A scientific approach to 2009 F1 regulations

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The 2009 cars are totally different machines than the Formula One cars of recent history. Rather than discipline from the designers, the new shape is influenced by radical regulation changes never before seen in the sport.

In fact, for the first time in Formula One, the people responsible for the changed regulations used the knowledge of experienced drivers, the mind of respected designers and measurable wind tunnel testing to try the effects of the new regulations before instating them. The new regulations are the first with this much input from the teams themselves and are highly anticipated. The stakes are after all very high.

Thorough aerodynamic changes

The long standing and worsening issue of overtaking difficulties has finally been tackled by the overtaking working group. The OWG was formed by Charlie Whiting after deciding that resolving this problem with the complete technical working group (TWG) was impossible as too many people were involved. As such, one representative of three top teams were invited. McLaren sent Paddy Lowe, Pat Symonds represented Renault and Rory Byrne for Ferrari. All three are well respected and experienced engineers in Formula One, willing to get the job done with common sense.

The team quickly got to work and used McLaren's simulator to have Pedro de la Rosa test several different car configurations in order to try out how overtaking could be facilitated. They quickly found that halving the downforce would aid overtaking, and additional measures eventually helped to reduce the overtaking advantage from 2s to 1s per lap at the end of the straight of Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. As such, if the testing proves right, a car will have a good chance to overtake another one if he is approximately 1s faster a lap.

By using wind tunnel research it was also quickly found that earlier regulation measures taken to reduce downforce also dramatically worsened overtaking possibilities. In fact, one OWG member stated: “If we had wanted to make overtaking chances worse, that was what we would have come up with.”, confirming what many fans were convinced of without the use of a wind tunnel. At the same time, the central down wash wing designed by Nick Wirth also proved ineffective in the wind tunnel, contradicting computer simulations of the split rear wing design.

The result is a lower and wider front wing, a higher and smaller rear wing and a ban on aerodynamic appendages on the car's body. Out of the many aerodynamic configurations that were tried, the resulting rules proved to be a good compromise between improving overtaking opportunities while still making it not too easy.

Finally, the team also agreed that the simplest way to address the lack of tyre grip would be the reintroduction or slick tyres after requiring for 11 years that cars would have 4 lengthwise grooves along the tyre's thread.

Taking on the engine to reduce costs

Apart from the OWG, Max Mosley, President of the FIA has fuelled for even more changes in light of cost reduction. Strengthened by the recent economic crisis and the unsustainable running costs of Formula One. While many plans had already been made to make cuts, the matters were urged by the withdrawal of Honda from Formula One, exactly because of those financial setbacks – added by the fact that Honda was spending a whole lot more during 2008 as it tried to move up the pecking order again.

One of the earliest problems identified as a stopper for the future of Formula One was the availability of high performance engines for privately owned teams. It was well understood that the cost for buying an F1 engine from one of the manufacturers was too expensive (estimated at 15m Euro a year). Unsurprisingly, it was Williams, backed by its heritage in the sport, that lobbied to have something done about it. It was agreed by the teams that any engine manufacturer will make it possible to sell F1 engines at the cost of 5m Euro a year, including all running costs. Such price was however only possible by further limitations on maximum rpm - reduced from 19000 to 18000 - to increase the engine's lifespan.

Williams F1 CEO Adam Parr was quoted as saying “Williams' view is that we have to cut costs as a sport. That view is shared by almost everybody else. The single biggest cost for an independent team of manufacturer is the engine, so we have to do something about it. When we froze the engine for five years it was a massive mistake, a massive mistake. We froze a very expensive engine, and the thinking at the time was that it was not a performance differentiator and therefore you could freeze it. Subsequently it turned out that maybe it was a performance differentiator, or it has become a performance differentiator, and therefore you cannot have a frozen engine.”

The agreement by FOTA to supply engines at the 5m Euro cost was the result of Max Mosley, who on his behalf has been pushing hard to introduce some form of a standard engine. It is likely that such a formula – including a single manufacturer but still allowing the teams to build their own engines according to the spec – will eventually make its entrance into Formula One as of 2010. The plan is to continue with that formula until the introduction of a completely new, small capacity and more fuel efficient engine in 2013.

Cost cuts aside of the track

Apart from the technical changes, the least visible for the fans will be the measures taken to reduce operating costs of a Formula One team. Most involved parties have come to realise that spending more than a million Euro per day, year after year to run 2 cars was a little out of proportion.
As such, the World motor sport council met with FOTA on 12 December at Monaco and agreed upon the following measures:

  • Testing has been severely reduced from 30,000 to 15,000 km/year. All this testing will have to happen between 1 January and 7 days before the first Grand Prix of the season, as in-season and post-season testing are now banned completely. It is already widely known that this measure will reduce the workforce for most teams. Williams for instance is said to be investigating who it deems most necessary in its team as it aims to cut away the testing crew as a whole, since the race team can now do the early season testing.
  • Wind tunnel testing was limited to 40 hours/week. This used to be an unlimited parameter and resulting in several teams running its wind tunnel 24 hours, 7 days a week in 3 shifts of 8 working hours. Some teams did however protest against this idea as they had just invested in a secondary wind tunnel. Max Mosley meanwhile stated that these costs are in the past, cannot be undone and cannot be a reason to keep spending at the same rate.
  • No wind tunnel exceeding 60% scale and 50 m/s or 180 km/h to be used after 1 January 2009.
  • Factory closures for six weeks per year, to accord with local laws.
  • Manpower to be reduced by means of a number of measures, including sharing information on tyres and fuel to eliminate the need for “spotters”.

The WMSC has estimated that all these measures should reduce the manufactuer teams' budgets by 30% and even more so for the independent ones.

In the next part of this series, we will look thoroughly in the new aerodynamic regulations that spell a major change in Formula One.