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Season Review / New Rules
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It was a strange year, but it did have some excitement.
Renault and Alonso managed to win the championship. What a great achievement, how nice is it to see something other than Ferrari on the leader board. Not that I have anything against Ferrari - I am The Heretic after all so I do not care who wins as long as the racing is worth watching.
McLaren did their normal thing of getting their act together too late but this time it was close. They finished the year with cars that were patently fastest but just suffered in the reliability area. If they ever learnt to start the year with a strong car all my predictions will be wrong as I always feel that it is a safe bet to assume that they may be fast but will finish in only a handful of races in the first half of the season.
Toyota could have done better. They had a powerful engine but never seemed to get comfortable with using it. Their cars looked clumsy most of the time and they could not seem to learn from the few times they got it right - the very next race was terrible again!
Honda finished strongly and look as if they are coming to grips with the concept of owning the whole thing, not just the engine. Their cars were fast and Button got to his favourite third place twice which was enough to make it clear that they were not that far behind Renault and McLaren.
Red Bull impressed me. To put it mildly their Cosworth motor lacked many horses and I do not think much of their drivers either but they always finished much better than I expected. Seeing that it is highly unlikely to be due to the engine I assume that they have a great chassis.
Of all the times that Ferrari/Bridgestone could choose to create an uncompetitive combination of a pretty lousy car on ordinary rubber why do it on the year that Alonso/Renault and Raikkonen/McLaren had a chance to take on Michael Schumacher? I was so looking forward to see them compete on a reasonably equal footing but as it turned out Michael would have been better off in a wheelbarrow. Well we always knew that this years car was a flop - gives you an idea how much of a flop.
Interesting that Ferrari are testing in the 2004 chassis as well as the 2005 chassis. It is possible that their 2004 chassis is better suited to races where tyre changes are allowed but I suspect that it has more to do with their 2005 chassis being so bad that they are getting better performance by going backwards. Ferrari have lost a lot of ground and it is going to be hard to get back into the leading group. Do not expect them to do it in a single season.
Sauber did not have a wonderful year either. Many assumed that their woes were related to Ferrari because they were using the same engine but it is unlikely to be the cause. For them it was probably just a case of limited funds, even their new wind tunnel, once calibrated, could not make the difference it should because they could only afford one shift while the leading teams were running three shifts a day in their wind tunnels. BMW�s deep pockets will make a big difference � it may just take a little time for this to become apparent as they have a lot of catching up to do.
Over the next two years this team will be worth watching (as BMW rather than Sauber). Apart from a substantial increase in budget BMW will be very aware of the fact that their major competitor, Mercedes Benz (or Daimler Benz to be more correct) is poised for success in 2006 in the guise of McLaren. That will add a lot of pressure but also support from BMW.
Williams were a huge disappointment too. It is almost as if their weird front end that looked a bit like a walrus offended their speed fairy because ever since then they have gone from mediocre to pedestrian.
I was not that depressed about Jordan falling so far back because at least it gave Minardi a competitor. What is depressing is that a team can go from so good to so bad in a few years and when you get that bad the downward spiral becomes too strong to break out of. Sponsor money disappears like snow in the Sahara and a lack of money in F1, the leading edge of motor racing, is fatal.
One wonders if Red Bull can make Minardi perform better. I am so used to them being the slowest that I can�t imagine them doing better. On the other hand with the complex names that their drivers seem to have by the time a commentator gets out �and here comes Vitantonio Liuzzi in the Squadra Toro Rosso� he�ll be halfway through the next lap so if they ever get in the lead we will never know what is happening. Joking aside, this team has hung in there for so long against heavy odds while other, better funded, teams have gone insolvent � they deserve a break and this could just be the one they need.
All in all it was a good year that never became boring. The rule changes did little to slow the cars and the one tyre thing did very little other than screw up the US race and Ferrari�s chances. But we do not have to worry about that as it is all about to change for 2006 and, if the FIA gets their way, again for 2007 and probably for 2008 too.
Rules to confuse.
I know that I have consistently criticised the FIA every time they made changes to the rules. I also know that with little exception I was right. If I can see it looking in from the outside surely they are much closer and better qualified. So where is the problem?
I am not criticising all of the FIA. I am sure that with the huge sums of money that is associated with the sport that they can afford to hire extremely qualified people. I am also sure that some of these people are exceptionally intelligent.
So I can only assume that all these bright, qualified people were on leave when the new rules were dreamt up.
The FIA were so proud of their new aerodynamic synthesizing software system but I think that they also invested in a random rule generator. The proposed rules are just stupid. There is just no other way of describing them. Let�s take them from the top:
2.4 litre V8.
Years ago it was true that engine size determined output. It is becoming obvious to even the illiterate that this is no longer true.
What is true is that power is a consequence of the combustion of fuel and if the size of the chamber it is combusted in is fixed more power can be achieved by doing it more often. Simply put that means that if the 2.4 litre engines can rev 25% higher than this year�s 3 litre engines they should produce the same power as this year�s engines did.
