Formula One: On and off track - week 19

Formula One: On and off track - week 19

No Split-Qualifying, Old school Pre-Qualifying, F-Duct banned from 2011, Klien joins HRT, but... No Split-Qualifying The top teams and a few drivers have played with the idea of a split- qualification for the race in Monaco. They thought 24...

No Split-Qualifying, Old school Pre-Qualifying, F-Duct banned from 2011, Klien joins HRT, but...

No Split-Qualifying

The top teams and a few drivers have played with the idea of a split- qualification for the race in Monaco. They thought 24 cars on the narrow street circuit during Q1 was too dangerous, they were especially worried about the slower new teams. The idea was to split qualification into two sections, 12 cars in the first section, and 12 cars in the second section, and the new teams wouldn't be in the way of the top- and midfield qualifiers. The proposal needed the unanimous support of all teams, but Lotus team principal Tony Fernandes has vetoed the proposal. Fernandes about his veto: "I said no. We want the race to be exciting, we want it to be unpredictable so let qualifying be the same as well. I have been in Formula One for seven months now and these guys are very good drivers and they are paid to drive well."

Lotus vetoed the split-qualification.
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There is of course another reason for the Lotus veto, during the GP of Malaysia McLaren and Ferrari made the mistake of thinking they made it to Q2, but when the rain got worse they couldn't improver their lap times anymore, which was good for the slower teams, who already had put their fastest time on the clocks. It could happen again, and if there is any circuit where you want to qualify as high as possible, it is the Monaco street circuit. Such a scenario would also give the new teams more media attention, and they can use that to find more sponsors in their quest to survive in Formula One.

At the end of the 80s, it was normal that 26 drivers started the Monaco GP, 2 drivers more than in 2010. And a number of those divers were also very slow, in some cases even slower than the new teams are this season. So the problem is not really the number of cars on track, but the difference in speed is the problem. Perhaps the GPDA should arrange a meeting in Monaco on Friday and speak about the problems with their members. And don't forget, they are all professional drivers, and if the GPDA can convince them to behave in a disciplined manner, and quickly respond to blue flags, there shouldn't be a problem.

Free practice on Thursday should provide more information, if it is indeed dangerous, there is still time to find a solution. But if 24 cars during qualifying is dangerous, surely 24 cars during free practice and during the race on Sunday is dangerous as well. But the new teams are all a member of the same Formula One family, regardless whether they are slow or fast, and like Fernandes said: "We want the race to be exciting."

Old school Pre-Qualifying

From 1977 to 1986 only 20 drivers were allowed to participate in the GP of Monaco, but from 1987 onwards, 26 cars were again allowed on track. In the late 80s and early 90s Formula One also had a problem with the number of teams that entered a race, in some cases there were 39 entries. This meant the FIA had to organize pre-qualifications to eliminate the slowest cars. Pre-qualification was on Thursday afternoon, and the top 13 teams from the previous two half seasons were exempted. That also meant the slower cars -- and the new teams -- always had to pre-qualify, even if they were faster that season than the top 13 of the previous half season.

Only the four fastest cars were allowed to participate in Saturday's qualifying session (30 cars) and getting through pre-qualification still wasn't a guarantee you could enter the race on Sunday, during normal qualification another four cars were eliminated. For many drivers who didn't make it to the Saturday qualification, it was a real drama. One of the victims in 1983 was Niki Lauda, he couldn't qualify for the race, he was five seconds(!) of the pace with his McLaren. After 1992 pre-qualification was discontinued, because by then many of the smaller, emphasis added, and slower teams had left Formula One.

F-Duct banned from 2011

From 2011 on, the latest gadget in Formula One, the F-Duct, or 'blown wing' concept, will be banned. The FOTA members decided this during a meeting in Spain. The F-Duct is a clever system which blows extra air over the rear wing to stall it, the air stream is not controlled by a valve (mechanical aerodynamic devices are prohibited in Formula One), but by the hand, elbow or knee of the driver. If the driver closes the opening in the cockpit, the air from the duct can flow to the rear wing, where it stalls the wing, which means the level of downforce is reduced, which in its turn results in a higher top speed of about 6 to 8 km/h. During the Spanish GP last weekend, the McLaren had a straight line speed advantage of 9 km/h, more than enough to overtake.

Martin Whitmarch, McLaren team principal and FOTA chairman.
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Of course the 'inventor' of the system, McLaren, is not happy about the decision and argue it is a low cost design, and also think the F-Duct is useful when it comes to creating more overtaking opportunities. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh: "Personally I'm a bit sad about it, but we will continue to develop in that area. Already this year a lot of teams are working hard in that area in any case." But as is the case with many of these 'overtaking' devices, once every team has such a system, there is no advantage anymore. The same happened with last year's double diffuser, every team has a double diffuser now, and Mercedes -- last year Brawn GP -- has no advantage anymore.

Whitmarsh about the FOTA decision: "If you are happy to accept a voting majority on issues, then you have to be prepared to be bound by those decisions. From time to time there will be decisions you're less happy with, but overall FOTA's decisions are the right ones." Well, at least Whitmarsh, who also happens to be the chairman of the FOTA, is honest about the way the decision was made, the majority of the teams were in favor of banning the device, that's how democracy works, and even the chairman cannot change that. Like the F-Duct, the double diffuser will also be banned next season. But whether that is the end of the 'blown wing' concept...

Klien joins HRT, but...

The Spanish HRT team has hired former Austrian F1 driver Christian Klien to drive the car during the first free practice session on Friday morning. Klien did not reveal if he gets paid as a 'Friday driver', neither would he tell if he was the one who had to pay for his new role within the team. He did reveal he had a contract for a whole year and would drive on more Fridays, so it is certainly not a once off appearance. Brazilian HRT driver Bruno Senna however, was not happy with the new arrangement, and made it clear that, from his point of view, all track time should be given to the regular HRT drivers, including his colleague Indian Karun Chandhok. The Indian had no other option than to sit out the first free practice session, and watch Klien from the pit wall.

A long and winding road awaits Christian Klien.
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Klien didn't have a Super License, and only minutes before the practice session, Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt agreed to give him one. Senna didn't think much of the time Klien put on the clocks, he was half a second faster than Senna, and stated: "He had the fast-shift transmission in his car, which is worth about two and a half tenths per lap, and secondly I had a problem with my engine cover." The only comment Klien gave after his first outing in the HRT was that the car was 'not up to F1 standards' and 'difficult to drive', something we already knew before he got into the car. It seems Klien started a stormy relationship with the two HRT drivers, who rightfully claim they need all the track time they can get, and only time will tell if Klien is able to help HRT to improve their car.

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".

See also: Formula One: On and off track - week 18

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Niki Lauda , Karun Chandhok , Christian Klien , Bruno Senna , Jean Todt , Bernie Ecclestone , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Brawn GP