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Sunday, March 06, 2005

2005 Formula 1 Races

As I said in my previous post, this year's regulations have created a tyre economy Formula, that parallels the fuel economy formula in the 1980s. Back in the 1980s, the FIA banned refuelling and slapped fuel tank limits on the cars. In 1984-85, the limit was 220 litres I believe and this dropped to 195 litres in 1987 and an unbelievable 150 litres in 1988. 150 litres for the whole race! Today I saw Klien put in 88 litres in his tank during a refuelling stop which according to the TV predictions equates to only 21 laps.

In the 1980s, Honda developed an engine that was powerful and fuel economical. It wasn't the most powerful on the grid. That honour falls to the 4 cylinder BMW engines utilizing a turbocharger sourced from 18 wheelers. However, Honda's engine was sufficiently powerful and most important of all, it was very economical, so it could run higher turbo boosts during the race. Thus, Williams and later McLaren, benefitted from this and were nigh unbeatable on race day.

In today's Formula 1 the tyres are the crucial factor. A car that is both fast and economical on its tyre usage will take the spoils. Tyre wear determines the strategy you run on. Today I saw evidence that Renault will be a significant force for the rest of the season. Their tyres wear extremely well and they clearly could turn on the pace whenever they wished. Once he settled into a rythm, Fisichella kept on cranking fastest lap after fastest lap. Towards the end, Alonso too, managed to set some extremely fast laps, clearly catching Barrichello's Ferrari. And yet, their tyres looked remarkably fresh at the end. I believe they had pace to spare.

Michelin too should be congratulated for producing what seems to be an excellent tyre. But of course, they have more top teams on their side, so you could say they do have that advantage over Bridgestone. Nevertheless, given where Barrichello finished, I'd say Bridgestone haven't exactly messed up their latest offerings. Though it was Melbourne and historically, its cool tempratures favour Bridgestone.

With all this talk about tyres, what can be said about fuel strategy? On today's evidence I think fuel strategy remains the same as last year. We see lots of teams on 2 stop strategies. We also see cars starting from the back of the grid, filled to the brim with fuel to run longer, as in Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. Incidentally the new F2005 will be fitted with bigger fuel tanks so that they can run even longer and have the option of a one stop race strategy. So there will still be some "sprint" element to races as fuel loads go down and cars get relatively faster during stints. All relative of course, they still can't go as flat out as before to conserve the rubber.

The next round in Sepang is said to be very hard on tyres, given the extreme track tempratures. But I think Renault will find the conditions easier for them than all the rest. Despite Michael Schumacher's dismal race today, I believe the Ferrari team are still very dangerous and they have proven that even with last year's car they must still be reckoned with.

McLaren too should not be discounted just yet. Them boys from Woking have not showed their true hand in Melbourne I don't think. According to Ron Dennis, their Michelins were in fine form today. That they didn't do better he put down to Raikkonen and Montoya getting into one incident or another. So we shall see. I still have this suspicion that they aren't using their tyres as well as the Renaults but I'm not entirely sure.

As I said previously, watching the race at Melbourne reminded me of watching an 80s race. Lots of rythmic conservative running before a massive final push towards the end of the race. I believe this is how races will be run from now on until such time as the tyre rules change in the future.

Whatever it is, Renault and McLaren must take this opportunity to distance themselves out from Ferrari. The F2004 may be slighly off pace but with the F2005 in development and apparently imminent for Bahrain, the rest of the season is going to be a lot more competitive. But that's fine by me. So long as we don't see another scarlet runaway.

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