Schumacher not the old Schuey anymore, 2011 Regulations update, NASCAR inspired safety car rules for F1?
Schumacher not the old Schuey anymore?
When Mercedes and Michael Schumacher announced the comeback of the seven- times German World Champion, everyone in Formula One assumed it wouldn't take long before he would return to the old form of his heydays, unfortunately for the man himself, it wasn't to be. People who doubted a successful return, pointed out that Formula One has changed fundamentally since Schumacher had left the sport in 2006. Car and tyre designs have changed significantly, excessive on track testing of tyres and new aero parts is no longer allowed, and teams can only test new parts using CDF technology or use the little time they have during free practice to figure out whether new parts are an improvement or not.
Schumacher denies it, but he must be very disappointed about his results this year, and after the last three races it seems the problems are piling up. During his 'first' career the German scored 91 victories, 154 podium finishes and 1.369 points, this season his highest position was fourth, and he has gathered only 34 points in 9 races and was regularly outclassed by Nico Rosberg. But many people still believe Schumacher is not yet facing the end of the revival of his Formula One career. Bernie Ecclestone once again defended Schumacher and still thinks he does an excellent job. "I do think the criticism of him is unfair. He has spent the last three years on holiday. What do you expect after such a break? Everyone hopes that he wins a race again - I hope so", the 79-year old FOM boss told a German magazine.
Both Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug are also adamant Schumacher will return to his old form, but doubters have pointed out he is not the old Schuey anymore and has lost his fighting spirit, and has become easy prey for relatively inexperienced drivers like Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Adrian Sutil or Vitantonio Liuzzi, as was demonstrated during the last three Grands Prix. Whether he's still the old Schuey or not, Schumacher has always said he was in it 'for the long haul' and claims he has a 3-year contract with Mercedes. However, the latest rumors say the German will abandon his comeback at the end of the season and would give up his Mercedes seat in favor of a young driver. Yes, the silly season is early this year...
2011 Regulations update
This week it was announced Formula One will, for the first time in its 60- year history, introduce a mandatory weight distribution ratio of 46:54 percent. The idea was born after teams in 2009, due to a change in the Bridgestone tyre design, had to make expensive changes to the car's weight distribution to get the tyres up to working temperature. With Pirelli now following in the footsteps of Bridgestone, the FOTA feared the same scenario could unfold again in 2011, and therefore proposed the mandatory weight distribution. If the Italian produced tyres will cause problems, at least with the mandatory weight distribution in place, all teams are in the same boat and will have to deal with the same problems. FOTA technical boss Ross Brawn, "If the weight distribution remained free, then some would get it right by accident while others get it totally wrong. That's what we want to avoid."
It looks like 2011 will again bring a lot of changes in the technical regulations, apart from the mandatory weight ratio, the blown rear wing, also known as the F-Duct system, will be banned, the diffuser and Red Bull's blown rear diffuser will also be banned. They will be replaced by other overtaking tools like the KERS system and the new adjustable rear wing which can only be used to overtake and can not be used for defensive purposes. Skeptics have already warned for the dangers of the adjustable wing, with KERS and an adjustable wing, speed differences between cars will increase and could lead to dangerous nose-tail collisions, as Mark Webber demonstrated in Valencia.
And because KERS will be reintroduced, the minimum weight of the car goes up from 620 to 640 kg. The discussion about KERS is still ongoing, but it looks like it will not be mandatory (hence the increased minimum car weight, which would be a strong incentive for teams to use the system, instead of bolting ballast to the car), there will be no standard system -- all teams are allowed to build their own KERS system -- and the power of the system will remain the same as in 2009. The FOTA has also been busy trying to make Formula One a greener sport, and have recently announced they will push for increased fuel efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions.
In the future the FOTA will also work on new engine and power train regulations, FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh, "The FIA and FOTA are already working together to tailor the 2013 technical regulations to ensuring that all engines and power trains used in Formula One by that date will showcase, and provide a platform for the ongoing development of, technologies designed to enhance fuel efficiency." And to conclude this update story about the new regulations, a quote from the FOTA statement which explains what they have in mind": "Turbocharging, fuel injection, variable valve timing and KERS have all been developed within Formula One, and it is the intention of FOTA, in collaboration with the FIA, that Formula One should continue to pioneer technologies that are appropriate to the challenges faced by society today and in the future, and that are applicable to products that will benefit mankind in the longer term."
NASCAR inspired safety car rules for F1?
During the European Grand Prix Ferrari seemed to be the team who suffered the most during the safety car period after Webber's accident. Both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa had to stay behind the safety car for almost an entire lap before they could enter the pit lane, while others were racing back to the pit for new tyres. Michael Schumacher had to wait until the entire field behind the safety car had passed before the red light at the pit lane exit turned green again. Although the FIA did implement the current safety car rules in a correct manner, there was a lot confusion, and Ferrari even accused the FIA of fixing the race.
Many now argue the safety car regulations had a severe impact on the result of the race, and therefore should be changed, and have hinted NASCAR inspired safety car rules would be the solution. In NASCAR the pit lane remains closed until the race has been completely neutralized and all cars are properly lined up behind the safety car, only then the pit lane will be opened for pit stops.
But as was demonstrated during the Indycar race at Watkins Glen last weekend, all cars diving into the pit lane at the same time is also a sort of a lottery. Takuma Sato was in fourth position before he pitted, but after the 20-car melee in the pit lane he came out in twelfth position. In NASCAR and Indycar there is a fast and a slow lane in the pits, the slow lane is for cars coming in, and the fast lane is for cars exiting the pits. It leads to cars chancing lanes and dicing for positions before the exit of the pits, frequently causing accidents in the pit lane.
One can only wonder what could happen when 24 Formula One cars visit the pits at the same time, it would certainly not contribute to a safer situation in the pits, which -- in contrary to the aforementioned series -- on most Grand Prix circuits only has one lane. And there is another fundamental difference: each team only has one pit crew to service both cars, and not two or more pit crews like in NASCAR. In Formula One the pits are directly adjacent to the pits of another team, there wouldn't even be enough room for two pit crews to work on two cars, and the one who comes in second, will have to wait until the first car has been serviced and leaves again.
Another, perhaps better solution, would be to completely ban pit stops during safety car periods, and only allow cars in for urgent repairs or retirements. Drivers who pit for an urgent repair during a safety car period, should not be allowed to change tyres, and they should rejoin the race behind the last car lined up behind the safety car. All other pit stops like the mandatory stop to switch tyre compounds, should only take place under race conditions. But this scenario also has a few flaws, an urgent repair could also mean replacing a totally shredded tyre, however, this problem could be solved by allowing a team to only replace the shredded tyre with the same tyre compound, so they still would have to make their mandatory tyre stop and therefore would gain no advantage.
Again a problem arises when the safety car will remain on track until the very last lap of the race, as happened in Monaco. A driver who hasn't by then made his mandatory tyre pit stop -- Kamui Kobayashi made his mandatory stop four laps before the end of the race in Valencia -- then has a huge problem. Even if the rules would allow him to pit for tyres during those final laps, he would have to rejoin the race in last position, which would also be unfair. And that is the situation at the moment, the current rules are not perfect, NASCAR-style rules could cause dangerous situations, and completely closing the pit lane is not the perfect solution either, in all cases there is always the possibility a driver will end up in a very unfortunate situation, and it seems there are simply no perfect safety car rules that would satisfy everyone.
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 26