Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent
- Pirelli ready for thrilling 2012 season
- Platypus Horrificus - the stepped nose
- UK politicians call for Bahrain GP ban
Pirelli ready for thrilling 2012 season
Italian tyre supplier Pirelli is ready for another thrilling FIA Formula One season. Thanks to the high-degradation tyres, teams were in 2011 forced to completely overhaul their pit stop strategies, and also had to adapt new qualifying strategies to make sure they had enough fresh tyres for the race. The high degradation meant there was a lot of difference time-wise between new and used tyres, sometimes as much as two seconds per lap, and the sudden drop-off in performance is usually referred to as the “tyre cliff”.
Pirelli now promises to make the 2012 season even more thrilling. Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “After a successful first season in 2011, we are determined to help provide an even better spectacle this year, which is why the entire tyre range has been renewed.”
About 2012 Hembery said, “Last year, it didn’t take the teams long at all to understand the characteristics of our tyres, and while we are sure that this will be the case again, there will be less of an element of surprise this year, as to some extent the teams know what to expect from our products.”
Pirelli plans to make high degradation soft and super soft tyres, and want to offer more consistency performance-wise with the medium and hard compounds. This would mean a degraded soft compound would be as fast as a new set of the harder compounds.
“You will get teams making a decision whether to make one pit stop less and stay out longer on the medium or hard tyre, whereas last season everybody would have pushed the maximum performance on the soft tyre because there was no advantage as the gap was so big between tyres that they couldn't recuperate that 1.5 seconds with the degradation,” Hembery explained.
Last week during testing in Jerez, each team was provided with 25 sets of new spec soft, medium and hard compound tyres. The only compound that remains the same is the super soft compound. Pirelli has designed the new tyres to provide more grip at the rear, as teams are no longer allowed to use the blown diffuser and need more grip at the rear of the car.
Last week Pirelli completed 14,949 km in four days of testing, or 3380 laps completed by 23 drivers, and supplied 1,176 tyres. The medium tyre was favorite, as teams completed 1,776 laps on 91 sets of medium tyres, second was the soft tyre with 1,010 laps (57 sets) and third was the hard compound with 594 laps (33 sets).
Hembery was encouraged by the tests in Jerez, “The tyres performed exactly in line with our expectations here in Jerez, and we’ve had a very positive reaction from the drivers and teams so far, who have reported more grip at the rear, fewer ‘marbles’ and a reduced lap time difference between the compounds as well as faster overall performance – which is precisely what we wanted.”
But he doesn’t want to draw any conclusions yet, “The temperatures in Jerez were very low and the teams have also concentrated on other areas than tyres, it’s too early to draw any detailed conclusions. We’ll see more tyre development work at the next test in Barcelona, as together with the teams, we fully understand the implications of the latest rules. However, with all three of our available slick tyres having set a fastest time, it’s a clear sign that we are on course to meet our objectives.”
Pirelli testing facts:
• During comparison runs between the new medium and the new hard tyre on day one, there was a difference of between 0.4-0.5 seconds, with better grip and less wear: particularly at the rear.
• The driver to complete the most laps at Jerez was Kimi Räikkonen, who racked up 192 laps on the soft, medium and hard over the first two days: nearly the equivalent of three grands prix.
• Most teams started off with short runs initially, before trying longer runs and race simulations for the first time as they expanded their development programmes.
• The top times on all four days comfortably beat the benchmark established at the last test in Jerez one year ago, where Rubens Barrichello went fastest for Williams with a time of 1m19.832s.
Platypus Horrificus - the stepped nose
Platypus, the family name of only four mammals that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young, has become the nickname for the so-called stepped nose, which is the result of the new technical regulations for 2012. The new nose looks like the duck-billed nose of the Platypus, the aim of the FIA was to put an end to the high nose section seen during the past two seasons, which according to the FIA also became a concern from a safety point of view.
