Honda website
Honda website

MAY 2, 2006

Clouds over the Nurburging

With Ferrari saying its car is legal and that it will protest all the other cars if it is protested and the FIA seeming to agree that the Ferrari is legal, the scene is set for a scrutineering bloodbath at the European Grand Prix this weekend at the European Grand Prix. Hopefully that will not happen but the signs are that Ferrari's performance in Imola has created frustrations which may now need to be vented. Formula 1 once again stands on the edge of the abyss of stupidity, preparing to jump.

In theory cars are either legal or they are not legal but that rather depends on the means that are used to check a car. The problem with flexible wings (and let us not forget undertrays as well) is that they can be quite legal under static testing in the scrutineering bay but can change when sufficient downforce is applied. This is not dissimilar to the problems encountered in 1981 when Brabham team devised an hydraulic system to circumvent the regulation that stated that cars must have a minimum ride height of 6cm. The driver used a switch to move the ride height up so that it was legal when measurements were made but ran close to the ground when out on the track. That was crude in the extreme but the important point is that the chief mechanic on that car was Charlie Whiting, now the FIA Race Director, and so he should be well versed in such concepts and should be capable of finding a way to stop all the teams playing with such ideas.

There is plenty of scope for that in the technical and sporting regulations notably Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations which states that "any specific part of the car which affects its aerodynamic performance must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car. (Rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom) and must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car. Any device that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances". Article 7 of the Sporting Regulations can also be applied as it states that "competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout practice and the race."

The problem is that with advanced simulation techniques, engineers can use acoustic recordings of revs to create what they call a speed map for every car at every circuit. This is a theoretical model of the maximum speeds that a car can achieve at every point on the circuit, based on its aerodynamic settings, the revs it has and calculation of the gearings. If cars do not conform to these maps, then there is clearly something wrong.

The problem appears to be that when certain cars reach their terminal velocity they miraculously break the laws of physics and go beyond what is theoretically possible. It is a fairly safe bet that this information means that there is something nasty in the woodpile that needs investigation.

The simple solution would presumably be to increase the loads used in the static testing to ensure that there were no such problems and thus the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the paddock would float away, which would be a very good thing given the delicate state of F1 politics and the sport's public image at the moment.