Formula One 2011 - A technical preview

Formula One 2011 - A technical preview

By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • New Regulations for 2011
  • The new Pirelli tyres
  • Exhausts and other tricks
  • The 2011 Formula One season

After an extra long winter-stop due the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Formula One 2011 season will finally take off in Melbourne, Australia on March 27. As was the case in previous years, the sports governing body the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) has changed a number of regulations, and some of changes will have a significant impact on this year’s Formula One World Championship.

FIA and Formula One are ready for the 2011 season
FIA and Formula One are ready for the 2011 season

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Banned by the FIA

The FIA decided to lift the ban on team orders, Article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations has been scrapped. The ban on team orders was added to the regulations when Rubens Barrichello let his team colleague Michael Schumacher pass him just hundred meters before the finish line during the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Oddly enough, when Ferrari did more or less the same and told Felipe Massa during last year’s German Grand Prix to let Fernando Alonso pass him, the FIA ultimately decided to lift the ban again. However, the FIA warned teams that decisions that would bring the sport in disrepute in any way, will not be will not be accepted.

On a more technical side, the FIA has banned the famous F-Duct and the double diffuser, and the rules regarding the flexibility of aerodynamic parts have been tightened by ramping up the load and deflection tests. Article 3.15 bans the F-Duct and other driver operated aerodynamic devices: "With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18 [adjustable rear wing], any car system, device or procedure which uses, or is suspected of using, driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited

Safety Car regulations

The FIA also tweaked the safety car regulations, last year drivers complained the regulations were not clear enough, which led to confusion during safety car periods. The regulations now clearly state when a driver may or may not overtake the safety car: “When entering the pits any car may pass another car remaining on the track, including the safety car, after it has crossed the first safety car line. When leaving the pits any car, including the safety car, may overtake, or be overtaken by, another car on the track before it crosses the second safety car line.”

New Safety Car regulations
New Safety Car regulations

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To improve the safety, the regulations now also state ‘no car may be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous'. A new rule has been introduced which states that when the race is resumed after a safety car period, drivers who are ‘unable to re-establish the original starting order before he reaches the first safety car line, must enter the pit lane and may only join (or rejoin) the race once the whole field has passed the end of the pit lane’.

Adjustable rear wing

In an effort to create more overtaking opportunities, the FIA has introduced the adjustable rear wing. Article 3.18.2 of the Technical Regulations describes when the wing can be used: “The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork [movable wing] in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics (see Article 8.2) that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit. The system will be disabled by the control electronics the first time the driver uses the brakes after he has activated the system.” The FIA has named the new rear wing the Drag Reduction System or DRS.

FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting about the wing, “This was a proposal the teams made to the FIA with the sole purpose of improving overtaking potential, whilst not making it easy. The FIA is always willing to listen to suggestions for improving the spectacle and we have sought a solution which both pleases the teams and the spectators.”

Asked how much extra speed the wing will deliver Whiting answered: “From the simulation work done so far the difference between a car with and without the DRS is likely to be in the region of 10-12 km/h at the end of the straight.” The FIA will allocate a certain part of the track where the DRS can be deployed, and it is expected the wing can be activated during the last 600 meters of the start/finish straight.

Charlie Whiting, FIA Safty delegate, Race director & offical starter
Charlie Whiting, FIA Safty delegate, Race director & offical starter

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Whiting doesn’t think spectators will get confused about how and when the DRS is deployed, “Operation of the wing as described is simple, there will be marks [lines] on the track to show the area where proximity is being detected and a line across the track at the point where the drivers whose system is armed may deploy it.” And added, “Furthermore, the television broadcasters will be sent a signal each time a system is armed and this will be displayed to the viewers.”

Whiting also stressed the system which operates the wing is fully automated, which means computers and software will determine whether a car is less than one second behind another car, and whether the car is within the allocated zone, and race control can not influence the system in any way.

Re-introduction of KERS

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) was introduced in 2009, but teams unanimously agreed not to use the system in 2010, but it has now been agreed KERS will be re-introduced this season. It is basically a simple system, KERS stores the energy that is generated during braking, and releases it again when the driver pushes a button on the steering wheel.

The system gives a short power boost for six or seven seconds per lap, and a driver can deploy it whenever and wherever he wants to. Once the boost has been used, the system has to be recharged for one lap before it can be used again. KERS can be used in combination with the adjustable wing which already gives a speed advantage of 10-12 km/h. Used together, KERS and DRS can be a powerful overtaking tool. However, just like in 2009, the system is not mandatory and a number of teams have already stated they will not use KERS this season.

The new Pirelli tyres

Pirelli tyres should provide more action
Pirelli tyres should provide more action

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A new tyre supplier will make its return to the sport, Pirelli has been appointed by the FIA as the sole Formula One tyre supplier. It is expected that the aggressive approach of the Italian company will have a major impact on races and team strategies, as the P-Zero tyres will, at the request of the FIA, not last as long as last year’s Bridgestones. Even the hardest rubber compound will degrade very fast and only last for a maximum of 15 laps. The tyres will perform at their maximum for the first two or three laps, but after that the lap times will drop significantly, and according to drivers could be anything from five to ten seconds per lap.

Pirelli expects teams to make at least two pit stops, but drivers have already indicated three or four stops will be more likely. With the fast degrading tyres there will be more slower cars on the track, and spectators will have to get used to the idea a driver can’t go any faster, simply because the tyres don’t allow him to go faster. Pit stops will become more important, and success or failure is literally in the hands of the teams’ pit crews, just a few tenths of a second can make the difference.

The tyre regulations have also been overhauled. Three sets of dry weather tyres will be allocated for the first two Free Practice Sessions (P1, P2), two sets of 'primes', and one set of 'option' tyres. One set of prime tyres has to be returned before the start of P2, and another set of primes have to be returned before the start of P3.

