As 2009 F1 Season gets underway
There is a very little time left for the start of 2009 season and most of the Formula one fans are waiting the first race with a great curiosity because of the new regulations had taken place by FIA. The Overtaking Working Group (OWG) made a very detailed study about how to increase the overtaking in Formula one and has came up with some set of modifications to the regulations and FIA used these modifications as a base of their 2009 rule changes. As you can imagine most of the changes are in the aerodynamic area which enables cars can easily follow the car in the front and have a chance to make a move if it’s faster than the one in the front. As a result many rule changes are applied for 2009 season and both the appearance and the performance of the cars have changed radically according to the F1 cars before.
First let’s watch the video recorded by RedBull Racing Formula one team. In this video Redbull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel is telling what are the rule changes for 2009 season, such as KERS, movable front wings and different aerodynamics. Then I will tell you all the differences in detail;
Fundamental differences are; wider and lower front wings, higher and narrower rear wings, lower and simple diffusers, slick tires, and KERS. Also the drivers are now allowed to change the front wing setting from their steering wheels and all the winglets on the cars are now banned. So Let’s look over the changes in detail if you want;
1 – Front wings: The aim of changing the characteristic of front wing is to enable a car to follow the car in the front more easily. The car is now less effected by the air flow which is generated from the car in the front. Also the driver is now allowed to change the front wing settings twice during a lap. This will help the driver to be able to change the setting without waiting for a pit stop, if he feels the setting is wrong for the track conditions at that time. Also it will help to reduce the drag effect when following a car if he reduces the setting in the straights. But as a result of this change, the front wing is now too wide and it’s almost impossible for the driver to see all the front wing from the cockpit. This may cause many front wings related crash’s especially in the opening stages of the season as some of the drivers have already mentioned it.
2 – Rear wing and Diffuser: The rear wing is now smaller and higher. This will cause a dramatic decrease in the downforce that rear wing produces. Also the diffusers are now lower and simpler than its predecessors. Because of the changes in the rear of the car, the downforce level at the back of the car is very limited now and this leads the teams to find different solutions. Since most of the teams were able to produce more downforce than they expected in the front of the car, the stability at the rear has became a big problem. It’s believed that Ferrari and McLaren have moved their cockpits to the front in order to move the weight distribution closer to the front .
Unlike the other teams Toyota, Williams and Brawn GP produced very different diffusers with evaluating the gray areas in the regulations. Since diffuser is the most important part in producing the downforce, a little difference in the diffuser may cause a bigger difference in the vehicle’s performance. Therefore, teams like Ferrari and Renault are likely to protest these teams in the first race of the season. Although these teams are stated that their diffuser designs are completely legal, it’s believed that the other teams are most probably waiting FIA’s decision to start copying. In addition, it’s known that some teams cannot easily adapt these changes because of their car’s rear design concept. It’s also believed that some teams have already made modifications to their diffuser designs and waiting for FIA’s final decision.
3 – Slick Tires: The grooved tires were introduced by FIA in 1998 to slow down the cars, but finally FIA changed it’s mind and introduced the slick tires, which is the favorite of almost every F1 driver. The only contact of the cars with the surface is their tires and just because of this, the most important part in car’s overall grip is its tires. It’s believed 50% of the downforce is already lost because of the new aerodynamic restrictions. But some of this performance loss can be recovered through the slick tires. Slick tires offer 18% more surface contact than the grooved tires and this will improve the overall grip. Slick tires, especially in a slow turn provides better grip and hold the car to the surface better. But in the long and fast turns the car becomes slower because of the reduced aerodynamics. As a result, it’s expected the teams will reach last year’s lap times. In fact they have already improved their fastest lap times at test circuits during the winter season. Another major problem is, the slick tires provide better grip on the front and this causes a huge rear tire wear.
4- KERS(Kinetic energy recovery system): This system is the most recent and most discussed technology in Formula1 so far. KERS basically recovers the energy generated during braking and uses this energy as an additional horsepower to the engine. The energy recovered from braking is stored on the charge batteries which are mostly located under the fuel tank and transmits this energy to the engine when the driver press the KERS button on the steering wheel. This will provide an additional 80 horsepower for 6.5 seconds. Although the working principle is simple, the system is quite complex by itself and many manufacturers had a very hard time during their development phase of this system. Almost every manufacturer have exceeded their budget set for the production of KERS.
Some teams are already reported that they are not going use the system at the beginning of the season. Some of them are believed to use the system in the middle of the season. Although Ferrari has some difficulties during the development phase, they are now one of the few teams that currently uses the system successfully. The biggest concern over the KERS is definitely safety. Teams made big improvements in this area but it’s still not clear whether the teams will face any safety problems during the races. Toyota, Williams, Brawn GP, Force India and Torro Rosso will not use the system at the beginning of the season and BMW is still undecided about their debuts in the first race. So Australia may probably unfold some of the early surprises.
KERS is believed to provide a 0,2-0,5 seconds gain per lap depending on the characteristic of the track. Some of the drivers who already tested the system are very impressed from the extra power provided by the system and they are very curious about how it will work in the races. The system has also some disadvantages. KERS is affecting the weight distribution very badly. Since this system will bring extra weight about 50 kg or more the amount of the ballast that teams are using to balance the car will be very limited especially for the heavier drivers. As a result the heavy drivers will be in a very disadvantaged circumstance because there will be even less ballast to balance the car. Therefore, many drivers tried to lost weight during the season break. Massa and Heidfeld are the lightest drivers, whereas Kubica and Webber are the heaviest ones. BMW already stated that they will decide using KERS on a driver by driver and circuit by circuit basis. The cars that will not use KERS will be in an advantageous state in regard to the ones, that uses KERS, because they will have more freedom to use the ballast in order to balance the car. But they will be in a disadvantageous state especially in the long straights with the other cars using their extra power which is brought by KERS.
Another purpose of these new regulations is to give all the teams a chance for a fresh start to their designs since everyone has to start from a white paper. And obviously it seems like it worked, as we see from the last tests that BRAWN GP was dominating the sessions. Until the last tests Ferrari, BMW and Toyota cars seem to be very competitive, but at the last test Brawn GP showed a wonderful performance which other teams are all set to review their performance closely. Renault and Redbull teams are also seem like they did a good job. But the biggest disappointment is definitely the performance drop of the McLAren team. It’s not expected that a Ferrari-McLaren competition will happen this year, at least until the European season gets started.
Melbourne race will probably offer a better indication about the pecking order, but for a clearer picture we may have to wait for the second or even third race of the season. I wish everyone an enjoyable and exciting 2009 season..