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Kate Walker: Go with the (fuel) flow
31 January 2014
One of the hot after-hours topics in the bars and restaurants of Jerez had little to do with the anatomical noses, Renault's struggles, or the sound of the 2014 power units. Among the more technical press room personnel, the big story was of a potential problem to come – one that has the potential to cripple the 2014 season.
This year will see the introduction of fuel flow sensors in use on all cars. The sensors are a vital aspect of the 2014 cars – without them, it will be impossible for the FIA to ensure that all of the teams are complying with the stricter fuel regulations in place this year. Teams are restricted to 100 kilograms of fuel and a maximum fuel intake of 100kg an hour. But with such strictures unable to be governed by a gentleman's agreement, the FIA needed to introduce a universal device that would be capable of completing the task accurately and consistently.
Earlier this month it was announced that the fuel flow sensor designed by Gill Sensors had been homologated by the FIA and would be in use on all cars. But there are concerns about the shelf-life of the sensors, which are expected to last for the season, but which come with only a 30-day warranty.
Should there be any problems with the sensors that bring the quality of their readings into question, then it cannot be guaranteed that each team is using the correct weight of fuel. And in that instance, the doors are open for all manner of complaints from the teams about cheating, unfairness, and the rest.
The calibration of the sensors is being undertaken by Calibra Technology, who will also be undertaking random spot checks of the sensors for the FIA over the course of the year.
Adding to the potential controversy is the added import of fuel this season. The FIA have tightened up the post-race fuelling rules, with cars no longer allowed to stop on track after the chequered flag. Teams will need to ensure they fuel the cars sufficiently to return to the pits post-race without penalty, but if the credibility of the fuel flow sensors can be questioned, then the FIA will not be able to justly punish infractions.
The sensors have caused headaches for several teams on the grid already this year, as a late change in the mounting of the system required a number of teams to redesign the mounting of their fuel tanks – a possible explanation of the number of last minute pre-season crash tests seen in mid-January.
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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