Formula One 101: Part Two

The Krakow Post spoke to its inside connection at the Renault F1 Team, home to Polish racing superstar Robert Kubica, about the current season and what to watch for. See part one of this guide for an outline, or read on to go in depth.

BMW Disappears as Sauber Goes On

BMW Sauber, based in Switzerland and Germany, was active for four years, and was the racing home of Robert Kubica for the last three. The team cited changes in the auto industry, although there was speculation that car problems in the series and financial pressures felt by all the teams drove the decision. The team was resurrected by Peter Sauber without BMW’s backing in November 2009.

Kubica at BMW Sauber:

Kubica started his F1 career with the team as an alternate driver in 2006. As the season drew to a close, he took over Canadian Jaques Villenueve’s race seat in Hungary when Villenueve was deemed unfit to drive due to a suspected concussion following an accident during the German Grand Prix, and placed a respectable seventh, only to be disqualified for the car being too light. Kubica was to drive in all of the last six rounds of the season.

2007 gave Kubica his first opportunity to show his stuff, and he raced well until he was in a horrifying crash at the Canadian Grand Prix, which cost him his start at the United States Grand Prix. He was to go on to finish sixth in the standings nevertheless. Kubica’s veteran German Teammate Nick Heidfeld also had a strong year, giving BMW Sauer its best finish in the manufacturers’ classification at 3rd.

In 2008 Kubica gave the team its first victory at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he had crashed the year before, and went on to finish fourth overall in the season standings. The team would finish 3rd for the year.

2009 was a year of car and tire problems for Kubica amid larger problems in the series with, among other issues, the double “diffuser debate” consuming much of the early season, and BMW was only to catch up in the diffuser arms race at the Turkish Grand Prix in June, only a month before the team announced that it would not be participating in 2010. The team finished the season in 6th.

The announcement to leave the sport in July meant that Kubica would be a free agent for 2010. He signed with Renault on October 7th. Six weeks later Peter Sauber announced that he would repurchase the team conditional on a FIA series entry for 2010, and while the official name is still BMW Sauber F1 Team, it’s referred to by other names, including simply “Sauber”, the common name of Sauber’s team from before the BMW joint venture. Their current drivers are Kamaui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa.

Toyota Retires

Toyota F1 entered the series in 2002 to score only two points on sixth place finishes by Finnish Mika Salo. Undeterred, they went on to peak in 2005, the year that F1 legend Michael Schumacher’s younger brother Ralf joined the team, as they finished in 4th. They consistently placed in fifth and sixth until their resignation in 2009.

Toyota announced its immediate departure from the sport in November 2009 as a gesture of frugality to their stockholders, as the company posted its first year-end loss in the wake of the world credit collapse and widely felt crisis in the auto industry.

USF1

USF1 was a team headed by English-born journalist Peter Windsor and American car builder Ken Anderson that never got off the ground. The purported principal investor was reportedly Chad Hurley, one of the original YouTube partners. They were granted entry to the series in July 2009, with a plan to race with two American drivers, an assertion they later retracted. The team was attempting to build brand new cars for their first season, which proved too costly, too time consuming, or both, and it unceremoniously collapsed in February at about the same time that Hurley withdrew his support.

Some rumblings about a possible attempt to revive the project for 2011 are still to be heard, but the last moment withdrawal may still end in disciplinary action against the group, which would cast the approval process in a very doubtful light. The team website is still online, trapped forever in the groundless optimism they were still trying to project as of late January.

Virgin Racing

F1 racing is a perfect match for British ego magnate Sir Richard Branson’s global empire of funky vehicle projects, but the team was actually launched as a partnership between John Booth’s racing company Manor Motorsport and aerodynamics expert Nick Wirth.

Under Wirth’s leadership, the team revealed in February that it has attempted something radical in the world of modern open-wheel racing: they built their car based entirely on computer aerodynamics models (CFD – Computational Fluid Dynamics) without using a wind tunnel to test the actual performance of the car. In a multi-million dollar undertaking that relies so heavily on using airflow to keep the car pressed against the road, this is an enormous gamble.

The results remain to be seen as Virgin finished out of the points in the first race in Bahrain with mechanical failures in both cars.

