Formula One - On And Off Track Week 25

Formula One - On And Off Track Week 25

By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Off-throttle blown diffuser clampdown
  • Spy-gate Mike Coughlan returns to F1
  • Kubica could make Brazilian GP return

Off-throttle blown diffuser clampdown

The FIA has decided to limit the use of the exhaust blown diffusers, and also decided the device will be completely banned in 2012. A number of teams have reacted angry about the decision, but FIA president Jean Todt has deemed Formula One’s latest gadget is ‘a needless waste of fuel’ and also hinted it was not in compliance with the ‘spirit’ of the regulations.

FIA and Whiting confirmed blown diffuser clampdown
FIA and Whiting confirmed blown diffuser clampdown

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During the Canadian Grand Prix, FIA’s Technical Delegate Charlie Whiting has confirmed the FIA plans in a letter to the teams, and also announced there will be a meeting this week with Formula One’s Technical Working Group to discuss the matter with the teams. Although there is room for interpretation about what still is and what is not allowed this year, the FIA has taken a firm stance and there is no doubt the system will be banned in 2012. According to William’s Sam Michael, in 2012 ‘the exhaust system must exit behind the rear wheel center line, actually 330mm behind, so right out the back of the diffuser’.

Without ‘off-throttle’ exhaust blowing the modern diffusers have one Achilles heel: if a driver enters a corner and lets go of the accelerator, exhaust gasses are no longer produced and the result is a lack of down force in corners. The solution is simple, fuel is forced through the engine and exhaust even if the driver is off the throttle, hence the name, and the diffuser can still do its work and generate the necessary down force in a corner.

There are two types of exhaust blowing: ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ blowing, and hot blowing is the most effective way of keeping the diffuser doing its work. Fuel is forced through the engine and it ignites in the still hot exhaust pipes while the engine itself does not provide any drive -- which is achieved by clever engine mapping tricks. The FIA now wants to ban both hot and cold blown diffusers after the European Grand Prix.

This effectively means all exhaust blown diffusers are banned, the meeting this week is not about if or when this is banned, but about the implementation of the restrictions the FIA wants to impose. It is expected it will have the biggest influence on qualifying, as forcing fuel through the exhaust during a 300 km long race would consume too much fuel. Especially Red Bull and Renault are opposing the ban, as they are the front-runners in using the technique.

Lotus Renault Team Principal Eric Boullier argues that rule changes in the middle of the season are not desirable. “We designed our car for this principle and already last year it was being used by some teams. We passed the technical inspection at the beginning of the championship. To give it up now would probably compromise our ability to achieve good results this year,” the Frenchman said in Canada.

Red Bull’s Adrian Newey examining the competition
Red Bull’s Adrian Newey examining the competition

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Red Bull’s Adrian Newey agrees with Boullier, “I agree with rule changes in the middle of a championship for good reason, like safety,” he said. “But this is not the case. It's absurd” He also argued it could have an effect on the reliability of the Renault engine, as the fuel that goes through the engine while off-throttle, is used to cool the exhaust valves. “For them [Renault] to change that would be quite a big issue, because the engine’s not proven that it would be reliable if the throttle remained closed in that situation,” Newey said.

Mercedes Team Principal Ross Braw thinks it will be difficult for the teams to stop the FIA plans. “Unless the teams can show a definite major problem with the approach that means it's not feasible, it will go ahead. In qualifying, it means a lap-time deficit of half to one second, although our race modes aren't going to be that different,” Brawn predicted.

Of course the teams who have mastered this technique to perfection have also befitted the most, and will therefore also suffer the most from the ban. With the ban in place it is expected teams who use the Renault engines will lose more lap time than other teams, and it is rumored Red Bull will suffer the most.

But Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner thinks his team will not suffer more than other teams, “I doubt it will probably affect us any more or any less than any other teams.” But he is looking forward to the meeting this week, as he wants clarification of what exactly is still allowed, “There are certain questions that we want to ask about the technical directive that we need clarification on.”

I doubt it will probably affect us any more or any less than any other teams

Christian Horner

The “off-throttle” performance of a Formula One car improves as more down force is generated, and a driver is able to go through corners faster. Therefore dumping fuel into the red hot exhaust pipes is certainly not a waste of fuel from a racing point of view, the name of the game is to go faster than the others, and not about who covers the distance using the least amount of fuel.

But Whiting made no bones about it, the situation is clear to him. “An exhaust system is there for the purpose of exhausting gasses from the engine and when you're off-throttle, it isn't doing that any more. Therefore it's being used to influence the aerodynamic characteristics of the car. We think arguably, this infringes Article 3.15 of the technical regulations,” he said in Montreal.

Spy-gate Mike Coughlan returns to F1

Mike Coughlan, who was dismissed by McLaren in the wake of the 2007 spy-gate scandal, has after four years returned to Formula One and is now an employee of the Williams team. The now 52-year old British engineer will take over Sam Michael’s duties as Technical Director when he leaves the team at the end of the year.

Coughlan, at the time a senior McLaren engineer, had been accused of theft of technical information from the Ferrari team, apparently Coughlan had obtained the technical information from former Ferrari engineer Nigel Stepney. When Ferrari in June 2007 sacked Stepney, they also announced they had taken legal action against ‘an engineer from the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team’, which turned out to be Coughlan.

