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Changing Times, Testing Times

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
13/02/2014

There has been a certain amount of schadenfreude over the problems faced by the F1 teams using Renault engines. Red Bull seems to have been particularly affected which, for some, comes as a relief after the team's recent dominant performance.

If it is any comfort to Red Bull, at least their cars proceeded under their own power. When the first McLaren-TAG went to test in 1983, it would not start at all. That is a price you can sometimes pay when dealing with new technology.

When Toleman decided to enter Formula One, the team fitted a turbocharged Hart engine to a Formula Two Toleman (which used a normally aspirated Hart engine) and Brian Henton pounded around Goodwood. Brian was not aiming for a time, he was running with F2 tyres and brakes, the exercise was a systems test, to make sure that everything worked as it should. This has been denied teams this year by the FIA's restriction on testing.

We not only have new engines, with turbochargers, but we have a larger KERS system plus bigger batteries. There has never been a more radical set of changes in the history of Formula One. You might have thought that in the light of this, the FIA could have been flexible over testing even if only for a few weeks.

To ensure that the exercise was systems testing and to prevent anyone earning a performance advantage, it would have been possible to impose a handicap. Pirelli could have run up some rock hard tyres, or engines could have had a rev restriction.

We do not want the main focus of interest on the Australian GP to see which cars can complete even qualifying, let alone last a whole race. Apart from anything else, there is the safety issue. Cars should line up on a grid having been thoroughly tested.

In the recent past there have been incremental changes to cars year on year. McLaren took a wrong turn last year, but we are talking in time per corner that has no meaning in everyday life. A tenth is huge in F1 terms, but nobody could start and stop a stop watch in less than two tenths.

McLaren took a wrong turn in detail, but all the main working features were carried over from 2012 and, before that, from 2011. For most teams, change is gradual. The modifications which are made throughout a season are mainly aerodynamic, teams no longer ditch an entire design as Arrows did with the A2 or Lotus with the T80.

Teams need data and, before a season starts, that can only come from testing. There are issues like fuel consumption and tyre wear, and fuel will play a bigger part in 2014 than at any time since the mid-1980s when turbo boost and fuel consumption were both reined in.

Formula One wants to put on a show, hence double points for the last race. It is not going to be much of a show if a race turns into an economy run.

Before each race already we have TV pundits informing us about tyre wear, DRS zones, use of KERS, and loads of other stuff which might enthral a 12 year-old game player, but which does nothing for me. I cannot be alone in feeling that, this year, I ought to listen to the talking heads and take notes if I am to follow the action. That is not my idea of putting on a show.

A reader, Graham Warley, has raised concerns about physical safety, concerns I share. Since the Lotus 49 of 1967, an F1 car has been a tube with a hole in it for the driver, a fuel tank and then the engine and gearbox bolted on to make a continuous unit. Regardless of materials and aerodynamic, that has been the recipe.

The rear end of a 2014 car carries much more stuff in the form of a larger electric motor and all the plumbing associated with turbochargers, Graham and I wonder whether there has been proper tasting of a rear-end shunt, bearing in mind that the configuration of the new cars is now radically different.

Gian Carlo Minardi has raised concerns about safety and when such a man speaks, I listen. Minardi has raised the basic issue of marshal training and what can, and what should not be touched, if a car has to be retrieved. There is a heap of electrical kit that has not been there before.

Since the 2014 cars are hybrids, they have to carry batteries and the logical place to locate them is beneath the (smaller) fuel tanks. Surely I cannot be the only person to have registered that Boeing's new Dreamliner has had problems with batteries.

The breadth and depth of Boeing's expertise is immense, many times greater than the whole of Formula One. Boeing has had unlimited testing and yet can still encounter glitches.

