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The final moments of Formula One Grands Prix are, on the surface, fairly chaotic. As the chequered flag falls, team members flood the pit wall to wave home winners. The victorious swoop towards them in acknowledgement of a job well done, podium finishers pump the air in celebration, and everyone begins to get ready for the joy of the podium celebrations.

However, look past the champagne spray and adrenaline-fuelled chest bumping and in the midst of the chaos in pit lane, organisation is once again taking hold. Up and down parc fermé, a small crew of officials checks each car, making sure they’re safe. Car data is then downloaded for analysis, all of which must be done before the final result is published.

It’s not just in the heated moments after the flag falls that these careful checks take place, either. From the moment the cars arrive at each grand prix circuit, the FIA’s technical crew is on alert, steadily working through a series of tests to ensure that each car conforms to F1’s regulations – making sure the playing field is level. A small coterie up against the ingenuity and brain power of thousands of the brightest minds in motor sport, all of whom are seeking to push the rules as far as possible in pursuit of the infinitesimal time advantages which define victory in Formula One. It’s a hugely demanding task, but one that in 2014 has become even more complex.

This 2014 season sees the sport undergoing the biggest regulation change in its 60-year history. The arrival of a new V6, 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid power unit featuring extensive energy recovery systems means the FIA technical team is dealing with a radically different F1 landscape.

“It’s a different world, it has nothing to do with the old cars,” says technical delegate Jo Bauer, who heads up the 10-man team that reports to race director Charlie Whiting. “The whole area we are involved in is completely different. We learned a lot through [pre-season] testing, and we need to be organised just to get through it. It’s going to be difficult and time-consuming this year, but we are prepared.”

The shape of grand prix weekends has largely been fixed in recent years, with the main body of the technical crew setting up at a circuit on the Wednesday before the race (Tuesday in the case of long-haul events and Monaco) and the software analysis team setting up a day later. The FIA technical area is established in the pitlane garages, with a measuring platform installed, the trucks that are home to the technical crew for the weekend are readied and the fuel-testing laboratory is set up.

“On Wednesday, everything has to be operational by lunchtime,” explains Bauer. “The teams then have the choice to come to us and do private deflection tests [in which car elements are tested to check they meet tolerances] or any measurement checks they would like to do, but they have to book this in advance.

“Then, on Thursday at 8.30am, we are at the track for initial scrutineering. We brief the scrutineers and the platform crew, and then start at 10am. This is largely to check that all the cars meet our safety requirements.

“Every country provides 30 scrutineers and we split those into a platform crew, tyre checkers and garage scrutineers. Each car is scrutinised and this has to be done before 4pm when we submit a report to the stewards who then publish the entry list.”

A weekend of old would then involve the technical team working steadily through a regime of checks. These would include testing fuel samples from the teams before and after each track session, logging engine use, inspecting seals on components the teams were not permitted to interfere with – such as gearboxes and engine control units – checking tyres and doing software checks on car systems. The work would go on throughout the weekend.

But while the methodology remains the same for 2014 – “we carry out regular checks on all aspects of the cars during the weekend,” says Bauer – the shape of the technical team’s workload has changed dramatically.”

Until this year, Formula One had been faithfully wedded to powerplant technology that had it roots in an age where access to the power required for F1 meant large capacity engines burning fuel with abandon.

But as the world woke up to the need to conserve resources and to develop technologies to do so and as automobile manufacturers pressed for change, Formula One too realised that it had a role to play in developing these technologies

As such, the old 2.4 litre, eight-cylinder, normally-aspirated engines that F1 had relied on since 2006 were phased out and manufacturers were handed a engineering challenge the like of which the sport had never seen.

The task was to develop to a small 1.6 litre, six cylinder internal combustion engine which would work in harmony with two radical new energy recovery systems that would boost its power. The first, a vastly expanded kinetic energy recover system of the sort used since 2009 now called ERS-K and a second system ERS-H, a system attached to a new turbocharger which would recover energy from exhaust gasses.

The new Power Units are a marvel, generating as much or more power than the fuel-hungry old V8s, but from 35 per cent less fuel than previously used.

They are incredibly complex, however, and making sure that the new systems meet the requirements of F1’s technical regulations is a far trickier task than with the engines of old.

A known quantity, the V8s, the technical specifation of which had been frozen in 2007, provided teams with little room for manoeuvre, as FIA software analyst Olivier Hulot admits: “It was settled. It had been around for years, so the software inside the standard ECU (engine control unit) was the same for everyone. You could play with a few parameters for control of the V8, but that was it.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and the game has changed, with the high-tech systems requiring a huge rethink of the standard ECU brought to the sport by the FIA in 2008.

“Prior to this year all the control software, everything that was managing the engine – the gearbox, differential, clutch and so on – was standard code. The teams had no ability to change that code,” says Alan Prudom, who heads up the FIA software analysis team at the races. “This year the teams have been given more freedom, in that they are able to write some of their own code. It is still within the same standard ECU as last year, but there are some areas we’ve set aside for which the teams can write code. That’s primarily for things like the management of energy recovery systems, the way the energy is balanced around the unit. They can have an influence on choosing strategies for the way in which engine power is delivered, what proportion is from the internal combustion engine and what comes from the battery and the associated motors.

