March 19, 2009

Formula Chaos

One week before the 2009 season start in Melbourne and Formula 1 is in turmoil. If you have not followed the pre season dramatics let me try and summarize for you:

On track:

No doubt you have heard about Brawn GP's miraculous testing times by now. Bernie Ecclestone himself tipped Button for as a possible world championship contender (poor Rubens...).

While the Brawn is obviously a good car, it must be remembered that this is testing and there are no obligations for cars to pass tech inspection. Further scrutiny of slow corner exit acceleration hints the Brawn could be running below fighting weight. Barring vastly superior mechanical grip, the 5 to 6 mph differential observed cannot be explained otherwise, especially as the Brawn is not getting any help from a KERS system.

The buzzword in this 2009 pre-season has been "diffusers" and there have been accusations, starting with Flavio Briatore, but in the last week also Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali, that some teams have interpreted regulations a bit too loosely.

The teams in question are Brawn, Williams and Toyota. Just yesterday the FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting told Auto Motor und Sport that while no official complaint have been made to date, the diffusers in question were designed exploiting a gray area in the regulations.
Will there be a protest similar to Mclaren's protest of Ferrari's sprung floor? A good possibility, especially as limited testing makes successfully coming up with a copy more complicated.

Other assorted tidbits and rumors:

Mclaren's troubles are in part due to a structural problem with their diffuser which flexed enough to disturb the airflow. They tried a different extractor design but if we see a MP4-24/b soon we'll know this was more than conjecture.

Red Bull is sandbagging.

Off Track:

Briatore may like it but I have read not one single positive comment about the last minute scoring change the FIA dictated this past week amongst fans. Stunning, especially as this change was purportedly the result of a fan poll.
While last year Hamilton was crowned champion with one less win than Massa, with the new system you might have a champion scoring less points than second place. You might also have the season decided very early in the season. Quite a difference coming from two seasons decided in the last few laps. A simple increase in the points awarded to first place would have worked so much better.

The mandated two tier budgets from 2010 on, unlimited but with technical restrictions or 30 million pounds ($42M) with technical innovations allowed, is very much about money but also about a power struggle between the FIA and the constructor's association, FOTA.
FOTA had, amazingly, managed a very united front in its brief existence, the FIA's newfound love for the little guy aims squarely at driving a wedge in the group. It's fairly complicated and appropriately Machiavellian, if you want to delve into it more I highly recommend you read Chris Sylt about F1's commercial rights and then's "The danger of getting what you want"

Teams will of course pick the option with allowing technical innovation, and the budget cap? Well there is an obvious solution already used by Red Bull: you run two teams.

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