Grip and Green: FIA’s Quest for Failure

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Some time ago there was a small group of men assembled to address overtaking in F1 and that group was named the Overtaking Working Group (OWG) in a master stroke of being literal commanders of the obvious. The intent was to increase overtaking in F1 and improve the “show” for the biomass or restless natives called fans.

The group toiled away burning the midnight oil and wiping the sweat from their brow from crumpled up FIA press releases and dog-eared copies of the financial Times. Snacking occasionally and imbibing only the most basic of sustenance, this group forged the design of the most outstanding, amazing, exemplary, brilliantly ugly car in the history of F1—but it’s not their fault. They weren’t charged with making pretty cars, they were tasked with making them pas each other and that’s not easy.

The design was complicated and intended to reduce the aerodynamic down force achieved by a modern F1 car. The reliance on tire and mechanical grip was the more pressing desire but not at the risk of removing all aero down force—just enough to make the cars less turbulent and more capable of running closely with each other.

The group consisted of such luminaries as Ross Brawn (Honda/Brawn GP), Paddy Lowe (McLaren), Pat Symonds (Renault) and Rory Byrne (Ferrari). By all initial observations this looked to be the type of crew that would design the ultimate car with the ultimate goal achieved. A group of adroit men which the likes of the “Deeds before Creeds” crowd would be impressed with since unleashing OppenHeimer on the world. These brilliant men set about making F1 a new venture of competition through machination instead of specification.

After all the gnashing of teeth and robe tearing they were thrown a vile bosie they had to address—KERS! FIA president Max Mosley felt that “greenwashing” F1 was more important than actually developing a resource-reducing concept for the sport. The birth of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) came out sideways and tragically wasn’t still born but more pissed off by the trouble of being born at all. Exacting its revenge on the sport like a Kinetic-Mosley-Retard-System. After all the design and intricate concepts of mechanical versus aero grip had been developed, debated and screamed; they had to thrown 60 kilos at the car—deadweight.

How has it gone? Well…not good! This year has seen very little passing but what ever was gained during the design process was lost when the KERS unit turned in to the push-not-to-be-passed button. Some teams made better use of the unit than others and some had all the best intentions but fell short of realizing the goal—I’m looking at you BMW and Williams F1. The very concept to reduce aerodynamic force while increasing tire and mechanical grip was destroyed by the whimsical notion that an 80bhp boost for six seconds was also a good addition to the OWG’s car.

So where do we go from here? ITV reports that Ross Brawn mentioned something about less aero and more grip. Really?

“I still think we’ve got the ratio of tyre grip and aerodynamic grip wrong,” he said at Suzuka last weekend.
“I think we’ve got far too much aerodynamic grip and not enough tyre grip.

“We really want a lot of tyre and mechanical grip and we want to diminish dramatically the aerodynamic grip, and then I think you’ll get cars that can race with each other more effectively.
“These cars are better than we had last year, for sure.

“But we’ve still got cars which rely heavily on aerodynamic performance, and because they do, it’s very difficult to create a package whereby one car can follow another.”

Now you may be asking yourself if this is the same Ross Brawn that exploited a loophole in the regulations and designed the infamous dual-diffuser that saw 6 victories on the trot for Brawn GP at the onset of the 2009 season. Well, as a matter of fact it is the same Ross Brawn but he was more introspective than just taking blame for an obvious loophole. Brawn feels the damage was done long before the dual-diffuser came along,

“I think there was a reasonable push to be very draconian with the aerodynamic regulations, and it was resisted too much,” he said.

I guess one would expect that kind of answer from Brawn but in the end was it a case that the OWG didn’t go far enough in their design or was it the clown-from-the-cake KERS unit that urinated in the OWG’s swimming pool? I’m going with the latter and there is bugger all you can do to convince me otherwise. Although you may recall Mosley’s stern warning that if this didn’t work in 2009, the OWG was finished! Uh, that’s fine Max; guess we’ll be taking that issue up with Jean Todt or Ari Vatanen.

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