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Hockenheim round up

July 23, 2012

10 races down, 10 to go and I think most would agree that there’s been more action, suspense and drama in the first half of this 2012 season than over the course of most complete campaigns in the last ten years. It’s been a fascinating and exciting time to be involved in F1 and equally so for the armchair enthusiast, each GP impossible to predict with any real conviction and a record 7 winners from the first 7 races of the year.
The pace and extent of technical development from almost all teams has been impressive and showing no signs of letting up yet and we’ve seen a new found importance placed on honing both the pitstop crews and their equipment in order to deliver world record breaking times.

The German GP promised in advance to be a defining race. Many teams had brought large updates to Silverstone, but not been able to assess their true potential due to the extreme weather conditions, others were bringing significant packages to this race in what is really the last opportunity before the summer break and factory shutdown.
The weekend began with McLaren delivering a large number of new parts to the car, mostly aero but others too, in what’s an impressive sign of their resource and commitment to this championship. The other garage generating lots of interest was the Lotus one.
The guys down there had no choice but to use their first of four available curfew breaches in order to assemble updates on both cars, but significantly a new and very clever test item onto Kimi’s car.
A variation on the Mercedes ‘double DRS’ and McLaren’s old F Duct systems, it was delivered to the track late on Thursday and required a considerable amount of work to get it installed and ready to test during FP1 and FP2. The system works by channeling air over different parts of the rear of the car, either the diffuser to increase downforce in slow speed or onto the underside of the rear wing to stall its effect and reduce drag at high speed. The principle seems similar to the F duct, although it either uses a velocity related ‘fluid switch’, meaning that at a certain speed of flow through the system, air pressure is forced down a different channel to ‘upset’ the efficiency of the rear wing, or it uses the DRS activation to alter the flow and do the same thing. The big difference to the F duct and the clever part, is that it’s a passive system, not driver operated and therefor perfectly legal.
The team seemed happy with its initial results, but removed it after friday’s running, saying it was strictly a test item for now. We’ll see it back on the car in a few days time for FP1 in Hungary, but it’s really a system which, if successful, should reap big rewards at high speed tracks like Spa and Monza, coming up immediately after the mid season break. It could also help Lotus improve it’s qualifying form, which has undoubtedly cost them race wins this year, with DRS being freely available at all times during those sessions, before it’s restricted during sunday’s race.
As if F1 2012 hasn’t been exciting and unpredictable enough, weather’s certainly playing it’s part too and over friday and saturday the rain came down at times with some intensity. For the teams rain means a few things. If there’s more forecast for the rest of the weekend, they need to get out and gather data, see how the car performs and learn about the optimum crossover point from full wet tyres to intermediates and visa versa. There’s a particular and very specific level of track condition in the wet where it becomes considerably faster to be on the other of the two options and teams need to find at what laptime that happens. The consideration though, is that teams are allocated a set number of wet tyres for the weekend (4 inters, 3 wets) and although they’re given one extra set to use on friday if FP1 or FP2 are declared wet sessions, the process of finding that elusive crossover point inevitably destroys them.
The other important decision teams need to way up in wet practice conditions is the trade off between useful track time and the risk of damaging the car. Because development is happening so fast, upgrades are rushed to the circuits in last minute vans from factories and often there’s only enough time to make 2 sets of new parts for the race cars and no spares. McLaren found themselves in that very situation this weekend, had they pranged their new bodywork, floor and wing package in wet practice sessions, they would have been forced to go back to the ‘old’ spec with one car, something that would have cost them an awful lot of time both in the garage and potentially on the track too.
In qualifying, Alonso showed that both he, and the Ferrari, are fast in all conditions and delivered a perfectly timed and perfectly executed pole position lap on saturday afternoon. With the rain having stopped, it was always going to be the last man over the line at the end having the best opportunity for the fastest lap and that was indeed Fernando.
Sunday morning brought drama and controversy even before any cars took to the track. Jo Bauer, the FIA’s technical delegate, referred both Red Bull cars to the German race stewards for irregularities within their engine maps. This is the software code which controls things like ignition timing and fuel mixture and effects power and torque delivery. He felt that, having examined it in detail, the cars were producing significantly less torque for a given engine speed, specifically during the mid rpm range, than at previous events and that this contravened the regs.
The rules state that at 100% throttle, the engine must produce 100% torque, it’s to avoid any form of traction control creeping in. If a driver uses max throttle, the engine’s not allowed to reduce torque delivery to minimise wheelspin effectively. Anyway, what Red Bull have done, is ‘cleverly’ taken the wording of the rules to the letter and have reduced engine torque at a given rpm range, ie, exiting low speed corners, at 95% throttle, not 100%! Stewards openly said they disagreed with what the team had done, but were powerless within the rules to penalise them. Expect an FIA clarication on that one very soon.
Controversy was by no means over for RBR on sunday, as Vettel’s penultimate lap move on Button was, quite rightly deemed to have taken place off the circuit and having waved to his home crowd from the podium, was forced to hand over the trophy and points to Jenson after the race. Sadly for Sebastian, it cost him more than the one place. The only penalty available to the stewards in the situation was a retrospective drive through, twenty seconds added to his race time, demoting him to 5th position and losing him 8 valuable points. Harsh you may think, but had the incident happened earlier in the race and he’d chosen not to give the place back immediately of his own accord, he would have received a drive through penalty. The harsh part may be that at this particular circuit, with a very short pitlane, an actual drive through would have taken around 12 to 15 seconds, whereas the ‘standard’ time penalty for this as a retrospective punishment is 20 seconds. With a championship as tight as this, those few points could be crucial come the end of November.
The race was controlled from start to finish by Fernando who did an incredible job again, he was under pressure for most of it, but did what he had to do and did it very well. McLaren showed great promise from their raft of upgrades and displayed perfectly why so much work now goes into pitstops. At the last round of tyre changes, their record breaking stop was a full second quicker than Vettel’s and translated directly into Jenson’s second position. It’s a great feeling as a mechanic to see a good pitstop have a clear impact on the race result and show’s how far McLaren have come in that area over the season.
Mercedes struggled in front of the home crowd and Lotus again showed signs of real speed, but qualifying performance and a questionable strategy held them back once more.

With everyone on their way to Hungary, there’s no time to rest, garages will be set up on Tuesday and Wednesday and the cars will be ready to roll as usual for Friday morning. Mechanics will have a few late nights to try and ensure things are under control before the curfew rules apply again on Thursday evening, but this is one last big push before the break and well deserved summer holidays. Budapest poses a very different challenge again, tight and twisty and usually hot and with little time to bring too much in the way of major developments, it’s down to the teams to get the best out of what they have. It’s an important one to do well in because if you leave Hungary successful, you carry the positive feeling and momentum through August, but if things go badly, the same unfortunately applies.
Fingers crossed that the second half of this amazing season can live up to the first.


From → Formula One

One Comment
  1. David Fraser permalink

    I missed most of the race so thanks for filling me in. Thanks

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