Although Ferrari had accused Coughlan of stealing some 780 pages of Ferrari technical documentation, during a highly controversial FIA hearing in July 2007, the Formula One’s governing body did not penalize McLaren, needless to say Ferrari was furious about the decision. But during a second hearing in September, McLaren was punished and was excluded from the 2007 Constructors’ Championship and the British team was also handed a record-breaking $100 million fine.

The spy-gate affair also led to an investigation into the Renault Formula One team, who were allegedly in the possession of McLaren technical information. In 2009 legal proceedings initiated by Ferrari against Coughlan and other McLaren engineers were dropped, and Coughlan had to pay a 180,000 Euro fine.

Mike Coughlan and Zoran Stefanović
Mike Coughlan and Zoran Stefanović

After the spy-gate affair Coughlan tried his luck in the Unites States, where Michael Waltrip Racing hired him as director of vehicle design. In 2009 he also worked for the illusive Stefan GP team, run by Zoran Stefanović.

Coughlan is aware of his controversial past, and is now hoping he can re-establish himself. About his return he said in a by Williams published Q&A session, “I have always admired Williams, it is such a renowned name in motor sport so I am excited to work with the team to try and recapture their past glory. This would have been great at any point in my career because Williams is such an iconic team, but it is made even more special because I have been given the chance to return to Formula One. All I can do now is work hard and try to earn my place back in Formula One.”

He called the spy-gate affair a ‘life changing experience’, and asked what it meant for him he replied: “It made me reflect upon myself and my actions. Leaving a team and a sport that I love, and then seeing the consequences of my actions on the team and its fans was devastating.”

He also apologized for his mistakes in 2007, “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone who was affected by my conduct and in particular the people at McLaren and Ferrari and the fans of those teams. I sincerely regret my actions and I fully accepted the penalty given to me by the FIA. I can only hope that I can earn back everyone’s respect.”

Although Williams won nine Constructors’ Championships, they have not won one single race since 2004, and the Grove-based team is hoping Coughlan can give a positive impulse to the team. “I was really impressed when I looked around the factory. The team has a fantastic site at Grove and some brilliant people working there,” said Coughlan.

I can only hope that I can earn back everyone’s respect

Mike Coughlan

And he is certainly looking forward to his new job, “Seeing the potential of the team and the facilities for myself, as well as witnessing how motivated everyone is and how hard they all work, is really encouraging and I’m looking forward to working with them all.” He is also convinced he can unleash the potential of the Williams team, “The team as it stands is fantastic. It is full of intelligent, creative and determined people who, from what I have observed, should be seeing results far beyond those they are achieving at the moment.”

And his future plans? “I am aiming to integrate myself back into Formula One and prove myself. With regards to the team, I think we all have one goal – to win races. I think I can say that even though I have only just finished my first day here! But obviously I’m hoping to help bring an upturn in the team’s results and put it back to where it deserves to be.”

Kubica could make Brazilian GP return

According to manager Daniele Morelli, Robert Kubica could make a race return in Brazil, the very last Grand Prix on this year’s calendar, which is scheduled for November 27. The Italian Gazzetta dello Sport quoted him saying, “Recovery is progressing positively, the right leg is fine: if that was the problem, then Robert would practically be ready. No, that's not our worry.” Asked about an earlier return he replied: “The Italian GP is held in September, so it's in just three months' time, but we can think about the final race of the season.”

He again emphasized there is no need to test during a Friday practice session if the Pole is ready to race, “When Robert gets in the simulator, he'll immediately understand whether he's able to come back, how and when, without the need of a stop-watch.” The Italian paper also revealed Kubica underwent a final operation yesterday, and he will be working with Italian doctor Igor Rossello on the recovery of his right arm, and will also spend ‘a further day of the week at Formula Medicine in Viareggio with Dr. Riccardo Ceccarelli for recovery of the leg’.

Robert Kubica and manager Daniele Morelli
Robert Kubica and manager Daniele Morelli

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Morelli’s optimism seems to increase with every press release he issues, but this being the third time Kubica had a ’final’ operation, it looks like he still is not out of the woods. A Polish magazine has published photos of Kubica for the first time after his accident, and although Morelli insists his right leg is not the problem, Kubica is seen walking with crutches and has braces for his right arm.

It seems more likely he is trying to increase Kubica’s chances of retaining his job at the Lotus Renault team next year, because Renault is posed with a difficult dilemma. They want to stay loyal to the Pole and they need him very desperately to achieve better results, but on the other hand they have a Formula One team to run, and if Kubica will not recover in time, they will have to think about a replacement driver.

Team Principal Eric Boullier, “Robert is the key to this, we obviously are 100 per cent committed behind Robert, and I have offered to put in place all the rehabilitation on the racing side for him to be comfortable before making the decision.” Boullier explained, “We are now having discussions with his management to see how we can do it. There is not always the same concern for everybody, but I would like to wait to see Robert's decision to see if he is back or not, and then work out if we go to a different plan or not.”

“I have been told he will be starting his full rehabilitation in August, which is late. But we have to make a decision around then.”

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 24

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Robert Kubica , Jean Todt , Adrian Newey
Teams Williams , Michael Waltrip Racing
Tags berthold bouman, coughlan, diffuser, fia, kubica