There is no denying that the cars are getting too fast and that in turn increases the danger for drivers and spectators. Something needs to be done but I do not think this is anything other than a band-aid solution. I predict that by the end of 2006 the cars will be faster than they were in China this year.
The smaller an engine, the faster it can spin before it explodes. In the past the reason why engine capacity influenced output was because the technology to make the engine breathe fast was not developed. Since turbochargers were outlawed this aspect of formula one technology developed rapidly to the extent that their current problem is no longer aspiration but explosion due to centrifugal force.
Some metals may have been outlawed but not all - I can see some very exotic metals being introduced to get past the very elaborate plethora of metal invention curbing rules (that I tried to read but have not managed to get past the first page before sleeping.) Now the FIA are stretching their expertise (that was so woefully inadequate in the past) to include the leading edge of metallurgy? How are they going to enforce it? Are these the same people that thought that they could dramatically reduce downforce and turbulence by limiting the size of a wing. If they could not get a handle on that what chance have they got of recognising something like: �An intermetallic phase is a solid solution between two or more metals exhibiting either partly ionic or covalent, or metallic bonding with a long range order, in a narrow range of composition around the stoichiometric proportion�
Max, when are you ever going to learn not to make rules that are virtually impossible to enforce?
Max, when are you ever going to learn that the more complex you make it the more loopholes you create?
Remember traction control, Max? Remember that you eventually had to allow it because you could not detect it? Did we learn from that?
Besides F1 is supposed to be the leading edge. I am still in favour of ABS brakes and still believe that it is stupid not to allow technology that is more efficient and modern. I will even acknowledge that some of the new inventions have a negative impact but the alternative is turning F1 into a vintage race.
Limiting the engine to only eight cylinders to save money is equally stupid. What is a little effective is that eight cylinders will be a little heavier (each) than ten which may keep the revolutions per minute down as they will exert more force to be contained. But maybe it just takes a slightly more exotic alloy or an undetectable and very expensive rework of the same alloy at the molecular level to overcome that, which in turn will make the cost saving of two cylinders look pretty insignificant. Oh! I forgot that will not happen because the rules will stop that seeing that the FIA have considered every possibility
I am not suggesting that the FIA follow other motor sports. After all they are on the leading edge and way too arrogant to learn from others but if they want less power there are a lot of precedents that seem to work or at least appears to be effective to my obviously inferior mind.
NASCAR have for years limited power by the use of a standard plate with a fixed size hole through which all the air into the engine has to pass through. Primitive? Yes! Effective? Appears to be. Cost effective? Very. Power can be reduced at the drop of a hat that does not necessarily mean that engine design has to change.
And then there is the issue of the teams that can�t afford it. Well they get to keep this year�s engines but just a little crippled. How does that work? We are talking about the premier motor sport, the leading, bleeding edge of motor technology and they hobble the cars?
OK, so I did not like that rule much? True, but it is by far the better rule compared to the others.
This is a joke. Why not just give pole to the driver with the most freckles? Or the one that can hold his breath the longest?
The FIA have so totally proved that there is no substitute for the old and trusted qualifying session where everyone gets to do a certain number of laps in a certain time frame and the best one wins. How many of us can remember the edge of the seat qualifying when Ayrton Senna would calmly sit and wait in his car with the tyre warmers on for another driver to beat his time and shot out on the track in the last minutes of qualifying to grab pole back by a fraction of a second.
What was wrong with that? It did not cause more crashes. It made sure that the faster cars started in the front of the grid. It was fun to watch. The drivers liked it. Oops, I just realised, it was liked, it was reasonably fair, and it was as safe as it could be so the FIA had to throw it out.
Now we have to contend with:
A fifteen minute session where all cars will be out on lowest possible fuel loads and going only as fast as they need to go to beat the slowest five cars. That will be fun to watch but just in case you missed it, it will be followed by another identical session without the slowest five to eliminate another five. Oh joy! I can�t wait.
Now just as you think it is going to get a little more interesting, the rules are changed. The ten remaining cars have to go out on the fuel load that they intend to start the race with.
They will have to weigh the cars before this last session and that should be a lot of fun to watch - there is no limit to the effort that the FIA will go to to make sure we are entertained. Maybe they also bought a fuel capacity guessing software package along with their aerodynamic simulation/prediction software and of course the random stupid rule generator that they are so attached to.
This, last, session lasts for twenty minutes and the fastest time recorded determines pole position.
Now here is the thing. Most races are around seventy or so laps that are done in about an hour and a half. Tyres allowing, cars are about one and a half of a second faster when they are low on fuel compared to when they are fuelled up. In the twenty minutes on most tracks drivers can burn off at least 75% of a two stop fuel load.
So, is it not possible that we are going to see cars circulate pretty slowly for fifteen of the last twenty minutes with mixtures as rich as they can get away with (even good for engine longevity as it keeps them cool) and then trying to post a fast lap right at the end when they are as close to empty as they can get? By the time we, or anyone else for that matter, finds out what happened it will be over.
