F1 » 15 October 2013
Kate Walker: Bowing to the inevitable
Kate Walker talks about whether the pack will be shuffled in 2014 in her latest exclusive column for Crash.net…
Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama, here Kate Walker discusses some of the hidden costs faced by F1 teams...
It didn't happen in Suzuka, so – barring alien abduction or some other unlikely event – Sebastian Vettel will be crowned 2013 Formula One World Champion in India, making the German one of three racers in F1 history to have claimed four consecutive titles.
It is a remarkable achievement from both man and team, but the endless stream of Red Bull success has led to a sense of ennui in the paddock. Another Saturday, another RBR on pole. Another Sunday, another commanding victory. Ctrl + C, ctrl + V on last week's race report, and find and replace all mentions of the last circuit to swap them with the current one.
With little new to say about the all-conquering Red Bulls, paddock chatter in Suzuka was firmly focused on 2014, and the likelihood of a shuffle in the standings.
McLaren confirmed that the headline-grabbing signing promised in Korea was none other than Peter Prodromou, currently Red Bull's chief aerodynamicist and the man who – alongside Adrian Newey and chief designer Rob Marshall – has been key to the Milton Keynes team's string of resounding successes.
After their woeful 2013 season, McLaren needed to make some changes. While the new hire might not be the magic bullet needed to turn around the Woking racers' fortunes (only time will tell), Prodromou's imminent arrival will lead to a much-needed morale boost for the team. And attitude is key – thinking things will improve is often the vital first step in a turnaround.
And the 2014 regulation changes provide much potential for a change to the accepted order. A cynic might say that they were tailored to an anti-Newey specification, with the wider powerplants working against the Briton's preferred 'tightly-packaged rear end', and the skywards exhaust configuration preventing the aerodynamic blowing of which he was the undisputed king.
Packaging and cooling are causing design headaches the length of the pitlane, with all of the energy recovery extras taking up extra space and requiring much more cooling. The bigger units not only pump out more heat, but the turbo chargers require their own charge coolers, while all of the more familiar components still need to be cooled themselves.
Designing sleek aerodynamic beasts under these restrictive conditions is not easy, and nor is it supposed to be. Where Newey will retain his advantage is in the integration of the machine as a whole. In an era where designers are specialists, Red Bull's big brain is one of the few men left with experience of designing an entire car from the ground up – he can see (and conceive) the integrated whole like no one else still working.
The 2014 season may be many months away, but with the rest of 2013 looking like a foregone conclusion there is little else to do but look to the future and hope for a bit of variety.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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