Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Formula 1 2014 Preview - The Cars

Force India VJM07, unveiled this morning
Pictured here is not the millionth "concept livery" or speculative render, but the first official image of a 2014 Formula 1 car, specifically the Force India VJM07 that Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg will be piloting at next week's opening pre-season tests in Jerez. But what's different under that newly-blackened livery? The same things that will be different on the other ten car designs this year. Let's break them down...

The Body
Before we get under the skin, let's look at the skin itself, which eagle-eyed folk will notice has changed, particularly at the front. The noses will be significantly lower for safety reasons, with the tip of the nose only being allowed to be 185mm off the ground, as opposed to the 550mm they were last year. Subsequently, the front of the actual chassis, where the nose cone connects, will drop from 625 to 525mm, giving us the steep angle seen above in the new Force India. Meanwhile, the front wings will be narrower this year to reduce downforce (also making it less likely for cars to clip them during a tight overtaking manoeuvre), from 1800mm to 1650mm.

Further back, the side-exit exhausts we've seen for so long will be banned, to avoid teams using the Coandă effect (like an aero version of surface tension) to guide the exhaust gases to the diffuser. Instead there will now be one central exhaust exit under the rear wing but well above the diffuser, pointing slightly upwards just to make sure. This will also mean tighter sidepods towards the back, but conversely the large air intakes at the front of the sidepods, either side of the driver, will be wider in order to get more air into the bigger radiators, as well as improve side impact safety. The rear "beam wing" - the little wing at the bottom - will be banned in place of two vertical struts, as the new exhuast would now be pointing straight at it, opening up an opportunity for aero trickery. At the same time, the main part of the rear wing will be at a much shallower angle in another bid to reduce downforce and increase a reliance on mechanical grip and driver input. Finally, fake camera pods are now banned, as teams were using their aerofoil shape for guiding air flow to the right places. Now any camera pods must have cameras in them, and their positioning will be restricted.

So a lot of changes, then. If you're having trouble visualising them all, fear not, for someone has done it for you, complete with measurements:

animation by G. Piola

One final thing to point out about the new aero regs is that the nose measurement of 185mm is only across a small central section of the very tip of the nose, so because air intakes/channels on the nose are banned, we may see teams only making the tip of the nose as wide as they have to, having this narrow pointy bit stretching out to meet rules and then the full width of the nosecone being further back, to get more air under the car so they can channel it to the diffuser for more rear-end grip. Many speculative renders by people studying the regulations have given us something that looks rather... phallic. The nose of the VJM07 up top looks OK from the side, but they say it will probably look much different come testing. We'll see......

Unless this is somehow the first F1 2014 article you've ever read, you'll be well aware that the biggest change of all to the quickest racing cars in the world is not the raft of exterior changes, but a new engine. The 2.4L naturally-aspirated V8s have been heard screaming at 18000rpm in a Grand Prix for the last time, possibly ever. Feel sad. Now feel excited again, because in their place is an all-new 1.6L V6 Turbo engine revving to 15000rpm. Yup, dig out that '80s nostalgia CD you got for Christmas, because turbos are back! This is to reflect the fast-growing trend in road cars for smaller turbocharged engines that use less fuel but make the same or more power and torque. Power output is said to be 600bhp or more, which is down from the ~750bhp that the V8s made, but torque will likely go up noticeably from the ~260lb/ft or so of last year's engines. Power delivery will be very different, so drivers will have to adapt their right legs accordingly. That said, the turbochargers will be extremely clever hybrid ones, which brings me on to...

...Energy Recovery Systems. These will play a much bigger role than merely being a temporary push-to-pass system as we've seen up to now. Let's start with KERS, or ERS-K as it's now called officially (perhaps to avoid the common tautology of "KERS system" which I find really annoying). This will be much bigger and more potent than it has been before, with a bigger battery. But there will now be a second ERS for the turbo, which I'm calling TERS because it sounds kinda funny. Essentially it works in the same way, gathering waste heat from the turbocharger and storing it as electrical charge and then using said charge as power. Together with KERS this will, via an electric motor on the rear axle, add around 160 horsepower to the engine's >600, giving us as much as 800 horsepower in total depending on which engine power rumors you listen to. As I pointed out in yesterday's drivers post (read here), Adrian Sutil says the new cars are actually faster in a straight line. The hybrid turbos will also use some of that stored energy to spool up faster, reducing lag significantly and thus improving engine response, so the power delivery won't be as jerky as some may have feared. This sort of technology could give us road cars with lag-less turbos in less than five years, which will be awesome. For a better-detailed explanation of how all these systems sync up, read this.

