Archive for January, 2009

Does Max Mosley read my blog?

January 30th, 2009 No comments

Mansell sprays Senna with champagneBernie Ecclestone’s medal system – whereby gold, silver and bronze medals would be awarded to the top three drivers at each race, with the driver with the most golds at the end of the year being crowned champion – has come in for a lot of criticism from drivers as well as fans. I thought it would be interesting to take Bernie’s idea and look back to see how many times a world champion had won fewer races than his rivals.

In a blog post last week I analysed every year of the FIA F1 World Drivers’ Championship and found that drivers have been winning the Championship with fewer wins than their competitors at a pretty consistent rate since the Championship began.  In fact in very first season, in 1950, it was won by Nino Farina even though Fangio won the same number of races.

Now it seems the FIA has had the same idea and come up with broadly the same results.  Do they read my blog or have they been working on this research for some time?  To be fair, the FIA have applied the full Bernie treatment to the results, taking account of silver and bronze medals, whereas I just looked at the number of wins but my little post certainly didn’t trigger the same amount of discussion.

All across the tubes fans are arguing about medals vs the current points system, the old points system vs the current points system and even coming up with new and improved points systems that include bonus points for fastest laps. BlogF1 asks where the market research is.  Seems like the FIA just needs to read the comments.


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Charlie Whiting clarifies engine rules – sort of

January 29th, 2009 No comments

Charlie WhitingIn a technical briefing published on the FIA website, FIA Formula One Race Director,Charlie Whiting, has clarified the new engine rules for 2009.

There has been some confusion over the new regulations as previously “Each driver may use no more than one engine for two consecutive Events in which his team competes.”, but the new rules specify only a limit of eight engines to be used  during the entire season and mention nothing about consective races.

In the briefing Whiting says:

It’s eight engines for the whole year. A driver will only incur a penalty if he uses a ninth engine. So the teams can use the engines as they like. There’s no three consecutive race rule because there doesn’t seem to be a need for it any longer. The engines will not have to do three complete events now.

In the past, as you know, the two-race engine was used only on Saturdays and Sundays. Now, for 17 races, the eight engines will have to do the three days of each grand prix. What the teams will do is to have a Friday engine that’ll probably do the first four races or something of that nature. They’ll then take the engine out and use another one for Saturday and Sunday. All we’ve got to do, – it’ll be extra work – is to make sure that these engines remain sealed and are untouched.

So teams will be able to change engines whenever they wish, including during an event.  What still isn’t clear is if a driver uses a ninth engine will he be penalised for the rest of the season or only at the next race?

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New safety car rules for 2009

January 29th, 2009 3 comments

Nick Heidfeld follows the safety carFIA Formula One Race Director, Charlie Whiting has confirmed the safety car rules will change in 2009.  Last year the pit lane was closed at the start of any safety car period.  This was intended to remove the incentive for a driver to speed back to the pits in dangerous conditions.

But since the rule was introduced in 2007 a number of drivers have suffered penalties by having to pit while the pit lane entrance was closed as they had run out of fuel.  Under the new rules, the pit lane entrance will remain open and all the car’s standard Engine Control Unit (ECU), built by McLaren Electronic Systems, will calculate a minimum safe time for the driver to get back to the pits.

Whiting said:

The rule introduced in 2007 was a bad one, and we’ve gone back to the 2006 regulations. The only difference is we intend to implement a minimum time back to the pits. When we deploy the safety car, the message will go to all the cars, which will then have a “safety car” mode on their ECUs. As soon as that message gets to the car, it’ll know where it is on the circuit, and it’ll calculate a minimum time for the driver to get back to the pits. The driver will have to respect this and the information will be displayed on his dashboard.

It’s not clear what information will be displayed on the dashboard.  Will it be a maximum speed or will it be some kind of count-down timer?

Whatever it is this is a welcome change in the rules.  A number of drivers have had promising races wrecked by the old rule through no real fault of their own and while random events will always be an important factor in F1 racing the closure of the pit lane always seemed a rather obtuse way of enforcing safe driving.

