You’ve got the Brains, You’ve got the Brawn, Let’s go GP Racing!

In Formula 1 on 21 March, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Right. So. BrawnGP top the time sheets and a ton of armchair enthusiasts reckon they must be underweight, trying to attract sponsors, etc. Because “McLaren can’t be slower than than their customer can they?”

Newsflash: the Force India car was faster in testing too!

Now. McLaren have the resources to turn that around this week in time for Melbourne, but no track time left until Friday Practise in a few days time, thanks to testing limits that they agreed to adhere to. Interestingly enough, on the LAST day of testing Heikki Kovaleinen was showing VERY promising times. Which in turn begs the question: “Is the 2009 car actually more suited to his driving style than Lewis Hamilton’s?”

This may sound odd to some of you, but the fact is that certain drivers treat the car in very different ways. Some have a very smooth, flowing driving style that seems more “curvy” around the track, with a more gentle treatment of brakes and accelerator that follows closer to the mathematical “Racing Line” than other drivers, with a much more “aggressive” style, which uses sharper accceleration and braking (almost on/off) resulting in more sudden changes in direction, that look more jagged and straight than “curvy”. Both styles affect how the car is set-up for optimal performance.
The car itself, due to a multitude of factors in its design, build, fuel load, tires and aerodynamic downforce, behaves in what can be categorised into three basic conditions: Oversteering, Understeering and Neutral.

“Oversteer” is when a car behaves with a heightened level of front grip, almost pulling the car round the corner. If you are either unaware, or unexpecting of it, you can turn in too far off your anticipated line of travel. If you’re lucky, you can correct this and merely lose some time getting back on line. If you are unlucky… At the very least you’ll spin…

“Understeer” is where the front of car doesn’t respond quickly enough to the driver’s demands, which again leads to lost time, slowing down to correct the direction of the car and get it back on line, if you haven’t driven straight into a gravel trap, that is…

“Neutral” is a car that behaves with neither of the above characteristics.

There are drivers whose styles suit each of the above car types. Most drivers can adapt to cope with varying car types, but it is harder for some more than others… Over the years we have seen these driver/car balances make some drivers look better and worse over the course of a couple of years (or in a few cases, a season).

Rubens Barrichello, for example, has seen his fair share of cars over the years (he’s about to start his 17th season!) of which he himself has said that the last two Hondas were the worst cars he has ever driven!

The RA107 & RA108 suffered from understeer AND oversteer, sometimes in the same corner! Having learnt a lot from Michael Schumacher (as Massa seemed to do last year) Rubens prefers a Neutral car, that suits his smoother, left-foot-braking, driving style. Very similar to Jenson Button’s style of driving, actually. This means that Ross Brawn could design the type of car that he used to oversee at Ferrari, for Michael. Button and Barrichello both suit that type of car, and the set-up and weight distributions could be more similar.

McLaren seems to have had a habit of picking fast drivers with very different driving preferences since the days of Hakkinen and Coulthard. For example, Raikkonnen and Montoya ended up dividing McLaren’s resources in favour of two different cars, one with more oversteer, the other with slight understeer… They couldn’t concentrate all of their minds in one direction like Brawn was able to last year.

Hamilton uses his rear tyres a lot more aggressively than other drivers do. He has also never really had to develop a car that wasn’t already one of the fastest on the track… Most of the other drivers, his teammate included, have done.

Kovaleinen drove an awful car at Renault, but he adapted and they developed the car.
Lewis has yet to show that he has as much intuition on adjusting his car (and his style) as his does throwing through the tight curves of Monte-Carlo.

Kovaleinen and De la Rosa have done more testing in the car, and Hamilton has been more noticeable for his accidents.

So, what will we be talking about at Christmas? Which German-powered British team beat Ferrari and BMW to the Constructors’ Trophy? Which British driver is World Champion? Or will he be Brazilian? Or will Kimi take his second? Or Alonso his third? How many times was there a Pole on Pole? Or will Toyota triumph where Honda failed? Ironically, in the back of a Williams? 😉



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