The FIA has informed teams that so-called 'exotic' engine-maps are to be disallowed from the start of the 2012 season, as the organisation also seeks to eliminate blown diffusers from F1.
Blown diffusers of the type seen in 2011 are already banned from next season, and engine exhausts will have to exit from the top of the engine cover. However, it's become increasingly clear that teams had started to look at new ways of using engine-mapping as a substitute.
By using 'extreme' or 'exotic' settings for the engine via the standard ECU (engine control unit), teams have been experimenting with using engine maps to blow exhaust gases onto the lower element of the rear wing even through corners where the driver is off the throttle.
Like this season's blown diffusers, such settings would considerably increase grip and downforce for the car through those corners and allow it to to run with less rear wing overall - increasing straight line speed without compromising handling through the turns. While seemingly fairly innocuous at this stage, the FIA are wary of this potential technical 'loophole' becoming disproportionately crucial to team performances in 2012.
This season, the initial introduction of blown diffusers was initially seen as not particularly significant. But by the summer it was clear that their effect combined with engine mapping was becoming so vital to race performance that the FIA tried to introduce an emergency ban on them mid-season on safety grounds, which ultimately they had to back down from in the face of team objections - especially from Renault
and Red Bull
who cited car reliability issues.
Experts suggest that this year's blown diffusers have added around 20% to the levels of downforce that Pirelli were anticipating and have boosted the cars back to levels of downforce even greater than that provided by double diffusers, a previous 'loophole' in the regulations seized upon by teams for added performance.
In order to head off a similar situation arising next season, the FIA has now informed F1 teams that 'exotic' engine maps will not be allowed in 2012, with Charlie Whiting telling technical directors that the ECU will feature updated software to prevent use outside strict limits. The technical regulations are also being reworded to simplify the situation and close any loopholes, and ensure that the engine maps only allow exhausts to emit gases under pressure while the throttle is open.
Team boss Ross Brawn is quoted as saying that the new moves are "fairly robust" but not 100% and that another meeting of the Technical Working Group will be needed, although there was still the probability that teams will nonetheless "come up with some scheme" to outwit the rules whatever the outcome.
Over at Mercedes, Brawn's team have been experimenting with a new air intake system for the front nose of the car that redirects air over the front wing of the car to add downforce there instead. However, with teams already complaining that front wings are susceptible to the build up of rubber marbles adversely affecting downforce - as McLaren
experienced with Lewis Hamilton
at Korea - few teams look likely to follow this direction at this point.
Overall, F1 team technical directors are said to be in favour of the moves to reduce engine maps, as it allows car designers to get back to concentrating on aerodynamics and bodywork refinements.