Formula One - On and Off track week 5


Williams launches FW33 with interim livery, Where is the Renault exhaust, On the calendar, off the calendar.

Williams launches FW33 with interim livery

AT&T Williams brought their new FW33 to Valencia this week, but it is painted in a navy blue and white interim livery, the new 2011 Williams FW33 with the final livery will get it's official launch later this month. Williams confirmed they are looking for an aggressive approach this year, and the FW33 again bears all the hallmarks of the 2011 season: a high- pitched nose, new aerodynamically shaped side pods, a new airbox and an adjustable rear wing.

Barrichello in the new FW33 with interim livery.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Williams Cosworth FW33 made its debut yesterday at Valencia with Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello at the wheel. Technical Director Sam Michael about the new design, "Until you start testing you're never sure how you're going to stack up against the opposition, but we're optimistic. We think this is a good car, but we'll have a better overall picture in a few weeks time." Like all teams, Williams had to deal with the new regulations and the arrival of the new Pirelli tyres.

"The design of this year's car has been pretty smooth. We've improved our way of working by increasing the communication between the mechanical and aerodynamic departments, and that improved our decision making processes. It allowed us to increase the optimization time spent on each part of the car," Michael said about the design process at the Grove-based team. Williams announced the interim car will get a full aerodynamic upgrade before the first race at Bahrain, and has already planned updates for the car during the course of the season.

The ban of the double diffuser has also forced Williams to look for alternatives, and especially the floor of the car will play an important role this season. "The double diffuser ban is pretty significant. The scope for developing anything on the diffuser is limited, so we're looking at the center, rear and front of the floor, as well as the sides of the floor and the little area around the tyre spat, all of which are still free," Michael explained.

Williams have replaced their flywheel based KERS system they previously had developed by a battery based system for 2011. Michaels about the changes, "The rules have changed since KERS was last used in Formula One, re- fuelling is no longer permitted, so the packaging is different now. We have packaged our KERS system entirely inside the car's survival cell, below the fuel tank, because we didn't want to compromise any of the side pod area for aerodynamics."

Yesterday Williams completed the first full test day of the year, and Barrichello posted the 11th quickest time at Valencia. According to Michael, Barrichello had problems with the KERS, but he was pleased with the performance of the car. Barrichello, who is the most experienced driver on the 2011 grid, was happy to be back at the wheel of his Williams. "I couldn't wait to get back in the car. Unfortunately we lost a lot of time in the morning so we were trying to play catch up in the afternoon. We did some good laps and some long runs in the car," he said. But he remains optimistic, "It is too early to say how we are performing but we will now spend time to try and understand the car a little better.'

Today Barrichello and Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado will share the on track testing duties, and on Thursday Maldonado will be at the wheel of the FW33.

Where is the Renault exhaust?

Hard to spot, but the exhaust is located on the leading edge of the side pod.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Since the launch of the Lotus Renault R31 on Monday, many rumors and theories have hit the internet as to where the exhaust of the R31 is located. Many fear Lotus Renault has found some sort of a device that could replace the down force generated by the banned double diffuser, or something comparable to last year's McLaren F-Duct, and will leave all competitors far behind them with a secret device. McLaren's F-Duct caused quite a stir in the pit lane during last year's pre-season testing days.

Initially other teams laughed about McLaren's F-Duct, but it soon became apparent the device delivered some 10 km/h extra straight-line speed, enough to make overtaking a lot easier. McLaren of course didn't mention the existence of the F-Duct during testing, but a few smart engineers from the competition soon found the air inlet (the 'duct') which was mounted on top of the cockpit. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh at the time, "Secrets in Formula One have a remarkably short shelf-life."

Finding it was one thing, understanding how it worked was quite another thing. It took engineers at least two months to fully understand how the F- Duct actually worked, and another few months before they introduced their own version of the F-Duct, also known as the 'blown rear wing'. on their car. The 2009 double diffuser and the F-Duct are classic examples of the ingenuity of the Formula One design boffins, these devices have now been banned, and designers have been thinking about how to replace the down force generated by the double diffuser.

Lotus Renault came up with a very ingenious exhaust system, but because the car is black, it was very difficult to find clues as to where the exhaust pipes were located, but Lotus Renault Technical Director James Allison had already given some clues during the unveiling of the car at Valencia. He was speaking of a 'blown floor', which would be a variant of the blown diffuser, in this case the whole floor works like a diffuser. Unfortunately for Renault, the shelf-life of the new exhaust system was very short. Engineers from other teams and photographers have now spotted the exhausts on the black and gold Lotus Renault and the secret is no longer a secret.

Detail of the front part of the side pod and the blown floor.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The exhaust pipes are located on the leading edge of the side pods, and the exhaust gases are blown out to the front of the floor of the R31, so the whole length of the floor is working like a diffuser. However, it is a complicated design and it has many pitfalls. The exhaust pipes go right thought the body work, which will have to be protected against overheating, and the exact location where the exhaust gases join the airflow of the floor of the car, is also critical.

