News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Insights, Rumours and Conspiracy Theories

Pitpass has an article on the prosecution of a bunch of ex-Ferrari engineers in the Toyota affair. Allegedly the similarities between the 2003 Toyota TF103 and the all conquering Ferrari F2002 are due to the engineer's disclosure of Ferrari design information. More than that its alleged that they also stole Ferrari software and brought it with them to Toyota. Although this charge has now been dropped.

Of course industrial espionage goes on everywhere in every industry. But the fact of the matter is the TF103 was not a successful car at all. Really, I don't know what the fuss is all about. Besides, whatever information that was good for 2003 is now long obsolete. In fact, you can now buy Michael's F2002 from Ferrari. If I had a million euros to spare thats precisely what I'd do.

Anyway, whats interesting about the article is not about the litigation but the insights into the technology that goes on in Formula 1. From the article:

"....since about 2000 Ferrari's mapping of each circuit has been so sophisticated that its electronics know precisely where the car is on the track. Take this one stage further and the electronics can be tuned to alter the differential, locking it where appropriate, and even change the setting many times in a single corner. Using the same information, the brake bias can also be changed, again for an individual corner, or even a section of it. Likewise the optimum throttle settings between corners, for it might be more advantageous not to hit maximum power, but to be able to brake a fraction later."

Phoar! Call me naive but thats completely mind blowing. A car that knows its exact location and can adjust and finely tune itself to each individual location. The author of the article, Mike Lawrence, goes on further to state that sources indicate that electronic advances were the source of Ferrari's superiority. Such an advantage went so far as to disguise weaknesses in Bridgestone rubber. This year apparently, both McLaren and Renault caught up in the electronics area and given Michelin's superiority, it was inevitable that Ferrari would be left for dead.

However, one must note that other Bridgestone shod teams like Jordan and Minardi have narrowed the gap slightly on Ferrari. Where once they were around 5 seconds a lap slower than Maranello, this year that gap has been narrowed to 2.5 to 3 seconds. So, one can't just blame the Japanese tyre maker, Ferrari have also made some fundamental error in the car design.

Another thing to note is that whilst there are all these computers doing things for Michael and Rubens, still occassionally one does sight both these drivers tweaking the electronic diff dials on their steering wheels. Sometimes in mid-corner. What cannot be denied is that whilst these electronics make cars go quicker, they do add a lot of complexity. It is clear that drivers must more than ever be technically competent to setup the car and use the systems to their fullest. Mere speed and talent aren't enough. This probably explains why someone talented or even hugely dominant in junior Formulae finds himself out of sorts when it comes to the sport's highest echelon. Like the hapless Takuma Sato for instance.

I know plenty of folks like Formula 1 precisely because of all the high tech and that would include me. However, I think technologies like these ought to be banned. It adds to costs most definitely and really I'd like to see the effect of the driver's brains and talents rather than the capabilities of Intel and AMD. Read the article for more insights. Its fascinating.

Moving along, yet another rumour regarding Volkswagen Audi in Formula 1 has emerged. The latest appears in this story on Apparently, having secured Ferrari engines for next year and beyond, Red Bull are now in talks with the Volkswagen Audi Group for engines in 2008 for both their teams, RBR and Squadra Toro Whatever. The article goes further to state that if successful, the VAG would take over the Squadra and run it under the Volkswagen banner. The Volkswagen engines will apparently be designed by Mario Illien. Thats not too far fetched since Ilmor and Mercedes have been separated. Ilmor is now free to pursue other projects like NASCAR and Honda's IRL engine. I think it should also be good for another foray into Formula 1.

There's another rumour floating around for a while that Porsche is trying to takeover Volkswagen. If it does go through, they say Porsche will be backing a works entry into Formula 1. Old (and embarrassing) scores must be settled allegedly. Old scores like Porsche's huge flop in 1991 with Arrows. At the time, no one believed it was any fault of Arrows. Porsche simply developed and overweight and underpowered V12 engine. They went quietly away after that. I think if Porsche is involved then I don't see Mario Illien in the picture. However, given Red Bull's strong association with Ferrari, I'm not sure why they'd skip over to VAG in 2008. But this is something we'll watch with interest in the coming years I should think.

More comments by the folks at Fast Machines on the Audi issue, here. They make an interesting point. Audi would be associating themselves with Adrian Newey designed cars if they do make the jump to Formula 1. However, by then, would Red Bull still be the free spirited team of the present. Or will Audi's involvement signal the introduction of more corporate processes and departmentalisation as we see in McLaren?

Now on to the conspiracy theory. I kinda like this one on Fast Machines. The writer George Katinger makes an interesting point about these new B-teams by Honda and McLaren. More teams for the GPMA alliance means more votes in the F1 commission. All this talk about intellectual property is merely a ploy by the FIA/FOM/Ferrari group to crush the Super Aguri F1 (effectively a Honda B-team) effort before it even starts.

I think these intellectual property talk is simply crap. I mean look at the 2004 Sauber. It not only resembles the F2003 Ferrari, I believe its an exact copy. Do a side by side comparison between the two cars. They're exactly the same barring some minor changes to accomodate 2004 regulations. The FIA/FOM made no fuss over it. Looking back into the past, remember the 1995 Ligier? It too, was an exact replica of the Benetton B195, its peer in 1995. Not suprising because Benetton bought the Ligier team that year to have access to its contract with Renault for engines, signed in 1994. Renault was not pleased at being forced to supply Ligier in the first place. Ligier never got to use the Renault engines. The powerplants were shipped directly to Enstone. In return, Ligier got the Benetton chassis design. No one raised much a fuss about this incident as well.

This is one way that politics is simply killing the sport. I bet lots of people would love to see more teams in the sport. Yes, I believe even another Minardi should be allowed to compete. I'd love to see another Leyton House or Rial team in Formula 1 because those guys, like Minardi, do it for the love of racing and not simply as part of some grand corporate marketing strategy. It would be easier for more teams to compete if they were allowed to buy cars or at least, obtain designs for them. It seems to me that good sensible stuff always get the boot because of some vested interest somewhere.

1 comment:

patrick said...

Interesting that Torro Rosso (a Bernie-aligned B team) is allowed to run what is effectively an RB1 but Super Aguri (intriguingly, a Honda backed, but Bernie-aligned B team) seem to have been prevented from using a BAR 005 chassis - albeit we have yet to see what the SA06 will look like....