INSIGHT: Plumbing the depths of F1's changes for 2014

INSIGHT: Plumbing the depths of F1's changes for 2014

Formula 1

INSIGHT: Plumbing the depths of F1's changes for 2014


“The magnitude of the changes is, as far as I remember, the biggest change in F1. Incredible!” says Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. “Which also means anything is possible! It will be a totally different situation. No doubt about it.”

There have, of course, been major changes to Formula 1’s rules in the past: in 1966 the 3-liter formula replaced the unloved 1.5-liter cars; in 1989 a new 3.5-liter normally aspirated formula replaced the mighty 1,500 horsepower 1.5-liter turbos that had started to gain popularity via Renault’s entry to the sport in 1977; for 2006 the 3-liter V10s mandated for 1995 were controversially replaced with 2.4-liter V8s after a lot of muscle-flexing by the FIA as it brought unwilling manufacturers to heel.

But Domenicali is right. Never have there been so many significant changes in one hit, to both powertrain and aerodynamics. Before we look at what effect these changes might have, let’s examine just what they are.

Of course, the change in engine design philosophy is the most significant and is set to put the motor back in motorsport by making power units performance differentiators again. The normally aspirated 90-degree 2.4-liter 18,000 rpm V8s were relatively uncomplicated and we have become used to their power-boosting Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS). The new 90-degree 1.6-liter 15,000 rpm V6 sees a return of the turbocharger for the first time since 1988, and is a very different proposition which uses energy recovery systems that will dramatically increase efficiency by harvesting energy dissipated as heat in both the brakes and the exhaust.

Thus 2014 will no longer be just about aerodynamics or tire conservation. Instead greater emphasis has been placed on making the sport cleaner and greener and more relevant to the development of road car technology, so teams must master supremely complex powertrains which will change the face of race strategy.

The new power units, turbocharged at 3.5 bar, use two motor generator units (MGUs) which are effectively electrical machines. When operating as a motor, the MGU converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. When it operates as a generator it converts mechanical energy to electrical. The first of these units is the MGU-K (K for Kinetic kinetic energy recovery during braking), the second the MGU-H (H for Heat exhaust energy recovery).

The MGU-K is connected to the crankshaft and is now capable of recovering up to 120kW of power or 160hp. Under braking the MGU-K operates as a generator to slow the car (reducing the heat dissipated in the brakes) and so recovers some of the kinetic energy and converts it into electricity. Under acceleration, the MGU-K acts as a motor to propel the car.

The MGU-H is connected to the turbocharger. Acting as a generator, it absorbs power from the turbine shaft to recover heat energy from the exhaust gases. The electrical energy can be either directed to the MGU-K or to the battery for storage for later use. The MGU-H is also used to control the speed of the turbocharger to compensate for turbo lag, a delay in torque response long associated with turbo engines.

The new engine’s energy recovery system (ERS) uses the MGU-K and the MGU-H plus an Energy Store, plus some power and control electronics. Heat and kinetic energy recovered can be consumed immediately if required by the other MGU, or used to charge the Energy Store. The stored energy can be used to propel the car via the MGU-K or to accelerate the turbocharger via the MGU-H. Compared to 2013 KERS, the ERS has twice the power (120kW as opposed to 60kW) for 33 seconds per lap. That’s twice as much power for nearly five times longer than the previous systems, and a performance effect around 10 times greater.

The basic engine produces around 600hp. Add on the extra 160hp generated by the ERS and the 2014 cars will thus have similar power to their predecessors, but with markedly enhanced fuel efficiency. This is just as well as there is a dramatic cut in the amount of fuel permitted. Where the 2.4-liter engines used up to 160kg/225 liters [353lbs/59.4 gallons] of fuel flowed at a maximum of 170kg per hour during the typically 90-minute-long races, teams will now be allowed just 100kg/140 liters [220.5lbs/37 gallons], at the rate of 100 kg/h by FIA-mandated fuel regulators. That’s a huge 35 percent cut that will be only slightly offset on the packaging side by the smaller fuel tank.

To help with efficiency, the engines use direct injection (DI), already popular on some road cars, where fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber so that the fuel-air mixture is formed within the cylinder. The precision of this process will have crucial influence on power delivery and fuel efficiency.

On top of all that, drivers will be allowed only five engines per season rather than the eight in previous seasons, which means each engine must be capable of around 4,000 kms. And bear in mind that these are all-new engine designs, not tried and trusted power units that have long been subjected to a design freeze.

Adrian Newey says that packaging such complex engines, with their MGUs and a huge intercooler, will be three times as complicated as it was with the neat little V8s. And that isn’t everything. There are also some key aerodynamic changes which will further ensure that the new formula is the most complete break in history from its predecessor.

The biggest change is a ban on exhaust-blown diffusers, which is expected to cost at least two seconds on lap time. The new regulations mandate a single exhaust pipe with fixed dimensions and angle of protrusion.

The tip of the nose must be centered at 185 mm, which is just above the front wing, so noses will be droopy and low and, many fear, uglier even than the stepped noses of 2012-’13. The impact of this will be less-optimized airflow beneath the nose and the chassis. The rear wing will be smaller while the front wing will be 150 mm narrower, and though that might seem minor, it will put the endplates right in front of, rather than flush with the outer edge, of the front tires, which even Newey has suggested will be a “big issue.”

The cars will also be significantly heavier. From 642kg/1,415lbs in 2013, the minimum weight will increase to 690kg/ 1,521lbs.

So, what effect will all these changes have, not just on race strategy, but on the driving styles?Aerodynamics and tires will still play a key role, of course, and the driver will still need to conserve the latter even if Pirelli takes a conservative route. But the two other major things he will have to manage are the significantly increased torque and fuel consumption. Interestingly, nobody has put forward any ballpark torque figures.

