This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- All change
- Engine evolutions all round
- Picked from the Bunch
With the FIA telling the teams they need to revise their pit-lane speed limiters and engine control systems, things are getting very interesting in the paddock.
Technically, the FIA can only mandate changes over the course of the season on safety grounds, though they can bring in other alterations with the permission of all the teams. In theory, this leaves the teams safe to work at developing the car to a stable set of rules through the season. However, this time, they have found a new means of putting in places the changes they want: by changing their interpretation of the existing regulations.
Apparently quite innocuous, the changes have upset all the teams, and are expected to make some impact. Pit-lane speed limiters have, the FIA believe, been used to hide launch control devices. So they are out, as of now. It means that anyone straying over the 80kmph speed limit on race day will pick up a ten second stop and go penalty. At San Marino, Coulthard passed Barrichello in the pits: it was a tight thing, with the cars literally inches away from a serious incident. Think how things might have been different if both were concentrating on lights on the wheel to avoid straying over the speed limit, rather than looking at what is going around them on the pit-lane...
Other changes include, as the FIA express it, "cutting some wires." The FIA allege that if the speed of the engine is measured in more than one place - for example, the crankshaft and the transmission - then feedback into the engine mapping system can be used to isolate and control wheel-spin. This change is intended to remove traction control.
Finally, the FIA are expecting to be able to analyse the teams' own telemetry in order to establish where the rules are being broken - for example, where a wheel appears to have excess spin controlled without the driver intervention on the clutch or throttle.
The net effect of these changes is to bring the teams software gurus into stronger focus. Although there is supposed to be a direct mapping between the throttle and the engine, it takes little stretch of the imagination to see where software could be used to reduce the impact of the changes. If the FIA actually make it impossible to derive whether the wheels are spinning too fast from the sensor feedback, then software can be employed to work off the rate of change of engine revolutions, effectively controlling the rate of acceleration of the engine to eliminate wheelspin. This is one of the principle aims of a good engine mapping system - giving the driver a nice, drivable engine... and incidentally core to any decent launch control system.
Pit-lane speed limiters are not that big a deal. The cars computer already controls lights on the wheel to tell the driver when to change up; changing it so that the lights have meaning dependant on the cars speed relative to the pit-lane limit in first gear is relatively trivial. Teams intent on cheating - should there be any - would have no problem adjusting their software to compensate for the missing button to trigger it.
The work involved in meeting the FIA's new requirements favours, as usual, the bigger teams with the bigger budgets. They have the money and structure to react quickly, the resources at hand to update software and electronics, and the research departments to start looking for optimal solutions to bring online as soon as possible. Ironically, any team who currently implements illegal software controls will be favoured: in implementing their cheats, they will inevitably have already completed most of the work required to handle the new interpretation of the regulations, and can even continue cheating if they are careful in some key areas.
On a complete aside, the last time the rules changed mid-season was when Ferrari fitted X-wings on their car. The FIA then decided the cars were ugly and banned them on "safety" grounds... apparently, they could come adrift in an accident and have someone's eye out.
Engine evolutions all round
Almost all the teams have new engines to play with this week, as they test in preparation for Silverstone.
Honda have been working hard on two fronts: Jordan tested a new Mugen unit ahead of San Marino, and have more revisions for this weeks test. If all goes to plan, Silverstone could see them up with McLaren and Ferrari, though that's a bit of a stretch. They are also expected to test a new gearbox...
Honda's works unit is also being revised, and BAR will be evaluating the changes with some interest. So far, Honda has impressed the team, though their plan to produce "rolling evolutions" has fallen slightly behind. Having the next evolution ready for Silverstone would give the team a much needed boost, and the potential to fight for points on merit.
BMW have worked hard since San Marino, attempting to isolate the cause of Jenson Button's engine failure. Despite statements at the end of the event that a solution should be available for this test, there is no news of its arrival - but there are optimistic sounds that a solution is en route for the end of the week. Managing this turnaround will further impress competitors in the pits: there were some questions concerning the BMW entry at the start of the season, particularly scoffing at the size and weight of the engine. All that has changed as they gave Williams the chance to compete for points; adding rapid response problem solving to the armoury can only impress further.
Peugeot and Mercedes are also looking to bring on new engines, though there is limited information about what improvements they have planned for this test. McLaren are known to be looking for answers about the three second cut-out that Hakkinen suffered in the San Marino race; Peugeot are supposed to be re-testing their variable trumpet valve technology again. Both are expected to have the new units ready for Silverstone.
Picked from the Bunch
Silly Season 2001 is under way early, as speculation of Villeneuve moving to McLaren or Renault hits. It's also thought Toyota have approached him to drive for them in 2002.
Toyota's shopping list after Villeneuve seems to have Juan Montoya at the top. They are also supposed to be interested in Tora Takagi and David Coulthard.
Prost admitted talking to Mercedes about a possible engine supply from 2001. This confirms long established rumours, and appears to be another step towards a Formula where every engine supplier provides units to at least two teams.
Damon Hill was reported making a low-key visit to Jordan in San Marino. The ex-Jordan star appeared in the pits, and reputedly told a potential interviewer that the best thing about being retired is not having to do stupid interviews.