In fact if you consider the situation only foolish drivers will do anything other than just circulate for the first fifteen minutes because apart from being handicapped by the fuel load the track will be �rubbering up� and being cleaned on the racing line so it will be extremely unlikely that any driver could post a fastest lap much before the end of this session. Besides qualifying pace on a full tank is brutal on the engine and transmission train and only the inexperienced drivers will even think of trying for a fast lap early.
So, not only will we have to suffer two boring 15 minute sessions, we get a bonus of an even more boring 15 or so minutes followed by a confusing, wild climatic scramble for all of three minutes.
And that will be a good qualifying session. A bad one is when they all leave it too close to the end and barge to try to make pole - a great incubator for multiple car pile-ups.
How can that be good? How can that be fun to watch?.
This is going to make for very interesting strategies. Team orders will be rampant. Oh but I forgot those are not allowed and just as easy to detect as traction control. One car can circulate to slow others while the other car in the team is pushing for a fast lap and then there is nor reason why it cannot be repeated in reverse order.
One must assume that the FIA are not going to regulate how much fuel the race should be started with. So what happens if a driver decides to start the race very light and does therefore only have enough fuel for say eight minutes? Is he allowed to refuel twice during practice? Does that give him three chances on three sets of tyres to set a fastest lap?
A driver could just decide to go out on an absolutely full load knowing that he will have to settle for tenth but also knowing that he will be able to stay out longer in the first stint of the race and make up positions lost in qualifying that way. If he then wants to support his teammate all he needs to do is make his car as wide as possible and slow all the other cars on the circuit.
Last year I thought that harder tyre compounds will leave cleaner tracks off the racing line and it did not happen. But at least it had a chance. As it turned out it probably caused Ferrari to have the worst year for a long time and turned away more American fans that the sport gained in ten years.
I do not have a problem with seven sets of dry tyres per race. I do not have a problem with tyre changes during the race or between qualifying and the race but I do have a problem with the inconsistency of it.
Why? How do they explain it? Max Mosely can�t just say that it came to him in a dream, but how else do you explain it? �We thought it was a great idea at the time�
And that is not where the inconsistency ends. Possibly as early as the following year slicks and wider tyres are back.
How inconsistent! It is almost as if they do not know what to do and are grabbing at straws. Or maybe I am right, it is a random rule generator.
Michelin is perplexed by it all? I do not know why. It is easy to understand when you accept the FIA random chaos theory. We will all be perplexed if they for once come up with something that makes sense and this absolute twaddle that the rules are reversed because in 2004 Michelin did not have a problem in the US has to be the weakest. Michelin made a mistake in the US. They were blindsighted, shortsighted or just had a concentration lapse. It happens. They admitted that they misjudged the forces and strains in Indianapolis. They apologised and then continued to make competitive tyre for the rest of the year. They are pulling out of F1. Why hint that this rule is to help them? And even if it will help them (although I for one believe that they will not make the same mistake again) since when has the FIA been kind to people that have made it public that they are planning to leave the sport?
This one is a joke. Mooted for as early as 2007 the FIA are proposing a CDG wing. CDG stands for Centreline Downwash Generating.
This has not been tested in a wind tunnel as far as I know and it certainly has not been tested on a track but here is how it will work. The rear wing is split into two winglets that are mounted above the rear wheels. The area between them is supposed to be shaped to �clean� the air behind the car of turbulence so that overtaking is possible. (see FIA Statement)
This, according to the geniuses at the FIA allows slipstreaming in this �clean� area behind the car but it also means that to overtake the overtaking car has to catch up in this �blessed� zone and then has to swerve out at the last minute to overtake.
So far so good but here is the rub: the overtaking car is going faster than the leading car and needs to swerve rather abruptly though the turbulence left by the wing over the rear tyre where it will have dramatically reduced grip to steer with.
So what could the outcome be?
The loss of steerage grip makes the car slam into the rear of the car it is overtaking.
Brakes do not work while in the turbulence so if the overtaking driver leaves it too late the minimum is a lost front wing, a puncture, or both.
I am not saying that it is impossible to design a car that will allow overtaking but why would any of the teams want to cooperate? It is in their interest to make the air behind their cars as dirty as possible. Besides, and this is where I get so frustrated, simple action and reaction tells you that downforce cannot be achieved without some turbulence. This is moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. The turbulence is no longer straight behind the car.
Has anyone looked at the safety aspects of the brilliant and poorly considered proposal. What happens if during an overtaking manoeuvre one of those ridiculous winglets gets knocked off? To minimise turbulence the centre of the proposed car shape looks a hell of a lot similar to a wing made for flying. Giles Villeneuve�s tragic accident showed us what happens when the car starts flying. I do not want to see that again.
Another brilliant idea that came to you in a dream Max? You say and I quote �wheel to wheel racing�. I hope you are right because to me it sounds like nose up engine racing.
Agree or disagree ?
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