Image: ph-stop

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Honda is running out of time

January 28th, 2009 No comments

Bruno SennaHonda’s end of January deadline to find a buyer is getting awfully close.  Or is it?

When Japan’s second biggest car manufacturer unexpectedly announced its decision to leave Formula One, team bosses Ross Brawn and Nick Fry said they had a month to find a buyer otherwise the team would have to close down.

But with only a few days until February the team is playing down the importance of the end of January deadline and are still optimistic a buyer can be found.

A team spokeswoman said on Tuesday:

Don’t focus too much on any speculation regarding time frames and deadlines. Work on our race car is progressing well.

There have been rumours of several possible buyers for the team including Prodrive’s David Richards and the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim but both have denied they are interested.  Earlier this month Nick Fry said they had a shortlist of about twelve possible buyers for the team with Fry himself rumoured to be planning a management buyout.  While the team itself would probably be sold for a nominal sum (perhaps £1), it would take at least £40 million to run the team in 2009.

While Mercedes-Benz, who supply engines to McLaren and Force India,  has said it could supply the Brackley-based team with engines for 2009, Norbert Haug, the Mercedes motor sport vice-president warns that the team must have a solid financial future first:

If there is a feasible solution with an investor for that team, we would be prepared to discuss it, but the financial background needs to be there. You cannot give any presents at this time and in this climate, but we would like to help for the sake of formula one.

If a buyer can be found soon it would take six weeks to fit an engine to the chassis.

Honda have already missed the first group test in January although so did Red Bull and Force India and those teams that did test got limited track time due to the weather.

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KERS and the Concorde Effect

January 26th, 2009 No comments

ConcordeOf all the changes made to the Formula One regulations for 2009, one of the most controversial has been the Kinetic Energy Recovery System or KERS.  These devices store energy created under braking which can then be converted into power at the touch of a button, giving a power boost of up to 80hp.

All the teams have spent vast sums of money developing KERS but it is still not clear which of them, if any, will deploy the device when the season begins at Melbourne in March.

This expenditure also seems to be at odds with the current cost-cutting drive in Formula One.  In fact it’s hard to find many people with a good thing to say about KERS.

Renault’s Flavio Briatore:

We know already that for 2010, with the option of the standard KERS, whatever money we spend this year is for one year only. And in this kind of environment I think it’s completely unnecessary.

Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo:

I’m not against the principle of KERS – it’s very important to put in front of the teams research that benefits the environment – but the way it is at the moment is a mistake.

And now it seems  Bernie Ecclestone has never wanted it:

I have always been against KERS. Whatever they use in F1 they won’t use in a road car, but if that is to be the idea then why not develop it in touring cars. It costs a lot of money when we are trying to save it.

About the only person who seems to want KERS is BMW’s Mario Theissen:

KERS is important for Formula One because it will put F1 into the role of a new technology pioneer. Obviously, we think KERS is important to BMW because we have put a lot of effort on it.  We agreed that the cost of KERS was quite significant, but the real thing is that when we discussed it a month ago the money had been spent already on development, so it would be the worst thing to spend money on something you don’t use.

There is something in economics called a sunk cost; a cost that cannot be recovered once it has been incurred.  The money spent on KERS development so far is a sunk cost and Theissen argues that it would be the “worst thing” to have spent money developing KERS if it was not used.  But there is also something called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ or the “Concorde Effect” named for the fact that the British and French governments continued to pour money into the Concorde project long after it was clear there was no real economic case for the aircraft.

This is also known as “throwing good money after bad”.

It will be interesting to see what effect the use of KERS will have in F1 racing in general and overtaking in particular but just because you have already spent money on something doesn’t mean you should continue spending money on it.  Concorde was a stunningly beautiful piece of engineering but if KERS doesn’t end up contributing to F1 in any meaningful way the FIA shouldn’t be afraid to drop it.

Image: Martin Hartland

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