The current regulations do not prohibit the use of exhaust gases to improve the aerodynamic properties of a car or to generate down force, but a few teams might ask the FIA for clarification of the rules before the season kicks off. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Rumors have emerged in German media that McLaren has a similar exhaust system on their new McLaren MP4-26, which will be launched on Friday in Berlin. Mercedes team principal and designer Ross Braw, has admitted the new 2011 Mercedes has a similar device. "Renault's thinking is in the right direction, we are working on a similar solution," said Brawn.

But should teams really worry about the Lotus Renault this year? Team principal Eric Boullier has said today it is always risky to introduce a radical new design, but he thinks in the end the system will be an advantage for his team. Lotus Renault still has work to do to refine and perfect the system, and so far the first time tables of the season do not indicate the R31 is significantly faster than the competition.

On the calendar, off the calendar

Although there are already 20 races on the 2011 calendar, the list of possible new Grand Prix venues is still growing, but the list of venues that might not make it on future Formula One calendars is also growing. Looking back at last few months, it seems Bernie Ecclestone's see-saw is at full swing now, one day a venue is on the calendar, another day it's off the calendar again.

The major of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, has iced his plans for a Grand Prix in the Italian capitol, which was welcomed by Ecclestone, who had written a letter to the mayor, explaining 'his sport needed to focus on expanding internationally and in the US', rather than 'allowing single countries to host more than one race per year'. Rome was on the calendar, now it is off the calendar again. Ecclestone has said the same about Spain, there are currently two Grands Prix in Spain, in Barcelona and on the street circuit of Valencia, one should go according to Ecclestone.

Two weeks ago, Melbourne officials hinted the Australian Grand Prix could cease to exist after 2015, in their opinion the $50 million race fee, which in the end is paid by the Australian tax payers, is way to high, and is no longer 'value for money'. The city's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle recently speculated that one possible outcome was that the sport's 'cranky' chief executive will replace the race by taking 'the dollars of either an Asian or oil-rich Middle Eastern state'.

The cranky chief is of course Ecclestone, and he reacted swiftly, as he is indeed very much interested in the dollars of Asia and the Middle East. "If the mayor thinks I'm cranky, I can probably be able to help him by proving it. If he's not happy with the event in Australia, if he wants to cancel the contract, we'd be happy to talk to him about that," the 80-year old Ecclestone told a local Oz radio station. He warned the race is not safe, even if the authorities would decide to keep it and pay the yearly $50 million fee. In this case, it's not on the calendar, but not off the calendar either.

Off the calendar could be true for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix as well, which is scheduled for 2014, in the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi. However, the Russians also organize the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned the Winter Olympics are more important than the Grand Prix. IOC executive director Gilbert Felli confirmed that if construction of the Formula One facilities puts the Olympics at risk, the race will have to wait until 2015. "If the IOC decides it is not feasible, we could stop and postpone it until 2015. The IOC will make that decision."

Plenty of action, but empty grandstands in China.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Another venue on this year's calendar (albeit provisional) is the Chinese Grand Prix. The now seven-year old circuit needs the approval of the FIA Circuit Commission, and is due for an inspection in March. But the Chinese have a problem with the track. Due to damage to the track caused by downwards movement of the ground, the surface of three corners is not up to FIA standards anymore. Although Chinese authorities have stressed the damage will be fixed in time, the race could be off the calendar again.

Ecclestone has in the past already hinted he was not happy at all about the Chinese venue, the ever dwindling number of spectators has led to empty grandstands, very embarrassing for Ecclestone and Co, and in the past he has ordered to cover the empty grandstands with hundreds of meters of cloth so they wouldn't be visible on TV. What Ecclestone will do with the Chinese Grand Prix in the future is difficult to predict, but as he gets a large percentage of the ticket sales, he might just decide to move to a country where Formula One is more popular.

Reports published earlier this year indicate the work on the Jaypee circuit in India is still on schedule despite the monsoon rains, the track has already been laid and many of the grandstands are in place, but the circuit now faces a completely different problem. Last month the promoters of the Indian Grand Prix confirmed that Grand Prix boss Mark Hughes has quit. The highly experienced Hughes was brought in to oversee the whole Jaypee project, it was reported he had quit for personal reasons. Hughes has stated he now works together with the organizers of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he previously worked with the organizers of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

A Jaypee spokesman has confirmed the circuit is due for FIA homologation in July or August, while the race will take place on October 30. Azhar Ghazili has taken over the duties of Hughes, he previously worked together with the organizers of the Malaysian Grand Prix, but it remains to be seen whether he is as capable and experienced as Hughes, and can get the circuit finished in time, if not, it will be off the calendar again.

Join us again next week for another episode of "Formula One: On and off track"


See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 4