Autosport: It's classic chaos theory, but F1 2012 is no lottery
- From: CatharticF1 <rasf1poster@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 7 Jun 2012 09:38:56 +1000
Here's a taste of what you get for subscribing to Autosport:
It's been labelled by some as chaos. With six different winners, six
different men setting fastest laps and five different drivers on pole
position so far this year, Formula 1 has faced a fair bit of criticism
that its most unpredictable of seasons is delivering nothing more than a
The fingers of angry fans have been pointing at Pirelli ? whose degrading
tyres have been singled out as the key factor now deciding performance.
Those who are unhappy suggest that it's become total luck as to whether
or not a team can switch its tyres on over a particular weekend: if they
do, they win, if they don't, it's game over.
It's a view that, for a hugely complex sport like Formula 1, is far too
simplistic. For if you sit down and speak to those at the centre of the
whole thing, you quickly come to realise that the Pirelli factor is not
the cause of what's going on, it's the effect of something that happened
Remember the chaos theory? That small differences in initial conditions
for a system can yield hugely diverging outcomes that make long-term
predictions impossible ? even though such a future is determined entirely
by that first input?
So the tiny changes in the atmosphere caused by a butterfly flapping its
wings in Britain could eventually lead to it helping create a tornado in
America many months later.
That 'chaos theory' is what we are seeing in F1 this year: that a small
decision taken a while back has led to the unintended consequences of a
shake-up in F1 that has delivered a new-look sport and a start to the
season we have never experienced before.
To understand exactly why we've ended up with the kind of campaign we are
witnessing now, we should not be looking at decisions taken in Pirelli's
offices in Milan over the winter. Instead, the key moment was in the
meetings of the FIA's Technical Working Group last autumn that moved to
ban blown diffusers.
The 2011 season was effectively decided by blown diffusers. The team that
had optimised it the best ? Red Bull ? walked away with the championship,
with main rival McLaren only launching a challenge after ditching its
fan-tail version for an RBR-style concept on the eve of the campaign.
Ferrari made progress in that area over the year but it was not enough;
Renault's season was wrecked by its forward-facing exhausts not allowing
it to exploit a proper blown diffuser, and Mercedes GP's basic car
concept was not well suited to blown diffusers either. Other teams ? like
Sauber and Williams ? never got the blown diffusers working properly at
all and really struggled.
With blown diffuser technology at risk of getting out of control ?
especially in cost terms as hot blowing got more and more complicated ?
the FIA acted in the interests of the sport to ban them for 2012.
That ban had two main consequences that have played big parts in what we
have seen this year: it helped close the competitive order up, and it has
produced cars with less rear downforce, which has had a knock-on effect
on tyre performance.
In competitive terms, the one-second advantage that Red Bull Racing
enjoyed over the non-blown diffuser opposition was wiped away instantly,
in an era where increasingly tight technical regulations make it hard to
find such advantages anywhere else on the car.
Teams like Williams and Sauber that really struggled with blown diffusers
and had very difficult 2011 campaigns were going to start on a much more
level playing field, while Lotus and Mercedes were given a bit of a leg
up for their 2012 hopes.
The evidence of the season so far shows just how much the F1 field has
closed up in competitive terms this year ? and how spread out things were
Looking at the Q2 battles for Spain, China and Monaco the comparison
between the time you needed to beat to make it through to Q3 are much
smaller this year than before.
In Monaco the 11th fastest driver ? and therefore first car not to make
it through to Q3 ? was just 0.510 seconds off the top Q2. Last year, it
was 1.540 and in 2010 it was 0.942 seconds.
That patterns of being close this year and much wider in 2011 has been
repeated at other races: in Spain the figures are 0.839 (2012), 1.691
(2011) and 1.330 (2010). For China it is even closer ? 0.331 (2012),
1.388 (2011) and 0.820 (2010).
Looking back at Monaco, which is the only track that has used a largely
unchanged tyre from last year (the supersoft is the only same compound) ?
things have been remarkably close.
The top five drivers in Monaco qualifying in 2010 were covered by 0.606
seconds. In 2011, that gap was out to 1.126 seconds and this year it was
just 0.338 seconds.
The gap between first and second fastest in qualifying also backs the
trend: in 2010 it was 0.294 seconds, in 2011 it was 0.441 seconds and
this year it was 0.080 seconds.
What this competitiveness is doing is effectively making the penalty of
missing out on a few tenths of performance much greater. The 0.441
seconds gap that Jenson Button was missing off Sebastian Vettel in 2011
secured him a front row slot: this year it would have only been good
enough for sixth on the grid. It really is that close.
With the ability to deliver improved performance through aerodynamic
development so limited, and the quality of the drivers in the field so
good, the element of the package that can deliver the tenths of a second
that are the difference between fifth and pole position have become the
Last year, drivers like Vettel and Webber could have lost exactly four
tenths of a second by not optimising their tyres in Monaco qualifying and
it would have made not a single difference to their final grid positions.
Do that in 2012 and you are talking about five or six places.
To further add to the mix comes the consequence of cars having less rear
downforce because of the blown diffuser ban. This has caused two things:
primarily, at a time when the working temperatures range of the tyres has
moved up, the tyres are sometimes running cooler because there is not as
much energy being put through them. The downforce issue also means cars
are more prone to oversteer this year. That means more wheel spin in the
races; which increases degradation and wear.
The biggest problem teams are facing in getting to grips with the tyres
this year is getting all four corners of the car operating in the perfect
temperature window ? with it particularly difficult to get the front and
the rears operating in harmony.
Other issues come into play here too. A mandatory weight distribution
means that teams cannot move ballast around to help get their cars as
well balanced as they would like. Plus, F1's ban on refuelling means
there is a huge headache in sorting out a balance that works with 150kg
of fuel on board as well as 10kg ? especially with parc ferme
restrictions meaning no set-up changes between qualifying and the races.
Teams know exactly what they need to do. You need to get the supersoft
working at 95 degrees Centigrade, the soft at 105C, the medium at 115C
and the hard at 125C.
However, with a 20-degree window either side before performance from the
tyre drops off, how do you get your front/rear tyres in harmony for a
stint on the softs at the start of a race on full fuel load, without
busting the window for the hard stint at the end of the race ? if say, as
has happened at many races this year, track temperatures suddenly change
by 10-degrees between qualifying and the race?
Teams are slowly understanding what they need to do, but at the beginning
of the year many did not have a clue: which is why there were such
fluctuations. Things are calming down now. Just look at Mercedes: tyres
too hot in Australia, too cold in Malaysia ? and then Nico Rosberg has
been the highest scoring driver in the field.
That's not chaos; that's order. It's engineering, problem-solving and
talent coming to the fore. If it was random, why do we have five of the
top seven places in the championship table taken up by world champions?
When we look back in six months' time, the answers to what is going on
now ? and why one man and one team eventually came out on top ? will all
be there. And it will not because he bought the right lottery ticket.
I can't resist no crossing signs
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