Drivers: Timo Glock and Lucas de Grassi
Web site: http://www.virginracing.com/

Hispania Racing F1 Team

Originally known as Campos Meta 1, this team had a name change when Spanish finance big cheese Jose Ramon Carabante took over in a few weeks before the season began. While Spanish former F1 driver Adrian Campos’s team had run in other open-wheel racing series, Carabante’s choice to focus on the team’s Spanish origins may be because it is the first Spanish-based team ever to compete at the top level.

The team features the second Indian driver ever to compete in F1, Karun Chandhok. The other driver is the Brazilian nephew of three-time champion Ayrton Senna, Bruno Senna Lalli.

Before Carabante took over, there were doubts that the team would make it to the grid for the first race, and Senna’s cars were completed only just in time for the practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix. In the second session, one of his wheels fell off. In the actual race on Sunday, both cars started at the back row from the pit lane and neither finished the race.

Lotus Racing

Lotus shares a name with an earlier team, Team Lotus, a legendary racing powerhouse dating from the 1950s, which imploded in 1994 under an excess of debt. It is also, however, known by the name of the company, 1Malaysia F1 Team, by everyone in Malaysia, where the owners of Lotus Cars, Proton, is based. While it is the successor of Team Lotus in name only, the owners and principals have drawn heavily on the association with the legendary team, which won seven constructors’ championships over its 36-year history, all in the 1960s and 1970s.

The team inherited BMW’s spot in the series, and due to their late approval, strong doubts were expressed ad to whether they would get on the grid for the first race. They did, and their drivers, Italian Jarno Trulli and Finn Heikki Kovalainen, both finished the race, in 17th and 15th places, respectively.

Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One Team

Brawn GP won the constructors’ cup in its first season in 2009, in part owing to their reading of a technicality of a design rule that gave them an enormous aerodynamic advantage in the first half of the season, which drew official complaints from four other teams. The ensuing debacle concerned diffusers, an aerodynamic feature of the underbody of the car. Immediately afterward they were purchased by Mercedes Benz, who produced their engines, in partnership with a company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

The new ownership has done almost nothing to alter their recipe for success, keeping all the team principals.

Brawn’s English driver, champion Jenson Button, won six of the first seven races in 2009, while his Brazilian teammate took second in two of them. As the constructors raced to produce a “double-diffuser” like the ones Brawn was using, their advantage eroded, while still placing strongly in the points with both cars.

Renault F1 Changes Hands

A Luxembourg-based investment group, Genii Capital, bought 75% of Renault F1 after the company held an emergency meeting in December to decide what was to become of the team. The problem was that the team was implicated in and sentenced for a race fixing incident in 2009, which resulted in the company and two of the team’s principals being banned for two years from Formula 1.

The “crashgate” scandal had repercussions even beyond F1.

RULES

Engine rules same as 2009

Today’s Formula One engines are extremely powerful high-rpm V8s, producing nearly twice the power of even the burliest production car engines, and turning as much as three times as fast. The high rotational speed and resulting power is possible in part because instead of using metal springs to close the valves, which feed the engine air and expel exhaust, and which would not survive a race, the engines use a cushion of air to close the valves. They also use parts made of expensive, high-tech metal that make them lighter and stronger.

The engines used in F1 racing are produced by either specialized divisions of major auto manufacturers or engineering companies that do virtually nothing but engineer, produce, and service racing engines. One such supplier is Cosworth, a British firm who have produced engines for the series since 1963, but whose engines disappeared from competition after 2006 as the company turned its focus to other activities. The return of Cosworth in 2010 resulted in the adoption of their engine by all three new teams – Lotus, Hispania, and Virgin – in part because of their affordability.

The importance of the engine is reflected in the budgets of the teams, where an estimated half of the expenditures go towards it. In contrast, drivers constitute only about five percent of the costs.

KERS

As a showcase for technology and innovation in automotive engineering, by 2008 the F1 series had begun examining ways to produce a greener racing culture while still striving to produce a competitive advantage. Testing began on a technology to recycle the energy that the cars’ brakes take out of the wheels when braking, an expensive and technically tricky undertaking which was met with considerable public enthusiasm. KERS technology (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) was to be introduced in 2009.

