Tag Archives: FIA

FIA: Farce in Action

Forza!  Finally someone on the grid decided they had enough of Vettel and his solo index finger, and it was none other than el Matador Fernando Alonso taking the first win of the season for himself and Ferrari at Silverstone.  Coincidentally enough, Sunday’s British Grand Prix marked the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win in F1 way back in 1951, and you’ll never guess where it took place.  Silverstone!  It’s as if the racing gods decided that balance needed to be restored to the F1 universe.  If you have the time, here in its entirety is Alonso’s lap in the same Ferrari 375 that was driven by Jose Froilan Gonzales to victory 60 years ago.

Ahh, if only I was alive back then to experience the joy of watching racing when the cars were slow, dangerous, and off-throttle blown diffuserless(more on that later).

No point living in the past, not when F1 was able to serve up a scintillating weekend of race action.  Despite a nearly disastrous run off the track in Q1, Alonso managed to put together a cracking lap in Q3 to put him in 3rd position for Sunday’s race, of course behind the two Red Bulls.  Take a look.

Of greater significance than his 3rd place qualifying effort was the fact that Alonso was only .117 seconds behind pole sitter Mark Webber’s lap time.  There’s no real point in recapping the race, if you’re reading this I’m assuming you saw for yourself Alonso’s emphatic 16 second victory over  Vettel and Webber(more on this later).  Before I digress, I think you know what’s coming…

It never gets old.

So as I alluded to earlier, Alonso finished practically 16 seconds ahead of both Vettel and Webber, which means Vettel and Webber finished 2-3 pretty much neck and neck.  Despite his insistence in the past that team orders were not a part of their of operation and that both drivers received equal treatment, Red Bull principal Christian Horner made the radio call for all the world to hear for Webber to hold his position behind Vettel, essentially ordering him to not race his teammate and settle for 3rd place.  That obviously didn’t sit well with Webber given the still lingering bitterness over last season’s course of events.  Not to bombard you with videos, but here is Webber’s post race interview and reaction.

His expression at the end says it all.  BBC pundit(and occasional pinhead) Eddie Jordan made the prophetic call of picking Alonso to win the race, and after the race he spoke out in defense of Horner, asserting that the collective objectives of the team came first.  Mind you this is the same Eddie Jordan that slammed Ferrari for issuing a team order at last season’s German Grand Prix to Felipe Massa to let Alonso pass to take the race win.  However, Damon Hill, an actual race car driver and former World Champion, spoke out in defense of Webber in a post race press conference hosted by Jordan, the rest of BBC crew, and with special guest none other than Christian Horner.  Last video I promise, I just can’t help myself.  To spare the boredom of watching the entire clip, jump forward to 6:30 for Hill’s opinion and watch until Jordan tries to break the subsequent awkward silence by changing the subject.

Enough of that.  So despite another solid weekend of racing action, the one subject that unfortunately dominated the paddock rumor mill yet again was the dreaded d-word, the cursed diffuser.  In yet another comical turn of events, the FIA before the start of the race weekend decided to “clarify” their ban on the use off-throttle blowing of exhaust gases and made a concession to several teams, most notably Renault, by allowing them to continue to leave their throttles partially open during the off-throttle stage.  Renault claimed that off-throttle blowing was an integral design feature of their engine and that without it their powerplants would be “compromised.”  This concession was rendered moot by Sunday, however, when supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced that the FIA and the F1 teams agreed to rescind the ban on off-throttling and return to their pre-Silverstone car setups.  In the words of Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on around here?  First the FIA decides to impose a mid-season ban based off a technical design regulation which they should have issued before the season if they felt they needed to, then they partially retract it, and finally they rescind the ban altogether.  Not to mention all this ensued after the ignominy of the Bahrain GP saga.  Jean Todt, the president of the FIA since 2009, was supposed to restore stability and esteem to the position after the soap opera-like administration of Max Mosley.  But now it seems every time the FIA is pressed with an important decision, they bungle it beyond all recognition.

