Formula One - On And Off Track Week 14

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Bahrain Grand Prix - is it all about money?
  • Mercedes - the McLaren F-Duct revisited
  • World Champion Vettel and his finger

Bahrain Grand Prix - is it all about money?

Riots and the death of a 22-year old protester last Saturday in the Kingdom of Bahrain have again led to calls from human rights organizations to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix. There were even rumors the FIA was preparing a statement to cancel the race, but FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone has rubbished the rumors. “Of course the race is going to happen," Ecclestone said. "No worries at all. What I don't understand are the negative statements being made, people catching them and continuing them. They're saying things they don't understand.”

He also denied money had anything to do with the decision to put the race back on the calendar after it had been cancelled last year. "Forget the financial side, it's nothing to do with that at all," said Ecclestone. “These people were brave enough at the beginning to start an event in that part of the world. That's it. We'll be there as long as they want us.”

Bernie  Ecclestone and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Bernie Ecclestone and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa

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Well, contrary to what Ecclestone wants us to believe, it does have something to do with money, and not just a little bit of money, but a lot of money. Not only Bahrain and the Formula One Management (FOM) will lose money, also the teams will lose money if the race is cancelled again. So, what is at stake? Formula Money, who is an expert in Formula One finances, has published some interesting figures concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The first Bahrain Grand Prix was staged in 2004, but in 2009 and 2010 the event was already so successful it generated more exposure for Formula One teams and trackside sponsors than the five oldest races on the Formula One calendar: Monaco, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Italy.

Over the next five years Formula Money expects the event will generate $560.2 million worth of broadcast exposure for brands in Formula One. This is $437.8 million of brand exposure for “on car coverage” (sponsors, engine manufacturers and team owners), and $122.4 million of exposure for trackside advertisers. Canceling the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix did cost $95.3 million worth of exposure, canceling the event until the contract ends in 2016, will mean a loss of $655.5 million of brand exposure, and that is a lot of money.

Red Bull did benefit the most of the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, they gained brand exposure from the logos on the Red Bull and Toro Rosso cars worth $22.4 million, number two was race title sponsor Gulf Air with $12.3 million and number three was Ferrari sponsor Santander with $9.4 million worth of brand exposure.

But now the “real” money, the money the teams themselves could lose. The prize money for the Bahrain Grand Prix is $44.7 million, Formula Money found that the total 2012 prize money is $894.5 million (to be divided by the top ten teams), and the winner takes home $126 million. But if the Bahrain Grand Prix would be cancelled, the Constructors' Championship winner would lose $6.3 million while the 10th placed team would see its prize money reduced by $2.6 million.

Muhammed Al Khalifa Chairman of Bahrain circuit with Bernie Ecclestone
Muhammed Al Khalifa Chairman of Bahrain circuit with Bernie Ecclestone

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But according to Formula Money, not just the teams and sponsors would lose money, the race is also worth some $220 million to the local economy, which is twice as much as the average Grand Prix generates.

And that is not all, there is of course the race fee, estimated to be 40 million Euro, which goes to the FOM. According to Ecclestone, the 2012 fee has already been paid and it is like last year very unlikely Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will get it back if the race is cancelled, as it is believed that part of the deal is that Bahrain should be safe for Formula One and it is up to the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain to make sure that it is indeed safe.

“They will pay if there is no race, the money is in the bank already,” Ecclestone confirmed. And he repeated, ”So we’re not going because we’re going to get paid. That has nothing to do with it. We have a contract with them and we’re respecting the contract.” And about the negative publicity he simply said, “Seriously, the press should just be quiet and deal with the facts rather than make up stories.”

Well, this is a fact: F1 Racing magazine carried out a survey amongst 10,000 international Formula One fans, 60 percent said it was ‘not right’ to go to Bahrain, and only 24 percent were in favor.

Mercedes - the McLaren F-Duct revisited

In 2010 McLaren surprised the Formula One world with the F-Duct, a device that gave another 10 to 15 km more straight-line speed. It ‘stalled’ the rear wing by blowing extra air through a slot on the rear wing flap, disrupting the airflow, which caused the wing to stall, meaning it generated less downforce. In fact, this was one of the most ingenious, but also one of the simplest ideas of the past twenty years of Formula One.