We like to think of Formula One as somehow being the ultimate in technology, but it is not, and never has been. Aviation has always been years ahead.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Legend, 16/03/2014 13:55

"Good bye formula one, I have been following you with very keen interest over the last 25 years, you no longer do it for me, you have lost the inspirational chest compressing, ear assaulting noise of motor sport now replaced by the quiet insipid whine of the turbo. Gone are the days with the incredible ear splitting, musical howl of the naturally aspirated V tens that used to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up or the loud scream of the V eights, it is now just a sad, pathetic, quiet turbo whine. This for me is not motor sport, it is about the noise, the smell, I understand why you have done this however I shall now have to switch off and wait until you come to your senses. Regards (A very sad Darren Morris)"

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2. Posted by nonickname, 21/02/2014 16:32

"This is probably not the correct forum for this but it just might be that the GP2 cars are going to be quicker than the F1's??"

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3. Posted by Whisky, 20/02/2014 16:34

"Call me old fashioned, but I look back with a certain amount of fondness at the days when we were never quite sure which cars would finish a race... It added something to the spectacle when a race leader would suddenly find himself stood at the side of a track, furiously aiming kicks at his smoking car whilst his rivals shot past him...

And it also gave some of the smaller teams the opportunity to earn a few points...

F1 cars are supposed to be prototypes... so why shouldn't they be slightly unreliable!"

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4. Posted by Paul C, 16/02/2014 2:59

"If you cannot legally (ha!) test by the FIA & FOM testing rules, do it indirectly. Set up a LMS/ALMS division called LMP-F where teams can do scads of kilometers on their F1 cars with a marginal (one seat only) prototype body over the F1 chassis. They might look like the last generation of Can-Am cars that came from F5000 cars. It would also provide the same level of training and experience to the underemployed F1 test and reserve drivers. Those drivers need real seat & development analysis time. Let them do it on the LMS schedule."

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5. Posted by Z-Kev, 15/02/2014 6:24

"Didnt Mercedes and Ferrari both fit their power plants to high performance cars and run them around their test tracks so that they ironed out and real life issues before testing?"

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6. Posted by GrahamG, 14/02/2014 17:10

"Lots of good sense as always. Testing actually saves money in these circumstances because it avoids having to make emergency fixes.
However there seems to be a never ending stream of nonsense from the FIA. If the TV ratings dip again (and I am sure they will) who will they decide to blame - not their stupid regs you can be sure, but that's the root of the issue.
We need a formula with races which are won by the fastest car/driver combination and are easy to follow. Remember what Ron Dennis said when Ferrari were all conquering - "all it shows is the rest of us are not doing the job well enough". "

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7. Posted by yagijd, 13/02/2014 22:29

"I was at Willow Springs in California doing some testing on an IMSA car and there was two cars that were obviously faster on the track. One was a Porsche with a twin turbo 350 Chevy owned by Ak Miller and the other was a primer colored open wheeler with none other than Nigel Mansell. It was his new F1 car being tested in secret. He did an amazing number of laps of testing. I wonder if there is away to test the components in another kind of car, maybe an ALMS car. what could the FIA do about it? I have run dynos, both engine and chassis for years, but although this gives us a really good idea of where we are, there is no substitute to real seat time. It is ludicrous that there is very little time allowed to test the whole package. I had a customer who removed his race car from my charge and gave it to an inexperienced mechanic to prepare for a race just to save money and it cost him his life when the throttle linkage over centered and jammed on full throttle. Something an experienced race mechanic would have spotted. Testing is dangerous and must be done in a reasonably safe environment and no shortcuts can be tolerated for the sake of saving money. "

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8. Posted by K1w1, 13/02/2014 14:07

"Well said, as always.
That the FIA has not allowed considerably more testing is just plain stupid. Or, maybe, that's the idea? Don't allow the testing and bring in the (lack of) reliability feature to add to the spice."

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9. Posted by TokyoAussie, 13/02/2014 13:00

"Well said. Testing, though, isn't enough. There is no way that a battery should be near a fuel tank. That's a regulation that should appear at the top of the list. "

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