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Getting rid of aero in F1 - the counterargument

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Getting rid of aero in F1 - the counterargument
Mar 16, 2010, 8:30 PM

The debate rages on about how F1 can save itself from monotony this season.

The debate rages on about how F1 can save itself from monotony this season. We've had an unprecdeented number of comments and suggestions here on JA on F1.

Following on from Sunday's uninspiring Bahrain Grand Prix there have been calls for radical steps to be taken to change the cars and improve the racing, with many people pointing to the aerodynamics and particularly the double diffuser, which the FIA decided to allow at the start of last season, as the prime culprit.

The double diffuser is on its way out of the sport in 2011 anyway, having been voted out by the FOTA group of teams over the winter. But that won't save the 2010 season.

Many readers of this site have said that aerodynamics are the area where the cars need to be reworked more generally in the interests of racing.

But there is a counter argument, which says that fans think the downforce is the devil because they are influenced by drivers. And it comes from the aerodynamicists themselves, not surprisingly.

Frank Dernie, one of the leading F1 aerodynamicists for the past 30 years, has sent me this note, arguing that the "overtaking problem in F1" is not the aero, but the mechanical grip from the tyres and the lack of mistakes made by drivers on gearshifts due to semi automatic gearboxes. He advocates manual gearboxes and rock hard tyres. Hear him out.

"None of the facts in the last 30 years support the theory that grippy tyres and low downforce promote overtaking. If reducing downforce was the answer, then 1983 would have shown it, since we lost 80% of the aero efficiency in the 1983 rules, " he says. "But there was no more overtaking than in 1982.

"Here's the proof - if downforce prevented overtaking, historically the races with the fewest overtaking manoeuvres would have been the wet races, where maximum downforce settings are used... Why anybody still thinks a reduction in downforce is the solution when faced with the facts has been a consistent mystery and frustration to me.

"Too much difference in grip between on and off line is a major factor, caused by sticky tyres (lots of mechanical grip)

"Braking distances into slow corners are far too short, caused by sticky tyres (too much mechanical grip).

"The other reason why it is hard to overtake in current F1 is that the fastest cars are at the front with slower ones behind, so there is no reason to expect overtaking unless a driver makes a mistake.

"In this case overtaking will only ever happen following mistakes, which are rare nowadays with super sticky tyres, big runoff areas and semi automatic gearboxes.

"A few things have worked in the past.

- One set of tyre for the race worked, but Michelin's tyres were much more suited to this than Bridgestone, so it was changed since Bridgestone were to become the only supplier.

- Single lap qualifying. Often fast cars qualified out of pace order, making overtaking likely. It was unpopular since it was "not fair".

"When there was overtaking in the past it was mainly due to the low grip of the tyres leaving a wide racing line and long braking distances combined with cars much more difficult to drive due to low grip and manual gearboxes, hence more mistakes.

"We will never fix it whilst so many people ignore the facts and fixate on long held views which are completely at variance with the data.

"The problem is that quite a few influential people, like drivers and ex-drivers in the media, do not want the changes which certainly worked in the past. The drivers hate hard tyres, despite them probably being 50% solution, and the engineers love semi-automatic gearboxes, the other 50%...

Most overtakes took place in the past when a driver made a mistake due to poor grip or missed a gear."

On the subject of double diffusers making it difficult to follow, he said that early last year the Toyota drivers complained that the hardest car to follow was the Renault, which didn't have a double diffuser.

One of the reasons semi-automactic gearboxes have remained popular is that they prevent engines from over-revving on downshifts, which is even more important in this era of 8 engines per season.

But if F1 engineers can perfect the seamless shift, surely they can invent a system for a manual gearbox which would dip the clutch if the driver tried to select a gear that was too low for the engine speed.

Rock hard tyres and manual boxes and make the drivers work for a living - what do you think?

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