31 March 2014
Malaysian Grand Prix: What we learned in F1
Crash.net's team in the paddock bring you some of the F1 whispers from behind the scenes at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Why we have fuel flow sensors
This was the weekend that the F1 press room went back to school, sitting in rows and taking notes as FIA head of powertrain Fabrice Lom used a variety of coloured markers and a whiteboard to explain why the fuel flow sensors were a necessary element of the 2014 technical regulations.
Following on from articles in the media – including one by Kate Walker for Crash.net – asking why the fuel economy message could not have been spread to the world at large simply by limiting the amount of fuel drivers were allowed to use per race, Lom thought it wise to explain to the non-technical press corps just why the fuel flow rate had to be limited. (And, as a result, monitored.)
Despite the introduction of turbos for this year, the rules do not limit air flow. In order to control turbo boost – which has an impact on both component shelf-life and fuel efficiency – either air or fuel must be restricted. Given that fuel efficiency is one of the aims of this new era, limiting fuel flow was the obvious solution.
Fixing the flow rate also has safety implications – with all drivers running the same fuel flow rate, of 100kg/h plus or minus a minute tolerance, the risk of cars travelling at vastly different speeds with one on 50kg/h and another on 150kg/h was greatly reduced.
That Bernie can back-track
Having previously been one of the most vocal opponents of the sound of the 2014 Formula One power units despite not having heard the cars run live, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone this week proved that age is no barrier to flexibility when he publicly changed his mind.
“It's a little louder than we thought, so if we can just get [the volume] up a little bit more then it would be all right,” Ecclestone told reporters in Sepang. “It sounds terrible on TV, but the problem isn't that, it's about the people coming here and the whole atmosphere of Formula One. People said you couldn't hear anything, but it's not true. It just needs to be a bit louder than we have now.”
When asked by the BBC if it would be possible to crank up the volume on the V6s, however, Ecclestone was far from confident. “I don't know,” he said. “You'll have to ask the engineers. I've asked them and they've said 'no'.” But if it's possible for the man most against the new formula to change his mind, then anything can happen. F1 engineers have long since proved that they can rise to any challenge.
Felipe-baby doesn't always stay cool
Perhaps it was a simple miscommunication that led Felipe Massa to ignore direct orders from the pit wall during the Malaysian Grand Prix, or maybe it was an astonishing lack of tact from the team, who asked the Brazilian to let teammate Valtteri Bottas pass him using almost exactly the same choice of words as Ferrari had employed at Hockenheim in 2010 when asking their driver to hand over a comfortable win to then-teammate Fernando Alonso.
Whatever the explanation, Massa maintained position ahead of Bottas and defended his right to do so in his post-race comments.
“We scored points with both cars,” Massa said. “I was fighting till the last lap to get as many points as we could – I was fighting with Jenson [Button]. … I think if Valtteri couldn't pass me it was going to be difficult to get past Jenson as well. I think I did the right thing, and I don't think there will be any problems when I get to the garage. The team has shown a lot of respect for me since the first time, so I shouldn't change – I need to fight for everything I can for my best as well. … I don't regret what I did.”
Penalty points are going to be fun
Earlier in the weekend, Bottas became the first driver in F1 to pick up penalty points after he was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo during qualifying. The penalty also came with two points against Bottas that he will carry for the next 12 months.
The penalty points system is designed to penalise serial offenders, with drivers facing an automatic one race ban if they reach 12 points in any 12 month period. With 17 races still to go this year and then the points carrying over to the start of the 2015 season as well, keeping an eye on who has been penalised and when could become important.
The penalties are handed out for driving offences, so there were none in Australia, and Ricciardo escaped any points in the race because the unsafe release from his pit stop was a team error (although Ricciardo is still penalised at the next race with a 10-place grid penalty).
Malaysia saw two more drivers picking up points in the race. Kevin Magnussen was given two points for causing a collision with Kimi Raikkonen on lap two, while Jules Bianchi received the same punishment for contact with Pastor Maldonado at the start of the race, with both cars eventually retiring.
Some drivers may be pushing it too far
The weight limit in F1 was a topic of much debate towards the end of last year, with Nico Hulkenberg often used as an example of a talented driver who could be seeing his opportunities limited due to his height (and therefore added weight compared to others).
Malaysia presented a new challenge, with drivers who have been shedding as much weight as possible all winter faced with a race which leads to substantial weight loss due to the high temperatures and humidity. Standing outside in the paddock for more than five minutes would cause sweat to run down your back, so you can only imagine how uncomfortable conditions get for drivers inside the cockpit.
However, the situation could be more severe than thought, with a rumour in the paddock that one driver actually fainted during a PR event last week as a result of his dieting. For the most technologically advanced sport in the world, surely there is a way of ensuring drivers don't need to lose even more weight at the request of engineers and designers.
By Kate Walker and Chris Medland
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