In the past we have seen cars become airborne when they plunged into the back of another car, most notable victim was Mark Webber who made a truly terrifying salto mortale during the European Grand Prix on the Spanish Valencia Street Circuit in 2010 when he hit the back of the Team Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen.
The FIA regulations now state “no bodywork situated more than 1950 mm forward of the rear face of cockpit-entry template may be more than 550 mm above the reference plane”. What designers came up with is a very simple implementation of those regulations, from a certain point on, the nose may not sit higher than the cockpit, and designers simply cut off the nose and sort of glued it back on a bit lower to comply to the new regulations.
FIA Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting explains the regulations. “We wanted to lower the survival cell to minimize the consequences of a crash into the side of another car. But some of the engineers complained that they would have to build entirely new cars due to the accommodation of the suspension elements. So that's why we came up with making the new height requirement relevant not to the chassis but to the nose.”
Also very interesting is the fact that almost all teams, except McLaren, came up with the same idea, the stepped nose, which actually means all designers agree this is the best solution. There are some variations in the stepped nose, the actual ‘step’ is in some cases higher or steeper than others, but it is intriguing to say the least that all have opted for the same solution, one would almost think this is the result of some form of industrial espionage.
Sauber designer Matt Morris, “Like almost everyone one else we have had the idea to have as much area under the car as possible. The regulations force us to do what we have done.” Team boss Peter Sauber agreed, “For reasons of aerodynamics, this step in the nose is almost inevitable!”
“Aesthetically not very pleasing,” is what Ferrari said about their stepped nose during the unveil on February 3. “Actually it’s not really so pretty from my personal perspective, but this is a value that doesn’t count in F1,” said Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali.
Daniel Ricciardo, who was born in the land that is the home of the strange Platypus family, Australia, commented about the new Toro Rosso, “It's not exactly beautiful, but I'd rather have a quick car than a pretty one.”
Caterham’s Mike Gascoyne explained the design of the stepped nose, “Our challenge is that you always want to get the chassis as high as possible to allow clean air flow to the underside of the car, and what you see on the CT01 is our solution to that.”
The odd one out, they only car without a nose job is in this case McLaren, who came up with the more traditional smooth nose section on the MP4-27. Has McLaren ‘missed’ something one might wonder? Technical Director Paddy Lowe, “This new rule came along and, like every year, you do revisit this stuff. So we revisited it, did our sums again and decided that we would stick with the philosophy we have got.”
“Different teams will come out with different answers to those equations always, because they have different sensitivities. There is no good or bad way - so that rule has not affected us.”
And he added, “My model of it is that it's not a case of us missing some trick. It is not a trick or a loophole that we did not spot. We have always known that you can lift your chassis there, but have chosen to not do it now. You can't see performance necessarily by eye, it's a matter of fine-tuning the balance between all the relevant aspects.”
Again, 2010 and 2011 Drivers' and Constructors’ Champion Red Bull drew the most attention with their RB08 designed by Adrian Newey. Also a stepped nose, but with a keyhole shaped air inlet. Immediately after the first testing days rumors started to circulate Red Bull might have found another loophole in the regulations, other rumors say the keyhole is in fact a sort of F-Duct, but Newey had a simple explanation, it is just a hole to provide cooling for the drivers.
“Traditionally the driver cooling slot is at the front of the nose,” explained Newey, “but really for styling as much as anything we moved it to where you now see it to break up the aesthetics of the ramp.” Added Mark Webber with a grin on his face, “The toes are a bit too cold now actually.” So other teams remain suspicious, close-ups of the keyhole have revealed the hole is actually divided in two separate channels, which could mean … anything.
And this topic ends with the wise words of Ferrari designer Nicolas Tombazis: “An ugly car is one that doesn't win and a beautiful car is one that does win.”
UK politicians call for Bahrain GP ban
The story about the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix is like last season again beginning to like look like a weekly soap, as more and more civil rights groups and politicians have urged the FIA and FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone to ban the race on the Bahrain International Circuit, this season scheduled for April 22.