For the remainder of the event, P3, qualifying and the race itself, eight sets of tyres will be allocated, four sets of primes and four sets of options. One set of each specification must be returned before the start of the qualifying sessions, and cannot be used during the race. This means a driver has three sets of options, and three sets of prime tyres available for the race and the qualifying sessions.

Qualifying will require a new strategy, as the tyres are at their best during the first two or three laps, after that they degrade very fast and it will be virtually impossible to set a faster time on the same set of tyres. Cars that qualified in the top ten, will have to start the race on the same set of tyres they qualified on, which means a driver has to start the race on a set of tyres which is significantly slower than a set of fresh Pirellis.

107 percent rule re-introduced

The FIA has re-introduced the 107 percent rule, Article 36.3 of the Sporting Regulations now states: “During Q1, any driver whose best qualifying lap exceeds 107% of the fastest time set during that session will not be allowed to take part in the race.” In 2010 drivers have complained about the slower cars on track, and with the 107 percent rule the FIA aims to limit the number of slower cars.

When the 107 percent rule is applied to the 2010 season, this table shows a number of drivers would not have qualified for the race:

Grand Prix Fastest Q1 time 107% time Not qualified Time Difference
Bahrain 1.55.029 2.03.081 Bruno Senna 2.03.240 +0.159
- - - Karun Chandhok 2.04.904 +1.823
Australia 1.24.774 1.30.708 - - -
Malaysia 1.51.886 1.59.718 Lucas di Grassi 1.59.977 +0.259
China 1.36.317 1.43.059 - - -
Spain 1.21.412 1.27.111 Bruno Senna 1.27.122 +0.011
Monaco 1.15.035 1.20.287 Fernando Alonso no time -
Turkey 1.27.500 1.33.625 - - -
Canada 1.15.889 1.20.201 Karun Chandhok 1.27.757 +7.556
Europe 1.38.324 1.45.207 - - -
Great Britain 1.30.841 1.37.200 - - -
Germany 1.15.152 1.20.413 Lucas di Grassi no time -
Hungary 1.20.417 1.30.326 - - -
Belgium 1.57.352 2.05.567 Lucas di Grassi 2.18.754 +13.187
- - - Vitaly Petrov no time -
Italy 1.22.646 1.28.431 - - -
Singapore 1.46.541 1.53.999 Bruno Senna 1:54.174 +0.175
- - - Felipe Massa no time -
Japan 1.32.035 1.38.477 - - -
Korea 1.37.123 1.43.922 - - -
Brazil 1.20.050 1.25.654 - - -
Abu Dhabi 1.40.318 1.47.340 - - -

In exceptional circumstances the stewards may permit a car that failed to comply to the 107% rule to start the race. If a driver fails to qualify because he crashed during the first lap of Q1, and as a result cannot participate in the remainder of the qualifying sessions, he could be permitted to the start grid, if he or his team can prove he has set a fast time on the clock during the Free Practice Sessions.

Exhausts and other tricks

While the FIA does their utmost to ban new tricks and devices, the Formula One engineers and aerodynamicists simply respond by introducing another technical innovation to make up for the lost down force that was generated for instance by the now banned double diffuser. The latest trend is the position of the exhaust pipes, and several teams have come up with innovative ways to use the exhaust gases to increase the down force.

The Renault forwards pointing exhaust system
The Renault forwards pointing exhaust system

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Although the idea is not totally new, some teams in the 1990s already had blown diffusers, the boffins have now found ways to enhance the working of the blown diffuser. Renault introduced a radical new design during the pre-season testing days, the exhaust pipes point in forward direction, and the exhaust gases exit at the edge of the side pods of the car, and the hot air is directed to the floor of the car where they improve the down force generated by the diffuser and the floor itself. The more air flows through the diffuser, the more down force is generated.

Rival teams have already copied the Renault design, McLaren and Mercedes have recently tested their version of the system, but are not sure whether they will actually use the system. Red Bull has opted for another solution, and the exhaust gases are led to the diffuser at the back of the car.

Williams introduced an ultra compact gearbox and differential, the gearbox is mounted very low, in fact so low, that the drive shaft angle is about 14 degrees while the normal angle is between six and seven degrees. The seven-speed gearbox is the smallest ever produced by the team, this configuration could also cause reliability problems, although Williams have put a lot of time and effort in the new gearbox configuration.

The 2011 Season

Ross Brawn Team Principal, Mercedes GP
Ross Brawn Team Principal, Mercedes GP

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Last year’s Formula One season was without a doubt a classic season, but with all the new regulations, the new tyres and the new technical innovations, the cat-and-mouse game has already begun during testing. Teams will constantly try to stretch the rules to the limit, but this game is always played in a fair manner.

Mercedes GP technical manager Ross Brawn, “I think the nature of Formula One is that the engineers are always challenging the interpretation of the regulations.” And he added, “It is very, very rare for people to cheat in Formula One and what all the engineers do, and what I expect my engineers do, is to challenge the boundaries of what you can do.”

This year’s Formula One season will kick off at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia. The start of the season is always an exciting time, as we will then see the results of the work all the engineers have put into their car during the winter stop. The question whether all the new rules will indeed lead to more overtaking on track, or whether the new Pirelli tyres will also contribute to more exciting races, can only be answered after a few races, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and enjoy the 2011 Australian Grand Prix which starts on Sunday March 27.

The 2011 Formula One calendar and a list of all drivers and team can be found here

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Fernando Alonso , Ross Brawn , Felipe Massa , Karun Chandhok , Lucas di Grassi , Bruno Senna , Vitaly Petrov
Teams Williams
Tags exhausts, fia, kers, pirelli, regulations, safety car, technical