Then, during the winter break between 2008 and 2009, the world’s credit system froze and in the fallout of the crisis many of the sport’s funders, including those in the auto industry, came under fire for lavish bonuses paid to top employees and expensive perquisites. This led major financiers of F1 to re-evaluate the benefits of extravagant, high profile PR activities like racing team sponsorships. Several teams folded as a result, and serious budgetary pressure was felt by all.

While KERS was used by several teams in 2009, including Renault, and appeared to pay dividends on the track in some situations, the expense was deemed prohibitive in the light of financial realities, and while it is still permitted under the rules, all teams have come to an agreement not to use it this year.

An explanation is found here.

Renault’s 2009 Woes

2009 could not have turned out much worse for the team, as a major scandal involving race fixing sent shock waves through the racing community and even into English football and the electric vehicle market.

The scandal surrounded an incident at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix that ended a two-year winless streak when Renault driver Fernando Alonso won thanks to his teammate Nelson Piquet’s crash, which forced the race to be briefly put on hold as the safety car came onto the track and the wreckage was dealt with. Using a bit of tactical skulduggery orchestrated by team managers, Alonso was able to exploit the safety car rules to make a pit stop at a key moment, setting up his endgame with the drivers ahead of him left with inadequate fuel, and the fastest cars forced to pit after him, getting themselves stuck behind slower cars.

The scandal only erupted in 2009, when Piquet left the team after scoring no points in 10 races. Angry over his axing, he went to the authorities, in this case the FIA. In early September a series of highly public recriminations were levied between Piquet Jr. and the team, who did not deny cheating but insisted that it was Piquet Jr.’s idea. By 16 September, outspoken managing director Flavio Briatore and Pat Symond, head of engineering, were out the door and the FIA was to hand down rulings shortly thereafter.

Briatore and Symonds were banned from the sport for two years, but that decision was later overturned by a French court. Alonso was cleared of wrongdoing, although some speculated that he might have questioned the bizarre early pit stop strategy employed earlier in the race, which set up his opportunity to use the safety car break to win. The parent company Renault’s top executives were grilled by the media over the incident, which led to disruption of the company’s plan to launch four electric cars. Briatore was finally ousted from his two-and-a-half-year tenure as chairman of London football club Queens Park Rangers as a result of the controversy.

Renault finished the season in eighth place in the constructors’ classification, and signed Robert Kubica in October, before the team was to be sold to a Luxembourg-based investment group due to the car manufacturer’s ban.

Diffusers

Diffusers are a part of the rear underbody of a race car, which helps to make airflow under the car work to the advantage of the vehicle, combining with the lower part of the rear wing to suck the vehicle downward onto the track, improving grip and reducing wind resistance. Their legality in different forms had been the subject of much-heated debate amongst teams and fans, as aerodynamics is both the source of much of the performance of F1 cars and the reason they have such difficulty passing each other

In 2009, a controversy erupted at the beginning of the season over the shape of the diffuser used by Brawn GP, which exploited a clause in the rules allowing a part of the car not subject to modification according to some readings to be used for an expansion of the diffuser. The space concerned is only 15 cm wide, but the impact on performance was enough to bring Brawn the championship as other teams struggled to adopt the use of similar devices. The diffuser is shown on this Brawn car at the rear of the car in yellow in this video.

A video showing the fancy aerodynamic lab at Kubica’s former team BMW Sauber is found here: BMW video.

The McLaren Wing

Rival teams have questioned the legality of a slot on the wing on the McLaren cars, which appears to reduce drag on the car, giving it a higher top speed in the straights. Aerodynamic design changes are among the most jealously guarded secrets in F1, and lead to expensive design arms races.

While some of the teams expressed serious dissatisfaction over the wing design, which appears to have a driver-actuated component, Formula 1‘s governing body, the FIA, has approved it for use.

Rain

Because the aerodynamic sensitivity of F1 cars favours leaders and makes it difficult to get close behind other cars, especially as diffusers have increased both downforce and the turbulence in the wake of cars, there is likely to be little overtaking this year: if the weather is good.

Rain throws a monkey wrench into the fine-tuning of the car engineering and makes the track slick, increasing the probability of errors (and crashes) that make for passing opportunities.

This was amply evidenced by the wild Australian GP, in which Robert Kubica moved up nine places to take second.

See also: Formula One 101: Part One

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