F1-The Diffuser Row

In Formula 1 on 24 March, 2009 at 8:19 pm

There is a storm brewing in Formula One, before the season has even started… Williams and Toyota started it and BrawnGP have added fuel to the fire…

The new regulations governing the design of the new 2009 cars have a very distinct grey area in the region known as the diffuser…

This is the part of the car beneath the rear light that provides a fairly large chunk of rear downforce… The problem is that the measurements defined by the FIA for the rear crash structure and the diffuser overlap… This has led to different interpretations by the various teams. The Toyota and Williams designs have both apparently been approved by the FIA, however, the BrawnGP car has not been specifically mentioned… Red Bull Racing have issued a statement suggesting that the BrawnGP diffuser is in fact illegal. Barrichello is the only member of the team I have seen a statement from regarding this, and he seems to have written it off as jealousy…

What will be interesting to see is whether McLaren have had had enough time to redesign and rebuild their diffuser in time for Melbourne… Sam Michael, Williams’ Technical Director said a few weeks ago that he expected to see a number of teams re-designing their diffusers to follow the “clever interpretation” (my phrase, not his) of the diffuser rules… McLaren have had a lot of trouble with the rear of their car, and are one of the few teams with the resources to build a new rear structure in time…

There have even been interesting suggestions that McLaren’s CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) systems are working so well that they could actually test the new diffuser “virtually” before building it, avoiding having to test it on Friday.

The big question is whether this will help Lewis Hamilton or Heikki Kovaleinen more…

As I mentioned in a previous post, a few days ago, Lewis is very hard on his rear tyres… something that may actually be enhanced by the new downforce regulations, making him more likely to have to run shorter stints on his tyres than Heikki. Last year at one race, Bridgestone actually recommended he run a different race strategy to everyone else, as they were concerned that his rears would not last as long as other drivers’ tyres.

I understand that due to the unique “pull-rod” rear suspension on the Red Bull, it would be a huge job to copy Red Bull’s rear chassis layout, as it is so radically different to everyone else’s. Conversely, does this mean that it would that much more difficult for Red Bull to change their own diffusers? Thereby ceding a possible performance gain to all the other teams they are currently faster than?

My personal feeling is that this is one of those “grey areas” in the rules that allows innovation from the teams and “room for interpretation”. Some might say it “goes against the spirit of the regulations”, but I would respond that “Formula One is supposed to be about trying new ideas, innovating, and pushing technological boundaries”. That’s what makes the difference between a well-funded teams with a relatively average car and a smaller operation (like Williams, for example) risking everything on a more radical interpretation of the rules. Taking the risks that a larger, more boardroom-driven team might not be willing to do…

BrawnGP are a bit of a conundrum. They are technically now an independent team. They have shed the extra load of the corporation, the boardroom, having to answer to shareholders, etc, making them a more streamlined organisation. However, the gestation of the BGP-001 started under Honda’s approval. It get bit trickier here, as Honda had already passed the reins over to Ross Brawn in the understanding that it would be more efficient to let him get on with running the team and building the car without any interference from Japan. In other words, for intents and purposes, last year Honda were really just bank-rolling the team. Chief Sponsor and Engine Supplier if you will. So in that respect, apart from the loss of the engine (which I also pointed out in an earlier post is actually a good thing!) Honda are STILL bank-rolling BrawnGP for this year…

I hope that Red Bull drop the appeal against BrawnGP’s diffuser in time for Melbourne. I hope that they can see that it might win them more goodwill if they don’t allow the teams to be divided by FOM and the FIA.

Ross Brawn and Nick Fry turned down an offer from Bernie Ecclestone to buy into the team, most likely knowing that it would mean that he would have a say in the running of FOTA-which would defeat the purpose of FOTA. If Ferrari can side with McLaren and Williams after all these years, Red Bull should welcome another independent team. If another manufacturer pulls out, we need as many independent teams as possible!

Maybe someone with some influence will read this post and diffuse the situation? 😉


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