Before the start of the new season, the FIA tried to close the biggest loopholes in the current regulations. They tried to do so with a series of tightened rules and technical directives.
As we all know, the FIA has one of the most difficult jobs in the world of F1. They try to make the rules as bulletproof as possible, but they’re up against thousands of engineers who do nothing else than trying to find loopholes. It is an unequal fight. The teams always win. And then the FIA has to re-adjust. Just like they did before the beginning of this season. Either by adjusting current rules or making new technical directives altogether.
For instance: Since 2014, the FIA has been trying to prevent exhaust fumes from being used as an aerodynamic aid. They tried this by regulating the exhaust position and engine mappings.
However, McLaren still found a way (last year) to ‘blow‘ the Monkey Seat, so that it generates extra downforce. The German ‘Auto motor und sport’ publication has learned that this came with great sacrifices, on Honda’s part of the job. The necessary measures McLaren asked of the Honda engine were one of the reasons for the many defects.
So, after word got out that some teams have started to use the exhaust gases for aerodynamics (again), the FIA modified the regulations of the exhaust tailpipe. As of now it is no longer allowed to have parts (that can aid downforce created by exhaust gases) within the target area of said gases. This area lies within 10 centimeters around the center line of the car, and 20 centimeter behind the rear axle. With a height between 40 and 55 centimeters. This means that ‘Monkey Seats’ are not forbidden parse, but it renders them pretty useless.
But Renault found an other way to use the exhaust for aerodynamic gains. –Remember the engineers vs loophole line from in the beginning of this article?– They have mounted the tailpipe on the new RS18 at the maximum permitted height of 55 centimeters above the reference plane and angled it upwards by five degrees, which is the maximum allowed angle. That way the exhaust ‘aims’ its gases towards the main rear wing element. That part is specially coated, on the underside, so that the carbon structure does not melt.
And then there was the case of burning oil to gain extra performance. Mercedes and Ferrari accused each other of increasing performance by adding oil additives to the fuel or reusing the gases produced in the crankcase. Renault jumped on the bandwagon and made a case against both the German and the Italian team. As a result, the FIA lowered the oil consumption limit from 1.2 to 0.9 liters per 100 kilometers during the 2017 season. Both Mercedes and Ferrari claimed that this number was the normal oil consumption of their engines.
After the FIA began to measure the consumption of the lubricants more precisely, doubts arose in Paris. Mercedes and Ferrari burned the exact amount of 0.89 liters per 100 kilometers, from the Italian GP onwards, where the new limit was imposed. Although this was within the allowed quantity limit, they felt it was strange since Renault’s and Honda’s engine only consumed 0.1 liters per 100 kilometers. It made them think it was quite possible to lower the limit even further. For 2018 this limit has now been reduced to 0.6 liters.
Although Red Bull is still worried that the competition will continue to find a way round the rules (as they do when they’re not the ones finding the loophole, haha). But according to the FIA the oil level sensors work reliably. There is a standard (FIA issued) sensor for every car, to rule out manipulations. The only restriction is that the measurement method delivers accurate results over a race distance. If, as in qualifying, only short distances are being driven, the accuracy of the measurement can be questioned. –Shouldn’t the FIA be able to determine the consumption as a number with two decimal digits, even over short distances? Otherwise Horner will be complaining for the rest of the season…-
However, anyone who wants to gain performance by adding performance enhancing additives to their oil won’t stand a chance this year. The FIA now specifies oil in the same manner as they do with fuel. There is a four pages long addition to the rulebook, where it is written which ingredients in which composition may be present in the lubricants. Of these lubricants, a chemical fingerprint will be used for a homologation, like they already do for fuel, and this will be used as a benchmark (when needed). When the FIA takes a sample from the oil in the car, during the season, and it differs from the original spec, there will be a penalty.
Earlier this week news broke that in its most recent technical directive, the FIA has asked engine manufacturers not only to provide their customer teams with the same powerplant, but also to supply them with the same software AND specification for oil and fuel. AMuS believes that this is a consequence from a complaint filed by Toro Rosso, who last year felt deceived by Renault in the battle for sixth place in the constructors’ championship.
However, regulating same specifications for oil and fuel is easy, enforcing them isn’t. It may be that the manufacturer X has agreed with the customer Y (for cost reasons) that Y will use oil or fuel of a different stage of development. Development in this area is a big part of trying to gain more power from the engines. Renault charges its clientèle (that wants to use different fuel and oil than they prescribe) five million Euro, for further development with their spec of fuel and lubricants. The FIA can not intervene in said contracts, they can only demand that the manufacturer can no longer refuse a customer if the latter demands the same treatment in this area.
Ferrari started it. Red Bull, Renault and McLaren have mimicked it. The geometry of the front axle was designed in such a way that the front of the car was lowered in accordance with the steering angle. This ensured that the front wing edges closer to the track, while cornering, which generates more downforce. Since this clearly has an impact on aerodynamics, the FIA put a stop to this technique. Today a car, at a 12 degrees steering angle, isn’t allowed to sink forward more than five millimeters. This will be measured on a purpose build platform.
But experts believe that this ground clearance changes more on the racetrack than it does on the measurement platform, if you just do it skillfully. They think that the geometry of the front suspension of the new McLaren MCL33, which substantiates this suspicion with its extreme placement of the push-rods, is build with such a trick in mind. Charlie Whiting has already commented that if they see that the steering angle in reality exceeds 12 degrees, they will modify the test.