The battle of the F1 fuel flow sensor

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Brought to you by TJ13 Editor in Chief Andrew Huntley_Jacobs

In a way, the new F1 V6 Turbo Hybrid engines, associated technologies and regulations have taken dedicated F1 fans on a journey of discovery.

Before the 2014 season opener in Australia 2014 together with Red Bull’s defiance of the FIA over fuel flow regulations, few of F1’s followers would have ever considered the issue of fuel flow rates.

A breach of the new fuel flow regulations saw the highly unusual event of an F1 driver being disqualified from a race – this was even more prolific given thsat it was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had finished in P2.

So why did the engineers designing the new F1 engines agree with the FIA to restrict fuel flow in the new F1 hybrid engines?

Fabrice Lom – an ex Renault engineer was tasked in 2014 to police the new engine regulations by the FIA. Following Ricciardo’s exclusion from the Melbourne race and prior to the Red Bull appeal hearing, Lom briefed selected media on why fuel flow mattered in the new engine era of Formula One.

The bottom line is that with a modern F1 turbo engine, the power has to be limited otherwise drivers could use over 1,000hp at times, while others were fuel saving. The speed differential would be enormous and dangerous.

Further, the F1 engine manufacturers and the FIA agreed the message they wanted to send to the world was their new hybrid engines were delivering 35% more performance than the old V8’s and whilst using less fuel. this from a drop of fuel than the old V8s.

Monster short bursts of power had to be restricted.

The fuel flow regulators developed by Gill Senors for the F1 engines, were described by Lom as “remarkable”. They weighed just 300g and were miniscule when compared to the industry standard bench top giant machines.

Of course Gill had suffered difficulties delivering this cutting edge technology, and the accuracy of the measurements provided were on the odd occasion outside the 0.5% tolerances the FIA demanded.

Given the enormous power deficit to Ferrari and Mercedes that became apparent of the new Renault F1 engine during the 2014 winter testing, maximising fuel flow was a quick win to closing the gap.

Then, if the tolerances allowed by the FIA could be exploited, Red Bull and Renault could cut the ‘effective’ HP difference to their competitors further.

The FIA regulations on fuel flow stated that if there was a problem with a sensor, the teams were allowed to have a back up solution – which had been calibrated against a known sensor.

Red Bull and Renault had such a control device and were ready to take on the FIA and demonstrate their Gill sensor was faulty.

However, the regulation also stated that, any back up solution must be calibrated against a known sensor– which was the Gill solution – in a controlled environment, BEFORE being relied upon as a fall back option.

Red Bull were confident their measurement from the fuel rail would prove there was an inconsistency on the Gill sensor deployed on Ricciardo’s car. However, the reason Red Bull lost their appeal is they failed to calibrate their ‘back up solution’ previously in a controlled environment.

Whether Renault-Red Bull’s fuel flow measurements were spot on and within the 100kg per hour limit became irrelevant. They failed to follow due process and Ricciardo was disqualified.

Yesterday, the FIA gave approval to a second fuel flow rate sensor that can now be used as a primary or secondary measure of fuel flow.

With each step that improves reliability, the F1 engine manufacturers then search for more performance form the hybrid power units which are being run at far higher stress levels than when launched.

This makes maximising the fuel flow a critical key to ultimate performance, and each of the F1 engine suppliers is now evaluating the Sentronics fuel flow sensor.

Sentronics managing director Neville Meech said: “The FIA’s and competitors’ experience of the technology in its first year understandably had an effect on the approach to homologation a second sensor.

“Practically speaking, this led to a much more rigorous set of validation criteria for homologation alongside the technical specification itself.

“Satisfying these requirements has been a challenging and lengthy process, but I can say our end product is all the stronger for it.”

Interpreted, Meech is claiming the sentronics sensor is more accurate than Gill’s and so teams should be able to sail closer to the wind – and the fuel flow limits – than was possible with the Gill sensor.

The Sentronics system has also been approved for the FIA’s World Endurance Championship LMP1 category, and can challenge the Gill sensor used there too.

Just as the race is on to incorporate unique developments of the new F1 power trains into road cars, the prize for winning the fuel flow sensor technology race may result in orders for the winning designers of 100’s of thousands of units each year.

The previous F1 technology to revolutionise an industry, was the ‘failed’ Williams flywheel KERS system. An increasing proportion of the 5.2 billion passengers taking bus journeys each year in the UK will be seeing this technology deployed beneath their seats and delivering no less than 20% fuel savings.

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24 responses to “The battle of the F1 fuel flow sensor

  1. “The bottom line is that with a modern F1 turbo engine, the power has to be limited otherwise drivers could use over 1,000hp at times, while others were fuel saving. The speed differential would be enormous and dangerous.

    Further, the F1 engine manufacturers and the FIA agreed the message they wanted to send to the world was their new hybrid engines were delivering 35% more performance than the old V8’s and whilst using less fuel. this from a drop of fuel than the old V8s.”

    I completely understand the need to monitor the fuel flow. I think that Formula 1 fans may never get to see the true power of the V6 hybrid power units because of the necessity for safety reasons to monitor the fuel flow. I’d love to see a V6 hybrid power unit developed that didn’t need one so that its true power could be unleashed.

    • Perhaps that’s why there was a move to consider reintroducing refuelling?

      Anyway, I’m not really sure that the speed differential argument holds up; the Mercs, even when in full-on ‘I can’t drive any slower’ fuel-saving mode are still a lot quicker than the Manors and, er, the McLarens (now I feel like I just kicked a lame dog).