“There’s also a fair amount of freedom on some of the newer technologies such as the turbo management. However, most of the chassis side of things like the gearbox control and clutch differential is still standard software that the teams can only configure, they can’t actually change it.”

These advances mean that whereas before analysis of a team’s use of the ECU was relatively straightforward, this year the FIA technical team must sift through a vast amount of code to ensure teams are conforming to the rules.

“A lot of the work we do for a grand prix is preparation, it’s before the race weekend,” explains Hulot, who is responsible for ECU checks. “Pre-season we visit all the teams, all the engine suppliers and check how they’re connecting the standard ECU to their car systems.

“Then before each race we look at how they configure the standard parameters, making sure this is in compliance with the regulations. Before each session we verify again the configuration of the standard issue.”

And the analysis doesn’t stop there. During each session the FIA’s software analysts have access to live data from the cars, which they look at throughout the weekend, searching for signs of untoward performance.

“We have dashboard-type displays that give us warnings when somebody is running close to the limit in terms of a specific regulation,” explains Hulot. “Largely it’s an exercise in trying to minimise post-event analysis, because after the event it’s too late.”

Allied to analysis of the ECU is an examination of the control units of the new energy recovery systems themselves, a task managed by Andy Leitch.

“The kinetic energy recovery is basically the same as the old KERS– you have the same control electronics going between the battery and the motor. But then it’s doubled up. You’ve got a second motor generator unit on the turbo and also the size of the motors has increased. So instead of 60kW it’s now 120kW,” he says.

“In terms of what we’ll be looking for, there are limits on how much power the kinetic recovery motor generator (MGU-K), can provide. There are also limits on how much energy can be taken in and out of the battery. From a safety point of view we’ve put a maximum voltage of a thousand volts to be used, so we’re making sure the teams don’t exceed that, which they shouldn’t do by design. There’s also a maximum speed permitted for the turbo motor.”

Again the analysis is a mix of pre-race checks and data examination performed in real time.

“The weight of the battery is defined so a team can’t have a really light battery that’s got high capacity. There’s no point in them spending a lot of money trying to get a special battery made that’s going to be a bit lighter because it won’t help – you’ll end up having to put ballast on [the car] to compensate,” he adds. “Those design elements are checked before the start of the season.

“On the car itself we have two sensors: one for the MGU-K and one in the battery to measure how much energy goes in. During running we’re looking at those to see how much energy, how much power, how much voltage is present. And if our sensor fails the teams have to provide a model of the power they’re using, which I can then verify.”

All these systems are also locked, either by physical or software seals, so that the teams are prevented from making adjustments.

Prudom admits that the complexity of the new units has increased the responsibilities of the FIA’s software team, with an extra software analyst taken on to help shoulder the burden. “I’ve been working in this area of Formula One for 20 years and these are by far the most complicated engines I’ve dealt with – by a factor of two or three,” he says. “They are a far more extreme design than, say, the previous V8s were. So it is extra work for sure and I think everyone, the teams and ourselves, is on a learning curve with them.”

And the learning curve has been steep. Pre-season testing saw every powerplant manufacturer suffer reliability issues, with Renault the worst affected. Despite the difficulties, however, each manufacturer was bound by the new rules to homologate its power unit on February 28th.

“This work was undertaken by our engine expert John Marson,” says Bauer. “Each team must submit a reference power unit that we can check against whatever they’re doing during the year. Basically, it’s the closing of the boxes, so to speak. After that point the only option for the manufacturers to alter the power units is on the grounds of reliability, safety or cost, and that request must then be submitted to the FIA for approval. John also looks after power unit checks at the races, making sure that the right components are being used, as the teams are restricted on the number of certain elements they can use.

F1’s new regulations have had an impact on almost every area of car performance. From fuel to gearboxes to aerodynamics, the game has changed and the FIA technical team is now refereeing a whole new contest.
THU 10.04.14, 4:04PM
While the introduction of F1’s new power unit is undoubtedly the most dramatic change to this year’s regulations, there have been significant alterations elsewhere, no more so than in fuelling, with cars now limited to 100kg of fuel per race and with efficiency also promoted through fuel flow restrictions. Those changes and the reintroduction of turbocharging to F1 have given fuel analyst Peter Tibbetts a new environment in which to work.

“The first change is in the fuel approval process because every team has to have their fuel pre-approved. Last year we were having the density checked at three different temperatures to get a density temperature curve plotted. The fuel flow meter measures volume and we have to convert that to mass because the regulations are measured in mass,” he says. “Therefore we have to get a temperature density curve during the fuel approval process, which is then programmed into the fuel flow sensors.

