ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 37 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The F1 Rulebook

  by Will Gray, England

In a series of articles, Will Gray delves into Formula One's rulebook and investigates the in-depth documentation that governs F1: from rules defining how the event should be run, to those restricting designers and engineers in technical areas

Part Nine: Electronic Trickery

In the modern world of Grand Prix racing, electronics is one of the major players. With fly-by-wire, semi-automatic transmission, and hundreds of other gizmos gracing the cars of today, it is no wonder the FIA have a fist full of rules to throw at the teams to prevent them from creating the ideal - the driverless car!

As we saw in the previous article of this series, the engine management electronics have many preventative rules aimed at ensuring driver input remains a priority requirement. In addition to that, the FIA also has rules covering the transmission and the operation of on-board car controls. As with the engine rulings, the first regulations define the transmission type; no more than two wheel drive, and no automatic gearboxes.

Immediately after this in the rulebook - and in the order of importance no doubt - comes one of the biggest regulations of all: Rule 9.2.1 is the one which bans traction control. It states 'no car may be equipped with a system or device capable of preventing the driven wheels from spinning under power....' Continuing on, the rules also state that not even a system which warns the driver that the wheels are beginning to spin is acceptable. No traction control.

The 'N' sign in front of the cockpitClutch control is also solely the job of the driver (with the exception of gear changes, stall prevention, and a clever system which electronically compensates for clutch wear). As in almost every area which rules on electronics, there is a rule referring to traction control, which this time states that the clutch must re-engage after a gear change in a way that does not contravene the 9.2.1 ruling. Because the clutch is operated through the car's electronic system, the relationship between the clutch engagement and the operation of the clutch paddle on the steering wheel must be fixed - so no electronics can help the driver drive!

To ensure the car can be moved away from the track when its systems have failed, the car has to have a system which will leave the clutch disengaged for at least fifteen minutes after the engine has stopped. This system can be operated by a driver or marshall by pressing a button situated within 15cm of the cockpit opening, marked with a sign showing the letter N in a white circle with a red ring - it's easy to spot them on the cars.

The gearbox can contain no less than four and no more than seven different gears, and must have a reverse gear available at all times. To change between these gears, teams use a semi-automatic gearbox, which requires a driver input before it then essentially operates as a fully automatic gearbox would. That means that instead of moving a gear stick which is directly linked to the gearbox, a paddle on the steering wheel will be pulled, and this will send a 'gear change request' to the electronics system.

This means there are some programmes in the system to cover the things a driver would normally be able to do with a manual gear change system. For instance, the rules allow a driver to go from a high to a low gear (sixth to third, for instance) with a press of a button, as long as the electronics ensure that none of the gears in between the two are used to drive the car during the change sequence - just as would happen if he had a manual shift.

The electronics can also be used to prevent an accidental gear choice. They determine whether the revs in the destination gear would be too high for the engine to cope with and, if that is the case, will not allow the change to be made and will cancel the request. The driver will have to press the gear change paddle again to ask the gearbox to try the change again.

Clutch and gear paddles on the back of the steering wheelThe control of the differential in the car is another area which has been explored for loopholes. To operate a differential electronically, the programme must know how the rear wheels are rotating relative to one another - so a measurement of this must be used. The rules state that only instantaneous measurements can be used for control (preventing prediction techniques), and that these measurements can be of the input torque, the difference between the wheel speeds themselves, or the difference between the output shaft torques. As for driver control of the differential, he may only alter the set-up when the car is stationary.

There are many driver operated controls on the car which also come under FIA scrutiny. In the main, these can only be used to operate one action at once, and this action must be done immediately on request. This ensures that (in an extreme view), a driver cannot press the brake pedal then have all the jobs he is required to go through during braking done for him. If things go wrong with a sensor, which could then lead to a problem developing on a car, a back-up sensor may be used with the same or a different setting - as long as the new setting doesn't improve on the performance of the previous sensor.

This allows some amount of redundancy on the sensors, and allows the teams to cope with a problem if they are skilled enough to do so. If things go very wrong, all data is recorded in the car's on-board 'black box' (like an aeroplane flight recorder), which must be conveniently situated in a precise location on a car so that it is easily accessible to download information.

The electronics on an F1 car come under constant scrutiny, and just like the dimensions and weight of the car are checked, all the electronics are regularly monitored for compliance with the rules. This begins at the start of the season, when the car's entire electronics system must be checked and approved by the FIA.

Every microprocessor (the computer 'brain' which is the heart of each system) that is on the car is classified in one of three ways: sealed and not re-programmable, re-programmable via a direct mechanism, or not re-programmable during an event. Those that are re-programmable must be able to be checked out thoroughly by the FIA, who also reserve the right to download any set-up data from the device - and any software that is found to be capable of breaking the rules (even if it is switched off) will see the team in the dock.

To ensure no tampering is done, the FIA will seal any device that can be programmed, and this rule caught out McLaren this year when one of the electronic boxes on Mika Hakkinen's car was missing a seal. Although the team had not modified the electronics, they were docked ten points and forced to pay a substantial fine. The paddock police are always on the prowl...and they're out to prove that crime doesn't pay in Formula One!

Previous Parts in this Series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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