M head of technology at ercedes Paddy Lowe pushed around. His drivers had tried out new steering wheels in Friday practice for the Abu Dhabi GP. Officially, to test the pilots' special requests for 2017. Lowe didn't want to reveal the real reason. The test had only marginally to do with how the steering wheel felt in the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Something similar happened at Force India. Sergio Perez also tried a special steering wheel. Ferrari had already completed this test a race earlier.
But what is it actually about? The big difference only became apparent when looking at the back of the test steering wheels. They only had one clutch lever instead of two, and it was particularly long. Connoisseurs throw in that the Ferrari drivers have been using longer clutch levers for the entire season to give them more feeling when engaging. But that is not the reason why Mercedes is copying from Ferrari.
The start of the race should become even more unpredictable
In the 2017 regulations, in addition to the spectacular changes for the aerodynamics, secretly, quietly and quietly, too new rules for the operation and function of the clutch crept in. And that will have a major impact on the start of the race next year. The aim is to make the start even more unpredictable. It becomes easier to mess up the start or burn the clutch.
Up until now, the position of the clutch lever also determined the position of the clutch itself. When the lever was fully pulled, it was completely open. At a certain point on the way back it clicked into place. The point could shift depending on the clutch temperature, but to find out and catch this, there were tricks.
The teams were allowed to mount two clutch paddles behind the steering wheel. In contrast to earlier, they had to have the same function. Before 2016 it was the case that when one pedal was engaged, the clutch was put into a slipping state, while the driver then slowly engaged the clutch with the other pedal depending on the slip. So 9 out of 10 starts were almost perfect. With the new regulation in 2016, the pilots came to a maximum of 70 percent.
The tricks with the 2016 clutches
That was not just due to more practice. As the season progressed, the teams did more and more tricks to make it easier for the driver to find the clutch pressure point. SoFor example, after the starting exercises during training, reference points were marked somewhere on the steering wheel, which told the driver where the optimal engagement point is, depending on the clutch temperature. Even a team like Force India only assigned a man all weekend to check how the pressure point of the clutch changes depending on the clutch temperature.
The clutch reacted to both levers, but when used at the same time, each only up to the lesser deflection of the two rockers. The teams took advantage of this. Both levers were pulled at the starting position, so the clutch was open. As soon as the first red lights went out, the driver brought one of the two levers close to the reference point. The car stopped because the second, not yet actuated lever was relevant for the clutch position.
After the last light, the man in the cockpit let go of the other rocker completely, so that he can now only use the first was able to bring about the frictional connection in the millimeter range and then control the slip by slowly engaging. That was easier than hitting the pressure point from zero.
Just one lever, no more reference points
2017 is over. First, no reference points are allowed on the steering wheel, and second, only a lever. The most important thing, however, is that the position of the clutch lever no longer determines the position of the clutch, but the torque to be transmitted. For this purpose, software is written that assigns a clutch position to the torque requested by the driver.
The driver must feel how much torque he is using both with his hand on the clutch and with his foot on the accelerator pedal wants to transfer. In the opinion of the engineers, it will happen much more often that when starting, either the speed drops or the rear wheels spin too much. Hand and foot coordination is much more difficult to accomplish than the current start-up process, in which the driver receives assistance in positioning the clutch position.
In 2017, every millimeter of clutch travel means an increase in torque that is to be transmitted. There are many factors that will determine whether or not it will make it onto the road. The clutch temperature, the tire temperature, the grip on the track, the engine speed and of course the time span in which the driver requests more torque. To make the pilot's work easier, the clutch travels are longer and the levers larger. So that they can better sense small differences. This is exactly what Hamilton, Rosberg and Perez tried out in Abu Dhabi on Friday morning.
The whole topic picked up speed after a standard clutch was to be introduced at Ferrari's suggestion. With the meaningful argument that you could save so much money on an elaborate clutch development that does not bring anything to anyone. FerrarisSubmission was rejected, however.
However, it gave the FIA the idea of devising a clutch actuation that would make development work in this area superfluous. “What we need now is clever software that reliably controls the clutch. And of course drivers who can start well, 'says Force India Technical Director Andy Green.