I put brief in those little marks as this post (like most of my others, lets be honest) is anything but. Here’s my take on the technical regulation changes for the 2011 season. I have tried to remain quite basic as I don’t want to get into trouble for going into stuff that’s not in the public domain, and so you’ll probably find better insight and explanations elsewhere. As usual these are my opinions and not any official line from any team that I may or may not work for 😉
There are several interesting engineering concepts that have been introduced, for example the drag reduction system. Kinetic energy recovery systems have been reintroduced after a year away and the tyre supplier has changed from Bridgestone to Pirelli.
Firstly the one that I think will make the biggest change to the fans watching at home – the tyres. Although Pirelli are still making four black round tyres to the same size as Bridgestone, the compounds that the tyre companies use are different and so the tyre behaviour will be very different. This has already been seen in pre-season testing last month. Previously with the Bridgestones, as the cars burnt fuel, their laptimes got quicker and quicker. Indications so far show that the opposite will happen with Pirellis because they wear so much quicker, even as the lighter the car gets, and because the tyres have lost their grip the laptimes will get slower. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3 stop races, perhaps even 4 at circuits like Melbourne and Montreal where we traditionally see high tyre wear anyway.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) is an adjustable flap on the rear wing. The idea is similar to last year’s F-Duct (which is now banned) in that airflow is altered to reduce drag, making the cars go quicker on the straight and aiding overtaking. The FIA work in mysterious ways and this is one of them. The rules state that moveable aerodynamic devices are not allowed, and for 2011 this was extended to ban driver movement, outlawing the FDuct. But that doesn’t explain how a device to increase the slot gap between rear wing elements is a legal system. It also has strict rules governing the use of the DRS – practice and qualifying are unrestricted (which is good it means that during a race the car will not hit the limiter as gear ratios will be selected with the extra speed the DRS gives in mind) but the use in the race is a bit complicated. The DRS is only allowed to be used on one particular straight, if a car is less than a second behind the car in front. There will be two lines of a set distance marked on the circuit, before the straight to determine if the car is within the required time, and I think that it is race control who give the green light for the DRS to be used, to save teams self regulating the use! It’ll be interesting to see how much of an effect this has and hopefully the FIA don’t change the regulations too much as the season goes on.
The reintroduction of the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) is more of a nod to the future than the current rules I think. Manufacturers and F1 in general are making an effort to be seen to be more environmentally friendly and I think that is why KERS is being pushed. I’d imagine a lot of time, effort and money has been spent in this area so I hope it all pays off and improves the show. Last time round it showed that two KERS cars racing against each other effectively negated any benefit, and I think it will be even worse this year as more teams have the system on board. Fingers crossed the teams have different success rates with their KERS units to spice it up a bit!
Most of the other technical changes won’t be easily noticed when watching races, for example the double diffuser is banned this year. However it has made the packaging at the rear of the cars much neater and so some of the cars do look different in this area. Williams for example have been talking about their new small gearbox and in pre-season testing it was visibly different to last year. The dimensions allowed for the shark fin engine cover have been shorted too so that will make the cars look a bit different.
More work has been done to reduce any possible advantage of flexible wings by tightening up the tests done. Hopefully that will put an end to all the speculation about Red Bull’s wings!
For safety reasons extra tethers have been added to try and ensure that wheels can’t come off during an accident. I’m not sure that this will stop it entirely but it can’t do any harm.
Also on safety reasons the 2010 Mercedes roll hoop has been banned, with minimum dimensions specified for the airbox. It is possible to design smaller than normal airboxes, split into two halves as seen on a couple of cars in pre-season testing, but they shouldn’t be as dangerous as the spike design of last year’s Mercedes. I’m not entirely sure what the teams will have gained from pushing the rules to the limit in this area. It looks more like to me that they copied last year’s spike and then it got outlawed so they did as little work as possible to make their designs pass…I’m sure that can’t be right though, there must be some air flow management benefit! I would have thought you would just want to get as much air as possible through.
Finally the last regulation I am going to touch on is tightening the rules regarding the starter hole in the rear bodywork. The size of the hole is now restricted and it must only be used for allowing the engine starter through. However in pre-season testing there was lots of rumours about pushing the boundaries in this area and using the starter hole as an aerodynamic device so no doubt this will be brought up by their opposition.
All the teams have done different interpretations of the rules which is quite surprising in a period of relatively stable regulations. Still its nice to see a bit of engineering (McLaren’s sidepods, Renault’s exhaust and William’s ‘tight rear end’ spring to mind) . I just hope all the pushing of boundaries doesn’t end in bitching and protests and more court cases! Still gives us something interesting to talk about, better than starting rumours about sprinklers 😉