News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2008 F1 Regulations Update

The full regulations for the 2008 F1 world championships have been released by the FIA subject to ratification by the World Motorsports Council. A supplemental document released by the FIA also highlights the difference between the regulations in 2008 and those in 2006. I've already made some comments on these a couple of postings ago but an article on made me look even futher.

Now some of these regulations will already be in force for 2006, especially those governing the engine rules. I'm going to highlight them here for posterity and because the regulations are most restrictive.

- Engines must be 90 degree V8s of 2400cc and must not be supercharged.
- Engines must have two inlet and two exhaust valves.
- The regulations go on to specify a maximum cylinder bore diameter, spacing of cylinders and the height of the crank.
- It gets better. The FIA also specifies a minimum engine weight and even the bloody centre of gravity of the engine!
- They've added regulations governing engine throttle which bans any designs that allows the driver to identify the throttle position or assists the driver in holding a specific throttle position.
- Already in force for 2006, variable exhausts and variable inlet manifolds are banned. But in addition, variable valve timing and lift is also banned! Gosh, from 2006 a Honda Civic Type-R has more sophisticated induction and exhaust. Bloody hell, even the crappy bread and butter Civics they sell in Malaysia have more hi-tech.
- Only one injector per cylinder is allowed. Only a single spark plug is allowed with all other forms of ignition banned.
- The only hydraulic, pneumatic or electronic systems allowed in the engine are for control of fluids, the valve system and throttle actuators.
- Any system, design or procedure to reduce inlet temprature is banned. Does this mean no more dry ice?
- The FIA goes on to define a number of materials and alloy/composite compounds. Then it states that these materials are banned. This includes magnesium alloy which if I'm not mistaken is already used in BMW road car engine blocks.
- The FIA then specifies specific materials to be used in the construction of the pistons and valves. Iron based alloys for the crankshaft, camshafts, timing gears, bearings and conrods. Although titanium is also allowed for the conrods.

With the way the FIA structures these regulations, you'd think that simply joining two 1.2 litre Proton Savvy (Renault Clio) engine blocks together will produce a Formula 1 engine. I think that if the FIA are already going to specify standard ECUs and a rev limit of 19000 RPMs then you'd think they'd allow some innovation to appear in the mechanical engine design.

That's not all, even the drivetrain have come under FIA scrutiny. Like throttle, no design permitting a driver to hold a clutch position or identify the position is allowed. Continously variable transmission have been banned for some time now but the FIA is specifying a minimum width for each gear and all gears must be made of steel.

BAR's torque transfer system on the front wheel is banned as expected but any system or design capable of transferring torque from a slower rotating wheel to a faster one is also banned. I'm no engineer but does that mean a ban on Torsen diffs? In which case, some hot hatches in the market would have more sophistication. I suppose these will also exclude electronic diffs.

Is this going to reduce costs? Those who know say that its unlikely. RaceFax gives the example of the Andretti-Green NASCAR team. Despite the most restrictive set of rules in motorsport, this team, arguably the best funded one in the series, is still the strongest one out there. The teams will always find a way to spend the money they have. Controlling costs is not in teams' DNA. Its all about winning.

In addition, with all these restrictions where is the motivation to innovate and come up with new technologies? After all, innovations are equally as likely to come from the smaller teams. Witness ground effects from Lotus or the sliding front wings introduced by Tyrrell in 1990. Exciting products of fertile imaginations from designers wanting to gain the advantage. It seems to me that not only will the FIA fail to control costs but all the money will be spent simply refining existing technologies through test cells, rigs and supercomputer simulation. This I might add merely gives the advantage to the big manufacturers who can afford such things. Innovation on the other hand can be produced by anyone be they a large corporation or a solitary engineer. These rules restrict the ability for such innovation.

I am in favour of some restrictions to Formula 1 technology but I believe these regulations take it a bit too far. I applaud the restrictions on electronics and computer software that augment mechanical systems or to continously fine tune the car according to its position on the circuit and the environment. But surely, there should be scope for innovation in mechanical elements (including suspension and aero) and metallurgy but the FIA it seems is hell bent on eliminating all such things. Just look also at the restrictions on suspension design in the latest regulations.

Its true that sensible restrictions have produced some excellent racing in the likes of Champcars, IRL and GP2. However, here we are speaking of Formula 1, a series that traditionally introduces technology and innovation that is then adopted by the rest of the racing world, especially in open wheel racing. Some of these technologies might even make it on to the road. However, its also true that some of the technology in Formula 1 is prohibitively expensive. Then again, rule stability does allow the backmarkers to evenutally catch up and reduces cost as well.

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