Ur Place

April 23, 2008

Time to clip Formula 1’s wings – then we’ll really see Lewis Hamilton flying

Filed under: Sports — halfevil @ 10:03 pm

All this aerodynamic gear is killing the Grand Prix spectacle, with cars unable to overtake and races decided on pit stops rather than driver skill.

‘The problem was graphically illustrated at Melbourne, with Kimi Raikkonen being held up behind Honda’s Reubens Barrichello for 19 laps despite the Ferrari being 1.5 seconds per lap faster…’

Wings are the problem. Not the seventies pop-rock supergroup created to continue to feed Paul McCartney’s over-bloated ego, but the aerodynamics package bolted to F1 cars – and they’re ruining Formula 1.

Despite all of this year’s changes to the driver’s aids – taking away traction and launch control, stability programs etc, to make the racing more even – the F1 bosses have myopically neglected the one thing that would make the most difference.

The massive aerofoils that produce so much downforce that it is theoretically possible to drive an F1 car on the ceiling are the fundamental problem facing Formula 1 today. The hole punched through the air by a modern F1 car makes it all but impossible for a car following to overtake without the leading driver either conceding the position or making a mistake.

The turbulent air zone interrupts the airflow over the following car’s wings, robbing it of its own downforce at the moment that it’s needed most – during cornering. This leads to understeering, slower corner speeds and prevents cars getting close enough to slipstream and then overtake on the straights.

The problem was graphically illustrated in the 2008 season opener at Melbourne, with Ferrari pilot Kimi Raikkonen being held up behind Honda’s Reubens Barrichello for 19 laps despite the Ferrari being 1.5 seconds per lap faster than Barrichello’s chariot. Lewis Hamilton suffered the same problem behind Mark Webber in Malaysia.

Although this is bad enough, it gets even worse. The disturbed air doesn’t flow through the car radiators properly, causing overheating and increased strain on the engine. Raikkonen’s engine blew up a few laps from the end of the race – coincidence? Probably not.

Australia’s former world champion Alan Jones has long advocated the return to slick tyres and reducing the amount of wing allowable to increase the competitiveness of the sport. Many other recently retired drivers have bemoaned the amount of technology that has decreased the downplayed the role of drivers and made the car the real star of F1.

The reputation of Formula 1 continues to take a battering. It is derisively referred to as slot car racing because it is so difficult to overtake. The races are interesting, but rarely exciting and there is something fundamentally wrong with races being decided on pit stop strategy and fuel loads. It should be about the combination of car and driver – that’s what we pay to see.

Having said that, F1 fans are divided into two distinctly different tribes. There are those who love the racing, with overtaking and crashes, who want to see the very best cars and drivers pitted against each other.

On the other hand, there are those who just want to see the pinnacle of automotive engineering in its native environment; they are there for the sights, sounds and smell of Formula 1. There is nothing quite like seeing a live F1 grand prix. It is a feast for the senses and the fact that there is a race thrown in is a bonus – but it’s not why they’re there. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep both groups happy?

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