Monday, April 10, 2017

F1 2017 Cars - Getting the formula right

With the 2017 Formula 1 season underway much has been written about these new look F1 cars.  Several years ago the FIA made changes to the regulations aimed at making the cars faster and more challenging to drive.  Many believed these changes were brought in because the cars had become too easy to drive in the modern hybrid era.  The changes were dubbed "The Max Verstappen rule" following the young Dutchman's sensational debut into F1 at just 17 years old in 2015.

During the off-season all of the drivers have been building up their fitness and strength to prepare for the challenge of driving these new quicker cars.  Haas driver Romain Grosjean summed it up well in Australia:  "The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun.  But it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars".

These new cars certainly look much quicker on-track, especially through the corners.  When the technical regulations were released, a target improvement of 4-5 seconds per lap was set.  It is worth noting that at Albert Park for the first race of the season, the pole lap was 1.6 seconds quicker than 2016, and the fastest lap was 2.5 seconds quicker.  Cornering speeds did increase by over 30 km/h in some corners.  As the cars develop during the season, we can expect them to go even faster!

Most fans agree that the revamped cars also look better.  Wider and longer with revised front and rear wings definitely make the cars look more aggressive; more racy.  Some additional aerodynamic elements this year such as "sharkfins", "T-wings" and "thumb noses" have been less well received.  A balance needs to be found.

What about the racing?

Critics have cited that these changes do nothing to improve the racing and overtaking in Formula 1.  The reason is these new cars produce more aerodynamic disturbance on the car following which impedes close racing and the ability to overtake.

We will see how the 2017 season progresses and what improvements can be made in future.  The FIA has already stated it wants to change the engine formula in 2020.  This will hopefully help another key concern which is the cost of the Formula 1 powerunits as well as the lack of sound.

Overall the sport is heading in the right direction and new owners Liberty Media have plenty in their plate to further improve the show... and the racing.

Friday, April 7, 2017

F1's Fastest Circuits

Most Formula 1 fans would be aware that the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix, is the fastest Formula 1 circuit on the modern calendar.  It's not called "The Temple of Speed" for nothing!

F1's fastest ever lap was completed there by Juan Pablo Montoya driving a Williams in 2004.  He averaged 262 km/h (163 mph) over one lap.  So yes this beautiful Monza circuit, set in parklands outside Milan, is super fast!

That question answered, how do the other circuits rank?  The table below shows all of the circuits in the 2016 calendar, ranked fastest to slowest.  The figures show the average lap speed of the fastest lap in the race.


Looking at the figures, Monza - the last of the true "low downforce" circuits left - is clearly a lot faster than the next circuit on the list: Austria's Red Bull Ring.  The revamped circuit - itself an emasculated version of the frightening quick Österreichring - rejoined the F1 calendar in 2014 and finds itself taking second place, knocking-off both Spa Francorchamps and Silverstone.

The Belgian circuit has been largely unchanged since the shorter 7 kilometre layout debuted in 1983.  Silverstone, meanwhile, has existed in a multitude of configurations, with it's latest "Arena" layout debuting in 2010.  It's average speed, however, hasn't changed too much.

During 2016, both Monaco and Brazilian Grand Prix were rain affected races but the historical statistics show that this wouldn't materially change the table rankings above for the former, as the Monte Carlo street circuit is easily the slowest circuit on the calendar.

Brazil's Interlagos circuit, however, would slot itself somewhere between Russia's Sochi Autodrom and Germany's Hockenheimring in dry conditions.  The fastest race lap recorded there under the current V6 turbo hybrid regulations was Lewis Hamilton's 1:13.555 (210.895 km/h) in 2014.

Some circuits with long straights such as China's Shanghai International Circuit and Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit seem to be fast, however their sequences of slower corners or sectors reduce the overall average speed.

Australia's Albert Park is impressively high up the list based on last year's fastest race laps, with the sixth-fastest overall average speed.  It ranks comfortably as the quickest temporary or street circuit on the schedule.

A footnote to this story is that this year Monza is getting even faster should planned changes being completed occur in time for September's Italian Grand Prix. 

Work is underway that will see the field bypass the first Rettifilo chicane.  Instead, drivers will go through a fast right hand kink before the Curva Grande and rejoin the existing layout at the exit of the Curva Grande via a new fast left-right chicane.  The result is expected to reduce the lap time by over one second.

We need a variety of tracks in F1 and we certainly have that.  Overall lap speed is, of course, not everything.  Watching an F1 car fly through the swimming pool complex at Monaco is proof of that!

Thanks for reading, please leave your comments.

Jason Goodacre.

Pep, F1Podcast

Friday, March 17, 2017

Non-Championship F1 Races

Since the official FIA Formula 1 World Championship began in 1950, non-championship races have featured on the Grand Prix calendar.  These races continued to be a major feature on the motorsport schedule well into the 1970s, with the latest non-championship race being in 1983.

With that historic nod, should modern F1 embrace the non-championship race once again?

According to Formula 1's new head of motorsport, Ross Brawn, this is an option for the future of the sport.

"It might be rather optimistic, but you can imagine if we had a non-championship race there'd be a lot more capacity to look at different formats and approaches and see if the fans take to it with much less risk or exposure than we would if we were doing something in the championship,” he said.

With new owner Liberty Media now calling the shots in Formula 1, fresh ideas need to be tried.  A good way to achieve this could be to hold a race which does not affect the World Championship.

"We often had non-championship races in the old days but getting it all to work is another matter.  Brawn added.  "It needs to be commercially viable of course, and that's the challenge. Again, it couldn't just be 'pick ideas out of a hat'. It needs to be properly thought through, but maybe an opportunity."

So what new ideas could be tested?

Shorter race formats is probably a given.  This idea has been mooted many times in the past and sprint races would be a different spectacle: less about conserving the car and more about driving as fast as possible!

More racing action on a Saturday is also very likely.  Other concepts such as reverse grids could also be trialled at a non-championship meeting.  While F1 purists would want the sport to steer clear of gimmicks, non-championship races could explore artificially wetting the circuit (if a circuit was able to offer it).

Non-championship races in the past were often held in locations which were considered exotic, so perhaps these could be a means of trialing new locations. What about a race through a major city, a hill climb, or a race with a truly spectacular backdrop. 

Purists will argue that the current format is fine and should not be changed.  However, if F1 is to increase its appeal and grow, then new ideas need to be tested.  Other sports have benefited from updating and changing their format; with cricket’s move to Twenty20 being a prime example of this.

Formula One does need to evolve as well as cater to a younger audience.  It also has heritage, more than any other motorsport.  So this needs to be respected too.

Non-championship race meetings would provide the means to try new things, while still respecting F1's heritage.

As Brawn says:  "We expose ourselves whenever we make changes like this.  Fingers crossed, it is going to work out but l think it is a good example of where we didn't go through the right principles to begin with."

Thanks for reading, please leave your comments.

Jason Goodacre

Pep, F1Podcast

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