Fuel sensor debate heats up in hot Malaysia

As we head into the potentially hot Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, the big question is Red Bull’s approach to the issue of fuel flow and the sensor the FIA uses to measure the rate at which the cars use fuel. Having faced a disqualification for Daniel Ricciardo in Australia and an appeal not set until the Chinese Grand Prix, the team is forced to deal with a sensor they believe is unreliable. This notion of a drifting or unreliable sensor could mean the difference between winning and losing according to team boss Christian Horner.

“We have got to find a better way – especially when the margins are so fine and the knock-on in performance is so significant,” Horner told AUTOSPORT’s Mr. Noble..

“Depending on the calibration of your sensor, it will determine your competitiveness, which is completely wrong.

“Teams will end up buying hundreds of sensors, as some manufacturers already have, to try to pick the best.

“It ends up like the tricks in go-karting, where you go through carburettors to try to find the best ones. I don’t think that is an acceptable way of moving forward.”

Horner reckons the performance gain could be large and there must be a better way to read the fuel-flow rate in a sport such as Formula 1:

“F1 costs millions and millions of pounds. There needs to be a better form of measurement than what we currently have.”

“On an aircraft they have three sensors and they believe the mean between those sensors,” he said.

“If one shows a drift then the other two count. I think it is very immature technology in F1 and we are trying to rely on a sensor that has proved to be problematic.”

Horner says that this weekend’s race will be approached in conversation with the FIA in order to use a sensor that works and provides reliable data. Horner says that it is most likely not unique to Red Bull either and that other teams are experiencing the same issue.

What is most interesting is AUTOSPORT’s conversation with Horner about how they are approaching the appeal on April 14. According to the article, Red Bull does not view the technical directives from the FIA as holding any regulatory value. They cite the secret Mercedes test decision as proof:

“Technical directives are not of regulatory value.

“They are the opinion of the technical delegate – as was made clear in the Pirelli case [the Mercedes secret test], which clearly stated that opinions of Charlie are not regulatory.

“It [them being opinions] is even stated on the bottom of the directives now, that these do not have a regulatory value.

“Our position is as it was in the race: that we believe, and we believe we will be able to demonstrate in the court of appeal, that we fully complied with the technical regulations – 5.1.4 – to be explicitly clear.”

Arguing that the technical directives are simply opinion of the technical delegate will be a very interesting case and could prompt some serious changes in the way the FIA goes about regulating the sport including on-event stewarding and directives.

It’s difficult to know all of the details that transpired during the Australian Grand Prix and winter testing regarding the fuel flow sensor but it would be a bitter pill to swallow if your car was competitive or not competitive based on a drifting sensor. It would also be a bit of a slippery slope to suggest that FIA regulations do not include technical delegate opinion and therefore can be heeded or not depending on a team’s position. So what does Red Bull do until the appeal? Horner told AUTOSPORT:

“So when you are faced with that dilemma of having a sensor that you believe to be erroneous, and a fuel rail that you believe to be entirely reliable, and you are racing for position with an engine already down on power compared to your opponents, what do you do?

“Do you believe unreliable information being given?

“We are absolutely convinced that we abided completely by the technical regulations.”

What do you think? Are the technical directives simply opinion and not of regulatory value? Would you trust the fuel rail and ignore the sensor?

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