Torque goes hand-in-hand with tire preservation, and since the torque will ramp up faster than the power, that will probably favor those who are not only smooth but can exercise the patience to get the car turned in before standing on the throttle. Those who can’t will apply the torque while the tire is still exerting lateral grip, which will tear up their made-to-degrade rubber sooner.

Engineers will be able to map an engine to suit an individual driver’s style, but in 2014, Formula 1 is still likely to show which drivers have the extra mental capacity to consider all the diverse systems at their disposal, and those who, while fast, are hanging on by their fingertips to achieve their speed.

One gift the drivers have received from the rule-makers is that ERS will automatically be deployed by the engine, alleviating the need for the driver to activate it manually as was the case with KERS. Another is rear brake control. Harvesting so much energy under braking will have an effect on the rear wheels, so an electronic rear brake control system will be allowed. This will be used to offset the ERS-K effect by aiding the braking effort at the rear, and thus negating the need for the driver to continually alter the brake bias.

Decision-making in the race strategy process will be crucial if teams are to avoid leading but then running out of fuel in sight of the finish. All of them have very sophisticated systems which enable them to optimize their strategic planning, but the drivers will still have to do the job in the car. F1 in recent years has been a flat-out blast between tire stops, and while it won’t revert to a tortoise and hare contest, it will place a premium on the driver being intelligent enough to go fast when necessary and to conserve resources when he needs to in order to get home to the finish. And all of that is besides the need to manage whatever vagaries Pirelli builds into its 2014 tires

Who better to discuss the demands on a driver than quadruple World Champion Alain Prost, The Professor, one of the masters of the previous turbo formula?

“Back then, it was all about response time: there was a lag of two to three seconds,” says Prost (LEFT, with Red Bull’s Adrian Newey). “We saw turbo engines develop every year; there were improvements between the first turbo engines in 1977 and those at the end, but throughout the period, the driving style was very different. You had to find the right moment to accelerate and anticipate when the power would come through. Getting the timing right depended on a lot of factors: the type of corner, speed, grip, the type of tires, how worn they were and how much the turbo had been used.

“For the drivers, there were corners where you definitely had to brake a bit earlier, so you could accelerate earlier, and therefore be able to have the required power at the right moment. That’s why there could be such big gaps between the cars, as well as drivers becoming tired toward the end of the race. Your brain had to process things differently.

“When you look at the extent to which cars in general, and especially F1 cars, have developed from a technological point of view, there is no doubt that the turbocharged engines of the future will be very different,” Prost continues. “This is especially true because part of the power is generated electrically. We don’t have precise information about the response times as yet, but it will be very short compared with what we experienced in the 1980s.

“First of all, there will be a tiny lag. I imagine it’ll be very small next year, but the drivers will nonetheless have to get used to it. But it’s not just a question of the turbocharger: the interaction between the combustion engine and the electric motors will also be very complex. The combustion engine generates around 600hp and the electric motors around 160hp, so power management will be much more of an issue than with the normally aspirated engines. The engines, and all the resulting energy-use strategies, will be utilized by the engineers and the drivers in a variety of ways. In fact, it’s a return to an era when the driver will need to be strategic and very calculating in how he uses his racing car. Being quick will no longer be enough on its own; you’ll need to be quick and sensitive.”

Back in 1989 (RIGHT), after the last big technical sea change, Honda’s technology helped to keep McLaren at the top. Ferrari gained ground with its new V12 and Williams, with Renault’s ground-breaking V10 replacing the Judd V8 it was forced to use in 1988 after the break with Honda at the end of 1987, was back in play. Benetton, which had run 3.5-liter normally aspirated Ford V8s in 1988 rather than continuing to develop the tiny turbo V6 for one last season, stayed where it was, in fourth place.

Now Red Bull is set to lose a huge amount of its aerodynamic advantage with the loss of exhaust-blown diffusers, a technology in which it has been so superior. Yet it’s impossible to believe that Adrian Newey won’t still be in the vanguard of development of the new aerodynamics. But suppose Mercedes’ engine is the best by a significant amount, not just in terms of power but also economy. Will that give a big technological advantage to Mercedes, McLaren, Force India or Williams? Could Mercedes’ own team become dominant? Will McLaren revisit Victory Lane? Will Sir Frank’s rebooted team move closer to the front again? Might Force India suddenly prove capable of giant-killing performances?

As these words are written, of course, it’s impossible to make any meaningful prediction on form despite suggestions that the Mercedes engine is looking very good current intelligence suggests it could have as much as 100hp more than rivals the Renault a reasonable compromise on power versus economy, and that Ferrari is struggling with consumption. But Jenson Button suggested last month that the first tests could be “hilarious,” an unusual choice of word for somebody who’s just had the bruising season he endured with McLaren’s MP4-28.

“Winter testing is going to be hilarious in Jerez,” he said after trying the MP4-29 prototype in McLaren’s simulator. “It will be cold, the tires aren’t going to work, the cars probably won’t work either and when you do get a lap, it is probably going to feel weird because you are running higher gears. It’s a very different way of driving and you have to forget a lot of what you’ve learned over the years in terms of the driveability of a racecar, the engine, the power output and the way you put the power down. It is so, so different. No one knows how they will perform until the first race.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agrees. “Only when you get to the first race will you see what the new pecking order is. The races themselves might take a completely different strategic shape and grands prix that are already marginal on fuel consumption will be extremely tough.”

Small wonder that there will be so much focus on the “new” F1 as the grid lines up for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 16.