FEBRUARY 15, 2002
Grumbling about grooves and gearboxes
THE FIA system of controlling the Formula 1 technical regulations is highly complicated. Teams go to the FIA and ask for an opinion about whether a certain design feature is legal or not. The FIA Technical Department gives an opinion but does not inform the other teams of any of the discussions. However that opinion is not necessarily the correct one and so if rival teams which to challenge a system they can do so and the FIA stewards are then left to decide what is right and what is wrong. With the current complexity of some of the software systems it is hard for rival teams to know what they can challenge because nothing is obvious from the outside. This has led to an increase in F1 espionage as teams try to discover what questionable parts there are on rival cars.
The problems are made more complex by the fact that some systems can have two different uses: one acceptable and another illegal and the FIA must decide (but without telling the opposition) what is happening. This has led to questions about double-clutch systems on gearboxes. As engines become more and more powerful and power bands became narrower (as tends to happen) teams would like to be able to use constantly variable transmission systems. These however are banned. In order to speed up gearchanges some teams have adopted double clutch systems which can achieve roughly the same effect as CVT's through the clutches rather than the gears being changed and it is therefore quicker.
This however opens up the possibility of the two clutches being juggled to create a system similar to CVT and this is ruled not to be legal. The secrets of systems like this are hidden away in software.
The cloudy process by which the technical rules are settled has the disadvantage that it tends to create the feeling that one team is allowed to be doing one thing and another is banned from doing the same. The reality is that the way the questions are asked dictates the answers given.
There are also grumbles at the moment about tires as there is talk of grooves which are not symmetrical. The advantage of this is that some areas of the tires then behave like slicks and produce more grip. This is not acceptable as the FIA says that grooves have to be uniform. It is unlikely therefore that any of the teams will turn up in Australia using these tires.
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