Sunday’s race weekend should have been about Alonso and Ferrari finally making a stamp on this season and commemorating their 60 years of success in F1, the ongoing in house drama at Red Bull, and the mysterious negative progress by McLaren, but yet again the FIA managed to take center stage for all the wrong reasons.  While it’s very likely that F1 will endure for another 60 years, will it still be the greatest sport in the world, or just a shadow of its former self?  On second thought, maybe we finally won’t have cars by then, and the world will have moved on to rocket racing in space.  But back to reality, and on to Germany!

MP

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Banning off-throttle blown diffusers and the FIA’s (un)intentional attempt to create a silly circus

So the FIA is at it yet again, and this time their decision is going to directly affect the racing on the track, as opposed to determining when and where F1 will race.  Now the hot button issue is the teams’ use of off-throttle blown diffusers and the FIA’s decision to ban them midseason, just in time for the British Grand Prix.  To clarify, here’s a quick background on diffusers and their storied technical history in the past several years.

A diffuser is a shaped section of the rear underbody of a car that manipulates its aerodynamic properties.  A diffuser increases the velocity of the air exiting underneath the car, which in turn reduces pressure, and the subsequent effect is the slower velocity/higher pressure air flowing above the car generates a downward pressure effect on the car, creating the mystical yet very tangible and beneficial aerodynamic principle of downforce.  In its simplest terms, think of a diffuser as an inverted wing installed on the bottomside of a car, and the faster the car goes, the more atmospheric pressure presses downward on the car, ultimately improving its grip and handling.

Now that’s a rear end only an F1 fan could love.

Starting last year, Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey designed the RB6 so that the exhaust gases are discharged from the bottom undercarriage of the car, essentially dumping the hot gases into the airstream flowing underneath the car and out through the diffuser.  The net result from the artificially energized air flow was an increase in downforce without any increase in drag, which is the holy grail for aerodynamic engineers.

Fast forward to 2011, and Red Bull took their design a step further by “mapping” the engine to leave the throttle slightly open to blow exhaust gas into the diffuser even when the driver is off the throttle pedal, hence the term off-throttle blown diffuser.  Not to be left behind, the other teams responded with their own off-throttle diffuser systems, with only a small minority sticking with a “cold blowing” diffuser design.

One of the general design doctrines in F1 is the strict ban on moveable aerodynamic devices other than the ones permitted by the regulations.  The FIA chose to interpret the use of off throttle diffusers as in violation of this rule by declaring that the engine was now a moveable aerodynamic device because of use of exhaust gases to influence aerodynamics, specifically during the off-throttle stage.  Clever buggers.

After several months of debate and a meeting by the FIA’s Technical Working Group, the decision was made to ban the use of engine mapping to artificially blow exhaust gases during the off-throttle stage, with the British Grand Prix set as the deadline for the teams to modify their designs.  Several of the teams using the innovative diffuser design in conjunction with the off-throttle engine mapping, Renault and Red Bull in particular, voiced their dissenting opinions with the FIA’s decision, with other teams either supporting the decision or staying silent on the matter.  Point is, the FIA decided to change the rules of the game mid-season, which could potentially lead to a dramatic change in the teams’ performance for the remainder of the season.  Imagine the NBA deciding to shorten the shot clock by tw0 seconds or MLB deciding to shrink the size of a baseball midseason.  Does that sound fair to you?  It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but hopefully you get the gist.

Skeptics will claim that the FIA is trying to manipulate the outcome of both Championships this season, in particular because Red Bull is the team that pioneered the off-throttle diffuser design and has fielded the strongest car on the grid for the past two seasons.  Pragmatists will claim that the FIA is simply executing their duty to ensure the teams adhere to the technical design regulations.  Personally speaking, it seems a little absurd to force teams to come up with new designs midseason, especially considering the current trend in F1 to reduce costs in the area of car design and testing.  But if Ferrari manages to benefit from the FIA’s decision, then who cares?  Forza, and off to Valencia!

MP

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