ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 36 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 Formula One: from rules defining how the event should be run, to those restricting designers and engineers in technical areas

Part 8: Power for Glory

The propulsion side of a Grand Prix car involves more than just the engine manufacturers. There are very strict rulings for the fuel suppliers to obey, whilst the teams themselves must consider the design of the fuel tank, fuel feed, and refueling operations.

A modern Formula 1 engineThe type of engine is very much set in stone, and Article 5.1 consists of five rules which basically define what the powerplant will be. Combining them comes up with the standard specifications for the Formula One engine: A non-supercharged four stroke engine of capacity no greater than 3 litres, with ten cylinders and no more than five valves per cylinder. No other engine is acceptable, and innovations aimed at recovering energy from other sources are severely limited (no more than 300kJ of recoverable energy may be stored on the car). But despite these tight defining rules which leave little for the engine manufacturers to play with, they still seem to manage to get more and more power out of the unit!

Other design regulations on the engine side come in the form of materials and gas control. To prevent the use of elaborate materials, which can reduce the weight of the engine but are almost prohibitally expensive for some of the poorer engine manufacturers, the rules state that crankshafts and camshafts must be manufactured out of steel or cast iron, and that the cylinder blocks, the cylinders themselves, and the pistons can in no way incorporate carbon fibre.

Although this does keep costs down, some engine manufacturers complain that it also reduces research and development (and the transfer of innovations into road vehicles). The rules also strictly control the inlet and exhaust gases which are all-important in the power production of an engine: the intake air or the fuel-air mixture in the engine may not be tampered with in terms of its temperature in any way, and variable geometry exhausts are not allowed.

Operation of the engine, particularly in terms of electronic controls, has been in the news in recent times, and the systems (which are usually designed by the engine manufacturers) now require careful control. There must be a fixed relationship between the pedal position at the driver's foot and the throttle controls in the engine, and the throttles cannot be influenced by anything other than the driver putting on or lifting off the accelerator.

The refuelling nozzleThat means that although the relationship can be non-linear (i.e. putting the pedal half down will not produce half of the power), the driver can no longer change the engine map whilst out on the circuit, and there can (in theory) be no computer system which would alter the throttle position without the driver's request - such as traction control. The way teams saw ways around this rule was by the use of the words 'except in the case of...', and there are four areas in which the relationship between throttle and pedal may alter - idle control, stall prevention, gear changing, and car speed limiting (for use in the pit lane).

The rules continue, and suggest that when the car is on the track, the ignition and fuel settings (which define the power of the engine) must maintain the same relationship with engine speed and in turn, with throttle position. There are also exceptions in this area, such as compensation for throttle acceleration, changes in pressure and temperature within the engine, and driver-altered fuel mixture (when a driver may select a leaner mix to use less fuel and eke out some extra laps before a pit stop).

On top of the two preceding regulations, the FIA also state that no engine parameter can be altered so that the driver has less control over the engine - but despite all these rules, some teams may have cunningly used the exceptions for other means!

Although their handy driver aids have now been banned, drivers still have it easier these days - teams have developed anti-stall systems, which can stop the driver 'losing' the engine when he loses control of his car. The clutch will fully disengage (a job which the driver used to have to do manually), then within ten seconds, the driver must operate the clutch to de-activate the system before the engine automatically cuts out as a safety measure.

The importance of not stalling, of course, is that there is no on-board starter (cars are started using a pit-operated machine) and with the engine not running, the car will have to be pushed out of the way and consequently out of the race. Another driver aid is the speed limiter, which the driver turns on at the pit entrance to ensure the car does not exceed the pit lane speed limit. They can only be used in first second or third gear, and only in the pit lane - but this didn't prevent some teams allegedly using them to assist traction out on the circuit!

A Formula One fuel rig with hose attachedThe engine can't run without fuel, so the FIA has rules which aim to ensure that the fuel used - defined as 'petrol' - is 'predominantly composed of compounds normally found in commercial fuels'...and that teams don't use the super-fuels that have cropped up in the past. However, as the FIA is aware that Formula One is a development ground in areas such as this (and perhaps because they want to encourage furl manufacturers to take part in the sport), the rules will allow the use of fuels that have been formulated to minimise emissions and increase efficiency, as well as fuels formulated in advanced processes which may be of commercial use in the future - it's good to see some technology advancement is alive and well in Formula One!

Before the fuel is used at an event, a sample must be submitted to the FIA for approval, and the fuel is then checked against this sample during the event. On the car, it is stored (at no more than 10 degrees below ambient temperature) in a rubber bladder made by an FIA approved manufacturer. This bladder, which can be filled with foam, is surrounded by a crushable structure and situated close to the centre of the car, between the front face of the engine and the driver's back. All fuel lines between this bag and the engine must have a valve fitted which shuts off the pipe upon 50% of the force required to break it. Refueling is done using identical FIA approved rigs which must lock securely onto the car in pit lane, and the fuel filler and breather valve, which has a cover and a locking mechanism to stop it from popping open in a crash, must be within 25cm of the cockpit - all done in the name of safety.

The fuel is perhaps the most dangerous part of the Grand Prix car, especially considering the temperatures the engine reaches. It was also proven in the days of the power-boosting fuels, that engines and fuel can be the key to victory. The aim, then, is to keep costs down and safety at a maximum - and the FIA rules seem to do the job.

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

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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