Calls to ban the race are becoming stronger, and recently a group of British Members of the House of Lords have also voiced their concerns about the situation in Bahrain. In an open letter to the UK Times they have asked the FIA to cancel the race. The letter was signed by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, Lord Alton, Lord Avebury, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, Lord Hylton, Caroline Lucas and Lord Boswell.
They reacted on recent reports that violent clashes took place during the one-year anniversary of the ‘Day of Rage’, according to reports Bahrain police fired teargas and rubber bullets at people who were throwing rocks and petrol bombs. It was also reported that Mr Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was attacked an beaten up by police officers.
“Sir, We note with concern the decision by Formula One to go ahead with the race in Bahrain scheduled for April,” the letter begins.
“The continued political crisis in Bahrain is a troubling source of instability in the Gulf region, and the lack of any move towards political reconciliation concerns those who wish to see Bahrain move in the direction of greater democratic accountability.
“It was hoped that the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) would provide a starting point for political reform which both government and opposition forces could agree upon.
“However, two months on we see an entrenchment of the positions of both sides which risks letting more extreme voices dictate the progress of the conflict.”
In the letter the politicians urge the FIA to cancel the Grand Prix, “Given the current dire situation, with daily street protests and the deaths of more civilians, we do not believe that the time is right for Formula One to return to Bahrain. Human rights and economic stability go hand in hand and the government of Bahrain must do more to persuade international events and corporations that Bahrain is a stable place to do business.
“Until it takes concerted measures to reform the electoral, penal and judicial processes, international observers as well as ordinary Bahrainis can have little confidence that Bahrain is on the path to reform and political stability. We urge the FIA to reconsider its decision to continue with the race.”
Ecclestone, however, has no plans to cancel the event, and he denies there are problems in Bahrain, “Last year was a more clear-cut decision not to go but things have changed a lot since then." He also denied teams are worried about the current situation, "The teams are not the slightest bit concerned. They seem happy that things will go ahead without problems.”
Is there really nothing going on in Bahrain? “The only message I got was that there were some kids in trouble with the police,” Ecclestone commented. “We are planning to go. People there seem confident that a race two months away will be alright. We've always been non-political,” Ecclestone insisted. “Any decision will be made on grounds of safety."
The FIA has no plans to cancel the race either, as a spokesman commented, “The staging of a Grand Prix would be beneficial in bridging some of the difficulties Bahrain is experiencing.”
Formula One teams have also reacted and they have hinted they will let the FIA decide whether the race is on or not. "We enter a championship run by the FIA and we need to trust in their decision," said Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner to the BBC. “They have a closer overview than we do, I know they have been looking at it."
Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali agrees, “There are a lot of rumors about the situation, we need to rely on the competent authorities.” And he added, “We need to be very cool and realistic on that, so we need to rely on what the official authorities, who have this responsibility, will tell us.”
Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn shares the same view, “We, as the Sauber F1 team, are not in a position to judge that very well, so we have to trust in the FIA and the commercial rights holder who have the call on this. If they think it is the right thing to go then we will definitely go there.”
Lotus also leave the decision to the FIA, said Team Principal Eric Boullier, ”We have commitments with regard to the Formula One Championship, so it is not an easy decision to take, right now we are awaiting feedback from the FIA on whether or not we go.”
And Lotus Chairman Gerard Lopez stated, “What I've been hearing is that a number of guarantees have been given in terms of how everything will happen and so on," he told reporters. "So if things look good then there is no reason why we shouldn't go to Bahrain.”
Again, Ecclestone, the FIA and the teams seem to be more concerned about their own safety, rather than the safety of the people of Bahrain, the decision still hasn’t been made, civil rights groups are planning to push a bit harder and the pressure on Formula One to cancel the event is increasing. To be continued …
Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One - On and Off Track”