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JUNE 27, 2007

The inside story on the latest 2011 proposals

The World Motorsport Council has been hearing today about the latest ideas for the rules for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship from 2011 onwards. It is important to point out that everything that is included in these proposals is open to discussion and that the manufacturers are playing an important role in the development of the regulations. The thaw in relations between the parties involved appears to bearing fruit and there is a promise of some fascinating new concepts.

The initial ideas of turbo-diesel engines have been dropped - as we suggested they would be. This was because of lack of support amongst the manufacturers. The move is now towards much smaller 4-cylinder engines with between 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre displacement. These will be turbocharged. Back in the 1980s Formula 1 built 1.5-litre turbos that were capable of producing an astonishing 1500hp but the engines being discussed today would be much less powerful because of greater control on the electronics and, most importantly, on the fuels that will be used. Efficiency will be the key to the new engines with F1 path-finding and changing perceptions for the automotive industry.

That at least is the plan.

"Savings on fuel that will send out a super message," says Tony Purnell, the former boss of Jaguar Racing who is working on the new rules for the F1. "The engines will also have small electric-assist elements which we hope will make them sexy for the fans. There is no chance of the engines producing the same sort of horsepower because they will not have to push the cars down the straights with the downforce generating devices that we have today. We are going to be working with the fuel companies because no-one wants a fuel race of any kind. The engines we imagine in 2011 will be quite different because they will be designed for efficiency with the electrical-assist features built in."

Purnell says that the engines will probably only be producing around 400 horsepower but will feature push-to-pass buttons that will unleash regenerative energy created by the cars. This will produce "considerable" extra power.

"It would be a maximum of 250 extra horsepower," says Purnell. "But you won't get it for long. Or you can have a little extra power for a longer time. That will create new strategic elements in the racing."

The latest ideas on aerodynamics include active front and rear wings on the cars, so that they will change angle as they go down the straights, creating less drag and thus allowing the cars to go faster.

"Today all the cars contain multiple motion-control systems," says Purnell. "They are all safety-critical. Nowadays F1 teams know how to design safety critical systems and know how to look after fail-safe features. They are commonplace in F1 and are not fundamentally dangerous. The level of sophistocation is much more advanced than when F1 first tried movable wings in the 1960s and active suspension systems in the 1980s. That was pioneering stuff and the sophistocation was not there. I am quite relaxed about the idea in F1."

Another key element in the new proposals is that the FIA will produce its own underbodies which teams will have to bolt to their cars.

"The main downforce-generating element on an F1 car is the underside," says Purnell. "By removing that we will equalise the cars somewhat and it will mean that aero gains from the top surfaces would be only second order gains At the moment you might spend $5m to gain 4% more downforce, in the future if you spent the same amount the gains would be about of tenth of that.

"What we are reallly trying to is to put in rules that will improve the show. That means different things to different people but we get the impression that fans want to see closer racing and overtaking. Active aerodynamics and active balance control is the way to do that. At the moment the balance goes to pot when you are in the wake of another car. If we are able to change the aero balance of a car that is in turbulence behind another car, the drivers will be more confident to overtake."

To achieve this the FIA is proposing a system of turbulence sensors which will react when a car is in the wake of another vehicle and will lower the ride-height and changed the pitch of the car to give it downforce. It will then be able to get into the slipstream of the car in front.

"What we are trying to create is a formula to make good racing as well as very sophistocated cars that will have some benefit for production cars and not cost too much. In F1 money is spent if money is there but we can attempt to make the money spent less rewarding in terms of lap times."

The latest set of proposals are just that. There is much talking still to be done but the signs are that the FIA is moving towards creating a F1 that will be more spectacular than it is today, with more interesting technologies and more actual racing.

And that cannot be a bad thing.

"I don't mind people not agreeing with what we are doing," says Purnell, "but I find it difficult being criticised for what we are trying to do."