The air intake, or duct, was positioned just ahead of the cockpit and the driver activated the device by closing a hole in the cockpit with his elbow, thus allowing the air from the duct to flow to the rear wing. Because it was operated by the driver’s body, it was not a ‘moveable’ nor a ‘mechanical aerodynamic device’ as it was at the time referred to in the FIA technical regulations, and therefore it was legal.

Even Bernie Ecclestone wanted to know how McLaren’s 2010 F-Duct worked
Even Bernie Ecclestone wanted to know how McLaren’s 2010 F-Duct worked

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Teams protested but the FIA maintained it was legal and not much later all teams had developed their version of the F-Duct which was operated by the driver’s hand, elbow, arm or knee. Nevertheless, the FIA banned the device at the end of 2010 but Mercedes now have a new version of the device, they have developed an F-Duct for the front wing which is actually activated by the rear wing.

Well, at least that is the theory, as it is still unclear how the device precisely works. Of course the FIA and the FIA technical scrutineers are not allowed to speak about how the device works, and Mercedes have done a great job in hiding the crucial parts of the system when the car was in the pit lane or parked in the garage.

But when Michael Schumacher during the final free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne went off and parked his car in the gravel, a smart photographer managed to make a snap-shot of the underside of the front wing when the car was hoisted on a truck to bring it back to the garage. The snap-shot revealed there were two slots at the bottom of the front wing flaps and this spurred on a discussion about how the Mercedes F-Duct works.

There are two theories, one says that Mercedes has a separate F-Duct for the front and for the rear wing. The rear wing F-Duct works when the DRS (Drag Reduction System) is activated, a small hole in both wing endplates is exposed when the upper flap of the rear wing is moved into its flat position to reduce drag, it then lets air through channels which stalls the rear wing. The front wing F-Duct only works at high speeds, air flows through a hole in the nose cone to the slots at the bottom of the wing flaps and also stalls the wing which results in more straight line speed.

Mercedes playing hide and seek, front and rear wings covered
Mercedes playing hide and seek, front and rear wings covered

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The second theory, which is more plausible, is that Mercedes uses the DRS and the two holes in the rear wing endplates to activate the front wing F-Duct, meaning the air goes though the holes in the rear wing endplates when DRS is activated and then flows through channels all the way to the front wing where the air exits through the small slots that have been cut in the front wing flaps. The extra air stalls the front wing and the air that is sucked away from the rear wing stalls the rear wing -- thus killing two birds with one stone. According to insiders the system can deliver an extra 0.5 seconds during qualifying, and that is a lot in Formula One.

Mercedes believe their system is legal as it is a passive system because it is not directly operated by the driver, nor is it controlled mechanically, which would be illegal. According to other teams, it is not acceptable that DRS, which is actually operated by the driver as he has to push a button to activate it, has a secondary function, in this case exposing the air intakes in the rear wing endplates.

Mercedes’ rivals, in particular Red Bull and Lotus, have questioned the legality of the system, and have been lobbying the FIA to prohibit the system, because they have of course seen that the Mercedes has been a lot faster so far this season. They refer to article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations that states: “With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18 [which describes the DRS system] any car system, device or procedure which uses driver involvement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.”

They also argue that when the driver activates DRS by pressing the button, the F-Duct is not the device the regulations refer to, the regulations refer to the rear wing upper flap that is moved to reduce drag, if it also activates other devices it is illegal. But Mercedes built the system after they got the all-clear from the FIA, and Team Principal Ross Brawn is confident it is legal, “Obviously we kept the FIA informed about what we were doing. They physically checked the system -- they were completely happy about it.”

Mercedes also believes their system is legal, as it falls within the exemption of the DRS regulations, and Brawn stated Mercedes thinks their F-Duct is actually part of DRS and therefore it is legal, “We call it the DRS, because that's all it is. The purpose of the DRS is to improve overtaking and that's what we're trying to do.”

Mercedes GP rear wing
Mercedes GP rear wing

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Another argument is that the holes in the rear wing endplates are already partially exposed when DRS is still closed, only when the DRS flap is opened the holes are fully exposed. And yet another argument is that teams now build their rear wing in such a way that they achieve maximum advantage when DRS is opened, some teams have added all kinds of extra flaps to also stall the lower part of the wing and the diffuser and thus reduce drag as well.

