formal appeal become obtuse, (to me anyway).

    I’ve gone through the same exercise a few times in the last two weeks. I keep trying to figure out why RB is going down this road. I circle around the following questions:

    * Is RB’s exercise a subterfuge, or ploy to draw attention away from something else? (Not likely, but I don’t know.)

    * Is this exercise by RB designed to change the FIA from using technical directives to clarify regulations and their enforcement? (More likely…)

    * Is this RB exercise really about the quality of the fuel flow sensors? (Perhaps, but it doesn’t appear to be their primary objective.)

    There is something deeper here than meets the eye in Red Bull’s course of action in this matter… I’m waiting for it to become apparent.

    One possibility is that Newey’s team has a clever (unknown) feature that they want to implement but they fear a technical directive may (or perhaps has already) prevent(ed) it. So they’ve protested the very concept of these technical directives. This exercise will then enable RB to decide where to next invest their development monies.

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