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On Track: Same Ethos, New Challenges

On Track: Same Ethos, New Challenges

Formula One in 2014 presents a fresh set of challenges to designers, engineers, drivers and spectators alike, with the intricacies of this new era for the sport adding to the keen sense of anticipation ahead of a new season.

As has been the case throughout generations of Formula One, the introduction of new rules serves to encourage innovation and showcase the sport as the cutting-edge of new technology; adding a level of intrigue which is relevant not only for the interest spectators, but the automotive industry as a whole.

Ultimately, the smartest driver in the quickest car will be successful in 2014, which remains true to the fundamental challenge of racing. What the new regulations represent beyond that however, is the next phase of an evolutionary process that continues to position Formula One at the heart of contemporary technology, and truly puts the ‘motor’ back into ‘motorsport’.

The burning question on the lips of many, however, remains this: how will the spectacle of Formula One racing be affected?

Reliability

Changes in technology almost inevitably risk reliability. When it comes to the introduction of something entirely new, however, the challenge is doubled and the risk equally so. This has always been the way in Formula One – it’s in the spirit of motor racing – but while the knife-edge between performance and reliability has always existed, for 2014 its band of tolerance is far more of an unknown.

Introducing an entirely new concept such as a turbocharger with electric motors connected, for example, is as much of a risk to reliability as it is a challenge. Where previously a KERS failure might have meant the difference between victory and a minor points finish, each component of the Power Unit – from the ICE to the turbocharger and ERS – is so intrinsically linked that complications with one will invariably result in a rapid fall through the order; or worse a non-finish. While it has always been the case that a machine is only as strong as its individual parts, this rings all the more true in 2014.

Although clearly of significant importance previously, maximising track time during practice sessions will be absolutely crucial in terms of working with the driver to make sure fuel consumption targets are met, and working with the car to ensure every component is capable of enduring increased demands on life cycle. While this has always been an integral part of testing, it will now be absolutely essential and just as important as chasing the ultimate lap time.

Far from affecting a single race, any failure can potentially have a significant impact on the championship as a whole. According to article 28.4 of the FIA Sporting Regulations, should a driver use more than five of any one of the six Power Unit elements – i.e. the ICE, MGU-K, MGU-H, ES, Turbocharger or Control Electronics – a grid place penalty will be imposed upon him at the first event during which each additional element is used, defined as follows:

  • Replacement of a complete Power Unit – driver must start the race from the pit lane;
  • The first time a sixth of any of the elements is used – 10 place grid penalty;
  • The first time a sixth of any of the remaining elements is used – five place grid penalty;
  • The first time a seventh of any of the elements is used – 10 place grid penalty;
  • The first time a seventh of any of the remaining elements is used, and so on – five place grid penalty.

If the grid penalty imposed cannot be taken in full at one event, the remainder of the penalty is carried over to the following race weekend.

Aside from the more obvious technological obstacles, discipline – both in terms of team and driver – also forms one of the biggest barriers to reliability. From a team perspective, with such a vast quantity of time spent focusing on new elements of the car, it could prove all too easy to overlook the basics. As has become increasingly evident over time, it takes more to winning races than pure speed. Intelligent race management from the drivers – whether it be tyre management or energy management – will be an even bigger key to success in 2014.

Strategy

Strategy: while not as obvious to the naked eye as pure driving talent, it is an equally important component of success. Get it right and the rest is in the hands of both the driver and the racing gods. Get it wrong and the efforts of an entire team can turn to dust.

Tyres will be an area of intense focus; their performance and degradation will be the major race strategy drive. With the Power Unit developing significantly more torque than its V8 predecessor, coupled with reduced downforce levels from revised aerodynamic regulations, including the lack of exhaust blowing, Pirelli has worked to design tyres suited to these new demands.

From a team perspective, models of tyre performance built up throughout previous years must be rebuilt from scratch, leaving teams to make educated guesses as to exactly how they will perform early on. The challenge for Pirelli as the supplier will be to provide a tyre that can cope with the demands of the new cars but also allow them to be raced hard.

While not to the extent seen during the early V10 era – where specialised, high performance engines were designed exclusively for qualifying – the balance between qualifying and race performance will be a key consideration. The 100 kg fuel allowance will be the limiting factor on race day, but this is not a consideration during qualifying, where the 100 kg/hr maximum fuel flow rate stands as the limiting factor.

Where deltas in pace were reasonably narrow in 2013, this balance of performance is now a question of fundamental design philosophy. A team may have the ability to dominate on Saturday should they design a car targeting ultimate one lap pace, but this level of performance may come at the price of reduced efficiency on Sunday.

In the race itself, the driver will play an even more crucial role in the successful outcome of race strategy, as more versatility will be required to adapt to different situations. The potential fastest lap from a car will be vastly different to what can be achieved consistently during the race, depending on whether the driver is in clean air, attacking or defending. Taking a chance to overtake may well give track position, but the extra energy required to do so will need to be recovered later in the race to meet targets. When defending track position, the temptation will equally be to keep the opponent behind at all costs, but this may ultimately have the same end result.

Evidently, drivers will have to think more carefully about where and when to pass, and whether defending a position is worthwhile at any given stage of the race. Furthermore, if – as some have predicted – the new rules see a wide competitive spread between teams, this will likely contribute to more innovative and aggressive strategies. Bigger performance gaps generally decrease the downside of risk-taking and increase the potential rewards, encouraging the race strategists to attempt more extreme ways of attempting to win races.

Aside from regular shuffling within the order as drivers shift between modes of attack and optimum race efficiency, a host of last-gasp passing manoeuvres could well spice up the final laps of a race, given the potential for some cars to slow dramatically towards the end to conserve fuel and see the flag.

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