    • A primary reason for the fuel flow restriction is cost. It costs more to tune for larger varieties of flow rates.

      Newey and Red Bull purposely threw Ricciardo’s 2nd place finish in the trash. Only Red Bull & TR had problems with their Gill sensors that weekend, because they were modifying them on installation.

      Gill may be testing their sensors to the higher standards.

  2. what would REALLY be the speed differ tail in real world conditions between a car using 1000hp vs someone in fuel save mode? would it be that much different than a Manor car vs a Mercedes?

      • In fairness, that’s because there’s usually something more interesting going on that cutting to a shot of Stevens or Mehri trundling around with the commentators having to go “Yes, they’re still going and yes, they’re still dead last.”

        Besides, they get TV coverage when they’re being lapped, especially when Grosjean’s the one doing the lapping.

        • Yeah but it wasn’t until at least the third or fourth gp that they got any TV time. Not even a half second… even if they got lapped. Not even in the quali.

  3. You also forgot to mention that Audi have used the ‘failed’ Williams flywheel KERS system in their WEC / Le Mans cars for years too …… ?

    • +1 And it’s a bloody good system. From what I have read the units power loss during a race is practically zero where the battery and capacitor set up run at a 20% power drop over a race.
      Pity f1 decided to ban a system that has real world application and is cutting edge compared to battery tech…pinnacle indeed (sorry,slight dig there)

  4. isn’t that what they are now contemplating? in order to give the cars in 2017 1000HP+ the way is to increase the fuel flow. what’s the big deal?LMP1 cars are pushing 1200HP in amongst 3/5 different categories. F1 are wimps by comparison.

        • Really referring to the fact that when power/weight ratio is considered F1 cars don’t really look wimpy next to LPM1. Also factors like; what fraction of a lap is that peak power available for?

        • Reading the regs on WEC they are able to deploy more energy over a lap compared to F1,couple this to more downforce and larger engines producing higher hp and the bonus is…we have racing. F1 needs to watch its smaller brother as its approaching its lap times and technology. You could see the smile on the Hulks face when he won and you know what he was thinking,if the sport paid the drivers the same as f1 there would be an exodus. If these guys can build their machines with a snip of the funds of the f1 teams then why are we left with a series that limits a teams skills and talents?. It’s little wonder that Adrian has taken a back seat and large car companies are investing in endurance given the real world potential of the products. F1’s hybrid system might be smart but in all honesty its not the answer and IMHO will never be placed in a road car as its an outdated idea.

      • What does the weight have to do with it though? That would make things even more dangerous in an accident.. no? Ss there would be more energy involved in an accident. LMP1 cars are only 200 odd kilo’s heavier than an F1 car these days anyway, and if you have 1000hp+ prototype cars weaving in and out of GT cars on a regular basis safely, where the speed differential is massive, I can’t imagine it can be that dangerous in F1.

        After all, in fuel conservation mode a car is only going to give away what.. 150-200 odd hp at the VERY most? These are supposed to be the best drivers in the world!

        Think back to the turbo days during the 80’s? You had the likes of Brabham and Williams being able to push boost up to like 3.5 to 4 bar of boost in the race at times (around 1000-1100hp), whilst others were trundling around at 700-800hp on low boost trying to save fuel and brakes?! I can’t see there being any danger issues at all, and I think if we release the fuel flow limit to a more aggressive level it would provide a nice strategic element to races, where some drivers will be pushing full 1000+hp whilst others are having to look after their cars after pushing hard earlier on in races.

        The current generation of engines in F1 are being artificially held back by the fuel flow rate, that is the limiting factor at the moment, instead of boost pressure like in the 80’s. As Kenji says, you increase the fuel flow rate for 2017 and you will instantly be seeing numbers 1000 and above, it’s such a simple change and IMO is needed if they want to speed the cars up in a short space of time without the need for lots of development from teams.

        • Not convinced that that would improve racing any. Also you’re then just bumping against different limits, namely 100kg of fuel and what the tyres will stand.
          Pursuing a headline peak power figure seems pointless. Most people are not the slightest bit interested in the lap-times and how they compare to other categories. Compare buffing the engines to a complete overhaul of the aero/wheel/tyre rules that re-balances mechanical vs. aero grip and makes it possible for drivers to RACE their machinery in proximity to each other for significant parts of the race. More bhp is tinkering to no purpose. Bernie can’t even follow his own train of thought some days.

  5. @AH_J Said Interpreted, Meech is claiming the sentronics sensor is more accurate than Gill’s and so teams should be able to sail closer to the wind – and the fuel flow limits – than was possible with the Gill sensor.

    Alternate view: Choose the the sensor which is least accurate, and so to your advantage, (under reading). The highly accurate and stable version just evens out the field.

    • I stopped reading when the author claimed most flow sensors sit in a bench. Having worked with them for nearly 15 years before changing jobs all I can say is it must have been a very small bench…

        • Not a joke as such, just pointing out that if the author had actually done some research they’d have found that normal flow sensors aren’t all that big or heavy. The ones we used to make weighed a few kg but that was because they were made from stainless and were designed to last 20 years in a naval warship. Most industrial ones were some form of plastic and weighed a lot less.

          Yes, 300g is light and I’m sure the tech is impressive but claiming them to be such a step change over the industry standard is like saying a Hummer is a compact car…

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