But Red Bull and Lotus have not given up and FIA delegate Charlie Whiting will reassess the system again this week and will also take a closer look at the arguments of both parties. It is expected the FIA will come with a definitive stance before the Chinese Grand Prix next week, if the system would be deemed illegal, Mercedes already announced they will protest the legality of the Red Bull exhaust layout, and the engine mode of their Renault engine, as they suspect they are cutting more than four cylinders [in corners] as is allowed by the rules.

Mercedes have made an audio tape to prove this, the advantage of cutting more than four cylinders is clear: the car needs less fuel for a race, cutting more cylinders can be used as a crude form of traction control exiting corners, and it can be used to control the flow of exhaust gases which is prohibited after the FIA banned last year’s off throttle exhaust blown diffusers. To be continued …

World Champion Vettel and his finger

After two poor performances double World Champion Sebastian Vettel is now in sixth place of the Drivers’ Championship, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed the German especially during the Malaysian Grand Prix, completely ‘lost’ it, and not just from a World Championship point of view, he also lost his cool after his showdown with Narain Karthikeyan. Vettel overtook the HRT driver but was a bit too enthusiastic when he moved back to the race line and cut his rear tyre on the front wing of the HRT and fell back to finish the race in 11th place.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing

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Vettel branded the Indian as an ‘idiot’ and a ‘gherkin’, a typical German expression for idiots in traffic, while the HRT driver replied and branded Vettel as a cry baby, not the kind of conversation we are used to in Formula One these days, well, at least not since Eddie Irvine overtook Ayrton Senna during the 1993 Japanese Grand Prix. Senna wasn’t happy with that and after the race walked to the Jordan motorhome and after a very heated discussion punched Irvine in the face, something Irvine later claimed to be his most memorable moment in Formula One.

So it has become clear Vettel is human after all, and this season he has already made more mistakes than in his whole Formula One career together. Not only that, onboard images revealed the German gave the Indian his middle finger twice after the incident, risking a penalty, which he didn’t get as the FIA first pretended they were not aware of it and later pointed the finger at the local marshals and said penalizing giving another driver the middle finger is not the task of the FIA.

“It's completely unprofessional to blame me for the incident. The derogatory remark only goes to show him in bad light,” Karthikeyan very politely said to the media. And very carefully choosing his words added, “I have won races in all the previous single-seater championships I have participated in so I don't need a certificate from Vettel. For a driver who has achieved so much to take out his frustrations on me just because he is having a difficult year is really sad. One does not expect a professional sportsman to be such a cry baby.”

Nevertheless Karthikeyan got his fingers slapped by the stewards and was penalized for his action with a post-race drive-through penalty, which didn’t even involve any fingers, but a twenty second time penalty, and he told the Hindustan Times, “They [the stewards] didn't care about what I had to say because Mr. Vettel told them god knows what when he went and talked to them.”

And Ecclestone is guilty as well…
And Ecclestone is guilty as well…

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Others felt Vettel had breached the FIA code of conduct, introduced by FIA President Jean Todt, who is worried our young children who watch a Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon might mistakenly think giving the middle finger is the international gesture of friendship.

And since Formula One is a family sport, Todt, and also Ecclestone (although Motorsport has caught the now 81-year old Formula One boss doing the same, see photo), don’t want to see middle fingers being waved to anyone for that matter, not to mention the fact that it is generally not a good idea to pilot a Formula One car at 300 km per hour with just one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand in midair.

Not just Karthikeyan doesn’t like Vettel’s finger, Jenson Button has recently also complained about Vettel’s finger, this time it was about the ‘crooked’ finger we always see when the 24-year old driver has won a race again. Button and others think the crooked finger is an annoying gesture, as he only shows it after he won a race, and that’s why they are hoping not to see many crooked fingers this season. “He keeps doing that,” an irritated Button complained. “It would be alright if it was straight. I'm sure we will sometimes see the crooked finger but hopefully not very often this year,” Button conceded.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One - On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 11

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Narain Karthikeyan , Ross Brawn , Ayrton Senna , Sebastian Vettel , Jean Todt , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Jordan
Tags bahrain, bouman, ecclestone, f-duct, featured, mercedes, vettel