“At the circuit, because the fuel flow sensor is mounted in the tank, we have to check that the sensor has got the correct FIA seal and that it’s been calibrated with the correct fuel,” he adds. “Some teams have more than one fuel pre-approved for the season and a sensor can be calibrated against two or three different fuels. We have to make sure that the correct calibration line is put into the software in the fuel flow sensor so that it is measuring the correct fuel.”

The return of turbos to the sport has also changed the types of fuel used.

“The fuel composition has changed quite a lot,” says Tibbetts. “It’s much better to have a heavier, more dense fuel for a turbocharged engine than with a normally-aspirated engine.”

All these on-circuit checks, which take place after every track session and before and after the race, are carried out in Tibbetts’ travelling laboratory. “I normally set up in one of the ‘track shacks’ for flyaway races or in one of the trailers in Europe,” he says. “And what I set up is an instrument called a gas chromatograph. This is used to separate the fuel into its individual components so we can see exactly what’s in there. I’ll get a fingerprint, a pattern of peaks unique to that fuel, and when I take a fuel sample I can overlay that pattern against the one I have for the reference fuel and compare the two. They should overlap completely.

“The samples are taken in the garage where we’ve got marshals making sure nothing’s touched on the car, apart from filling it up with petrol and changing oils and fluids – and things that Jo Bauer allows to be done due to damage or something. I’ll go along an hour before the race, take a sample, and then take it back to the gas chromatograph, and I’ll set the samples up to run during the race. I take three more samples at the end of the race. During the weekend every team is sampled at least once. I generally take 12 samples over the weekend and there are 11 teams, so even if I take a sample from a team they know there’s a chance I might go back and take another one.”

Changes, too, have occurred in the gearbox where, as technical assistant Richard Darker explains, Formula One’s teams are also being tested.

Richard Darker - Technical Assistant

“This year the cars have eight forward gears, which is new, and the teams have to nominate the ratios they will use in their gearboxes during the year,” he says. “It’s pretty tough. Last year they had 30 plus gears to choose from and now they’ve got only eight. They’ll choose those, we’ll seal the gearbox and they’ll run each gearbox for six events.”

There are ‘get-out-of-jail’ clauses, however. Normally teams are only allowed to change certain elements inside the gearbox during a race weekend if they can prove to Bauer they’ve been damaged. For 2014, however, that rule has been relaxed, with teams now getting five opportunities during the season to open the gearbox without proof of damage being required. Also, for this year only, teams have been given the chance to re-nominate their gear ratios once during the season, although after that change is made they must race the remainder of the year with the new set.

Unusually, it means that for Darker it will be a more straightforward season than in the past. “It’s a good year for me!” he laughs. “Normally, the teams would see what gear ratios they wanted out of the 30, and then two hours after second practice they would send a list to me and Jo. Then on a Friday night I’d go round and seal every gearbox. This year I won’t have to do that as the ratios are set from Melbourne.”

But where one door of complexity closes, another opens. Darker also takes care of deflection tests and looks after the weigh bridge in the FIA garage, where he’ll spend long hours checking the correctness of the cars against new bodywork and chassis regulations.

“Teams can request their own time to come and use our equipment, to try out a front or rear wing or anything like that. After each practice session cars can be weighed, and after qualifying the top 10 cars will be weighed. Then we’ll choose three to four cars and do a specific test on them.”

Deflection tests have been the area of most scrutiny in recent times, and the possibility that teams have used wings that illegally flex under load to provide improved downforce has been heavily investigated.

“We saw it a lot in pre-season tests, this aero-elasticity,” says Bauer. “Of course the teams can run what they like in testing, it’s not regulated, but it is from Melbourne onwards. I saw some things on the cars we wouldn’t accept this year, like spring-loaded flaps. It’s not something they should put on a car. Having a spring action for any mechanism with an aero influence is not permitted.”

This is the eternal contest between competitors and adjudicator, however, a battleground where the teams are constantly in pursuit of an area within the definitions of what an F1 car is that can be re-imagined and exploited for a gain in lap time. In opposition, the FIA technical team is there to determine whether that re-imagination conforms to the rulebook or contravenes it.

Bauer is sanguine about the nature of the game, though. “This is how it is,” he says. “They have some very clever people and it’s our job to try to understand how they work.

“If we see something, I’ll discuss it with Charlie Whiting, and if we don’t like it we’ll advise the team to fix it. If we spot it in free practice we’ll ask for it to be changed by qualifying. If they don’t or if we find after qualifying that something significant is wrong, then we’ll report it to the stewards as we have done in the past.”

Bauer does admit that due to the difficulties of getting the hugely complex 2014 cars up and running he expects fewer attempts to push the rules envelope – at least initially.

“At the moment they’re all trying to simply understand their cars, so I think at least in the first half of the season it’s less likely. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t get to the stage of the teams trying to find loopholes again. As I said, they have all these incredibly smart brains working there, and we have to match them somehow.

“It is a constant battle,” he concludes. “You can never un-invent the things they bring to cars, but you can make it harder for them to achieve the things they’d like to achieve.”
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