The Consequences Of The POWERRRRRR
Seeing as this new age of Formula 1 is about saving fuel, a maximum of 100kg of fuel will be allowed per race (they're still allowed to store more, but they can only use 100kg), plus the engines will now have a "fuel flow restrictor" that limits fuel flow into the engine at 100kg/h maximum when it's revving above 10500rpm (below that it will be changed accordingly). This is a similar device to what you'll find on this year's revamped Le Mans Prototype (LMP) racers in the World Endurance Championship, although in that case the use of a fuel flow meter allows them to use any engine they want, because the fuel delivery will be restricted with said restriction based partially on the size of each car's hybrid system. They get a choice of four, see. Why can't F1 enjoy such freedom of choice? They can't pretend it's a cost-cutting thing, because these new V6 Turbo hybrids are notably more expensive than the V8s of old...

Interestingly, an "electronic brake control system" will now be allowed on the rear wheels, because the brake balance will be harder to adjust and the KERS boost - now available for 33 seconds per lap instead of just 6.7s - will dump a massive amount of extra power onto the rear wheels. This must surely open the door for electronic "brake steer" where such a system can brake the inside rear wheel in a corner to keep the car on the racing line at higher speed, much like the McLaren 12C road car. That would be slightly ironic, as Red Bull were accused of illegally using such a system last year.

But more importantly, how will the new F1 cars sound? One of the most loved things about F1 cars is their otherworldly engine noise, which will be very different with six-cylinder harmonics, turbo whizz-bangs and a lower (but still stratospheric) rev limit. Well, you could listen to the rather synthetic-sounding official engine noise previews from Mercedes, Renault and Honda, or you could click play below and hear snippets of the real Ferrari engine being run in a LaFerrari test mule:

The one right at the end sounds like it's got a trick exhaust to me...

The other big change compared to the V8s will be reliability. Last year an engine failure was rarer than a fast Marussia, as the manufacturers had got their designs pretty much nailed having been running them for the eighth year. These new engines aren't only more likely to go wrong, but the punishment will be bigger if they do. They will be required to last 4000km, twice as long as last year, and the number of engines allowed per car throughout this season will be five instead of eight. Drivers using a sixth "power unit" (engine and/or supporting hybrid systems) will be given a 10-place grid penalty. Seeing as that will happen towards the end of the season, these penalties could change the outcome of both championships, so both drivers and teams will be doing everything they can to avoid breaking anything.

Weight Watchers
Of course, adding all this extra hybrid gubbins means that the cars will weigh more in the middle. Because of this, the minimum weight limit has been raised from 642kg to 690kg. This is one area that isn't in line with what road cars are doing, as most car companies are finally championing the fact that lightness is rightness, but at the end of the day it has to happen because otherwise none of the teams would be able to meet the minimum weight limit, and engineers hate things that are overweight (although tastes in women may vary). Still, this change in weight and thus balance will be something else for the drivers to get used to this year, which they've already been doing in simulators. It also means the drivers have to get lighter to compensate for the heavier cars - Daniel Ricciardo was told he would have to lose 2kg for this season, as one example. Balancing strength, stamina and fitness with losing weight can't be much fun...

2014 Reasons To Watch!
So then, we've got a newly re-jigged lineup of drivers, new cars with new hybrid engines and aerodynamic properties to get used to, plus a new race track at Sochi in Russia where they're also hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics (I hope a podium-scoring driver kisses the man who presents him with his trophy at that event). We've got Kobayashi back, Alonso vs Räikkönen in the same cars, Ricciardo at Red Bull to prove how talented he and Vettel really are and Bernie Ecclestone might be relinquishing his powers this year to go to prison for being a naughty boy with his money. How could you not watch Formula One this year?!

I'll make sure to post pictures of each new F1 car reveal over the next week, and maybe some pre-season testing news if I find time. It's time to start your engines!

UPDATE (24/1): Here is a useful infographic released by McLaren today, after revealing their new MP4-29.

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