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Technology show instead of racing: F1 cars unsuitable for racing

Technology show instead of racing
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D he technical overkill is becoming a curse for Formula 1. The Australian GP was a prime example of this. Why, you will ask. It was a computer error that made the Formula 1 season opener halfway entertaining and produced an unexpected winner. Not correct. The algorithm in the Mercedes strategy program was correct. It was the person who produced the error. The program was fed with the wrong parameters.

Apart from that, the race in Melbourne went like last year. Just five overtaking maneuvers over a distance of 307.5 kilometers. Every 18 minutes one car overtook another on the track. Despite an additional DRS zone. The IndyCar season opener in St.Petersburg counted 283 real overtaking maneuvers. Maybe a little too inflationary, but still better than five. This year IndyCar has reduced the downforce of the cars by 20 percent. In Formula 1, the contact pressure has increased by a further five percent over the winter. In 2016, 37 overtaking maneuvers were counted in Melbourne with the narrower car. Of course, that has nothing to do with the width of the cars. An IndyCar is 1.99 meters wide, so on a Formula 1 level. But it has much simpler aerodynamic shapes. But more on that later.

Cars are spared in the race

Real duels were in short supply in Australia.

In the current Formula 1, it's not just the aerodynamics to blame that you can hardly offer good racing with it. The straights have to be at least one kilometer long, one slow curve in front of it, one behind it, and most of the in between must be declared a DRS zone so that an overtaking maneuver is possible. Routes like Bahrain, Baku or Montreal. Butyou can't build every track so that overtaking is possible. Then they all look the same in the end. The cars have to change, not the racetracks.

It speaks for itself that a VSC phase was the greatest highlight of the Australian GP. This is already an indictment because the virtual neutralization like DRS is an artificial element that has to be explained to the normal viewer first. But the VSC signal was only able to create suspense because Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Co. are sitting in technology monsters that are actually no longer racing cars. In a normal racing car, given the superiority of the Mercedes, Hamilton would have created a sufficiently large lead before the first pit stop, so that Ferrari would never have had the chance to lure Hamilton out of the reserve with an undercut. Because Kimi Raikkonen would have been far too big then. And even if. Then Hamilton could have closed the gap to Vettel enough between laps 19 and 25 to take the lead again after Vettel's pit stop.

Why didn't he? Because that is not advisable with these racing cars. The technicians at the command post don't just have to keep an eye on the Australian GP. An engine that has to last seven GP weekends, a battery that should stay in the car for six months, a transmission that can be replaced after six races at the earliest, all require management. Whenever the race allows, these components are spared. Hamilton himself said that he could easily have gone faster. He was not allowed to. Instead, he was given a so-called “target lap time”. The driver must adhere to this target. It doesn't matter how fast it could really go.

There are also other considerations that dictate the pace of the drivers. The fuel consumption. The charging cycle of the batteries. The cooling of the motor, battery and electronics boxes. The tires that are still too temperature-sensitive. The brakes, whose aerodynamic cooling openings are kept to a minimum. Recently also the oil consumption, which may exceed 0.6 liters per 100 kilometers. All of this means that the drivers have to be remotely steered from the pits.

It would be interesting what would happen if the telemetry and radio were switched off unannounced. I bet that the race would then improve significantly. Because then the error rate increases. Williams chief technology officer Paddy Lowe admits: “The basic problem is the drive unit. Not only is it too complicated by itself. It also forces us to produce highly complex cars. ”An example: A two-digit number of coolers are installed in the cars to keep all systems within the temperature range.

The performance of the cars suffers in traffic

Let's get back to the Australian GP. The constellation for the restart after the safety car phase was almost perfect. FrontSebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton fought for victory. Behind them Kimi Räikkönen and Daniel Ricciardo for the last podium place. And further back Fernando Alonso had to defend himself against Max Verstappen, Nico Hülkenberg and Valtteri Bottas in the fight for 5th place. The pursuers were each in the faster car. And they had DRS.

But although there were still 26 laps time, the order didn't change. The hope that something could change quickly vanished after the first unsuccessful attacks by the man behind. The usual complaints arose that these sophisticated driving machines bring with them in wheel-to-wheel combat.

In the slipstream, the following car quickly gets into the red zone. With the brakes, the drive unit, the tires. It is a doom-loop. The car starts to slip, the tires get even hotter, and the car slips even more. “You already feel the first signs of bad air after three seconds of unlocking. After a second, the chasing after gets really bad. This way you don't get into a position from which you can attack. It was even worse than last year, ”reported Bottas.

That is not only related to downforce. The aerodynamic shapes became even more complicated over the winter. There are always new vortex generators that generate turbulence to ward off other turbulences. If this sensitive system is disturbed, a fast car becomes a slow one.

You don't have to be an aerodynamicist to understand this. Take a look at the complex mesh of baffles between the front wheels and side pods! This only works with an undisturbed flow like in a wind tunnel. In addition: Bad air from the front wing and the front axle is diverted to the left and right to the outside. She meets again behind the car, fatally level with the front wing of the car driving behind. It would have taken a time delta of 1.8 seconds to overtake in Melbourne. In 2017 the difference was 1.6 seconds.

F1 cars optimized for qualifying

Hamilton had to call off the attack on Vettel prematurely to protect the technology.

The 2017 rule reform to give more freedom for aerodynamics was an own goal in terms of good racing. The unlimited possibilities of simulation fuel the problem. Because they show the engineers which configuration the car is fastest in. Nobody builds a car that is good in traffic. Everyone is knitting their car to the limit so that it can achieve the best possible lap time. When it drives alone on the track. In the end, however, that only works for the team whose cars are in front. It is precisely this minimalism that has fatal side effects that stifle duels on the track in the bud. The cooling shafts for the brakes are only secondary for cooling. They are a weighty aerodynamic instrument. Good for a lap with free travel. An overkill if you have to follow another car for longer than three laps.

Hybrid drives are even more sensitive. Its six components crave air. If that fails, nothing works. In the best case scenario, there is a risk of long-term damage. Bottas was in the fastest car in the chasing pack, but had no chance of overtaking Nico Hülkenberg's Renault. The Finn admitted: “We calculated the cooling incorrectly. The drive ran too hot after a short time in the slipstream. ”The driver had two options: to reduce the engine output or to take his foot off the accelerator. That's not how you overtake cars. “With regard to overtaking, the overheating was worse than the loss of downforce,” Bottas admitted.

The current Formula 1 racers are the fastest cars of all time, but they are too easy to drive. Not a single one of the five overtaking maneuvers was the result of a driving error by the vehicle in front. Lance Stroll was overtaken twice because he was accidentally in the wrong engine program. How exciting.

After the reduction in downforce, the IndyCars turned into grim rear skids. This not only provoked a lot of position changes due to mistakes, but also caused large differences in the condition of the rear tires, depending on the driving style. If you overdo it, you no longer have any grip at the rear.

And there are no radio messages that inform the driver of the temperatures of the rear tires and tell him how to drive. He has to feel it himself. In Formula 1, perfectionism means that the first attack has to work. After that, nothing more happens. The bad thing is that the viewer feels the hopelessness. And sooner or later that will encourage him to turn off the television.


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