As a new F1 season rolls around, fans all over the world have fastened their seatbelts to get in on the racing action. The season testing in Jerez (Spain) and the premiere Grand Prix in Melbourne only reaffirmed the fact that Formula One can still be a highly competitive sport and not just a boring merry-go-round of sorts. Further, the rule changes has had some massive effects on the fortunes of the competing teams. This year’s rule changes focus on safety, fuel saving and energy recovery. Dubbed by pundits as one of the “biggest reconditioning exercises in the history of the sport”, the new changes affect the engine, fuel limit and aerodynamics. Here’s a look at the major changes impacting the sport that is considered to be the foremost form of car racing.
While F1 isn’t exactly Captain Planet’s favourite sport, the new fuel limit might help assuage the green guardian. This year, the fuel limit has been slashed down by a brutal 30 per cent, which means almost 50 kgs less than the usual capacity. While teams could previously guzzle unlimited fuel, they usually used about 150 kgs per race. The new limit means that drivers will be working on different schemes to sustain the same amount of fuel for the entire length of the race, especially in the earlier laps.
Gear up for this
Well, quite literally, the number of gears in the cars have been upped from seven (in 2013) to eight this year. While in the previous season, teams could pick and choose seven from a total of 32 ratios, the ratios have now been slashed down to a not-so-grand total of eight. Until last year, teams could tailor the gearbox to meet the requirements for each track. This year, teams will be allowed to change their ratios only once. What this means is that if a team has had the misfortune of picking the wrong set of ratios, they could potentially doom their chances of ever making it across the finish line. And to answer the question about why the additional gear was allocated: one could speculate that with low capacity engines, drivers would be prompted to push the cars harder. The additional gear would result in smoother delivery of power across the rev band.
The engine revolution
After a bit of a tug of war, teams have finally bid goodbye to the mighty 2.6-litre V8 engine and have accepted the leaner 1.6-litre V6. While the V8 was naturally aspirated – meaning: all the power was derived from combustion taking place in the cylinders without the use of any fancy bells and whistles – the V6 has a turbocharger bolted on to it compensating for the power that was lost when the two cylinders and a litre of capacity were taken away.
The free revving capabilities of the V8 were also lost with the cylinders as the new engine hits the rev limiter at 15,000 RPM as opposed to 18,000 RPM in the previous season.
The lower rev limit helps produce lesser exhaust gasses as more fuel is required for a higher rev. Besides saving fuel (and the environment), the cap also reduces wear and tear on the engine. And considering that this year the number of engines have been restricted from eight to five, it seems like a pretty good idea.
The drop in capacity, cylinders and a lower rev limit has dropped power from a hair-chested 750 bhp to a lean and muscular 600 bhp has made the cars a tiny bit slower. However, the teams seem to be ‘managing’ as the season progresses.
Fun Fact: Formula 1 is bringing back the turbo for the first time since 1988.
The turbo noise
People ask, “Why have a separate caption for the noise created by the new cars?” Well, like many eccentric fans, one believes that the raw noise emanating from the engine is a part of the F1 essence. The cars now, however, have a different sound as the high pitched whine of the naturally aspirated V8 has been replaced by the quieter but zippier sound of the turbocharged V6. Good news for all the Delhi socialites who developed severe headaches last year after the Indian Grand Prix!
The shift in engines did, however, ignite a fear among die hard fans that the sport would lose its voice due to the more tamed sound of the turbo; however, the race in Melbourne erased all such doubts as the new cars raged through the tracks.
To ERS is F1
The 2014 model is also harvesting power from the shiny new Energy Recovery System (ERS) which has been incorporated as a part of the power unit. The ERS provides at least 160 bhp per 33 seconds as compared to the 80 bhp per 6 seconds provided by the earlier Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS).
The ERS essentially has two supporting units. One draws energy fromthe exhaust gases while the other takes power from the rear wheels while braking. The former is also used to keep the turbo spinning so that power is always available on tap. The ERS stores more energy than its earlier counterpart. All in all, this essentially means that not only is there more power, but more torque as well for a longer period of time. It’s interesting to note how F1 is moving towards the hybrid engine era. The sport joins the league of Le Mans which also uses hybrid engines, but Le Man is more of an endurance race than a festival of speed.
The nose job
One major change in the aerodynamics this season is that of the nose of the car. It has been lowered from a height of 550mm to 185mm. However suggestive the new look may be, it steps up driver safety as there is now a lower chances of the car doing belly flops on the race track after getting hit.
The car now looks sleeker with its front wings narrower than the rest of the body. The wings have been chopped from a width of 1800mm to 1650mm. This prevents drivers from clipping each other’s wings. The changes to the front wings have also reduced downforce by a good 20 per cent, making the race car a bit of a loose cannon as it becomes harder for it to stay in line.
The rear wing has also gone under the knife as the lower beam has been removed and the Drag Reduction System now opens wider. If that made no sense to you then let us explain. The Drag Reduction System or DRS is essentially an adjustable rear wing. The function of the DRS is to allow a free flow of air, reducing drag, which when engaged in specific zones on the track allows the driver to simply go faster.
The new DRS flaps are flatter and open wider thus reducing drag and allowing easier overtaking.
So what does all this mean?
Considering that the sport was being blamed for being too dependent on technology and repetitive not so long ago, the new measures ensure that every team, no matter how good, starts from scratch. The purpose of all this fiddling seems to be to level the playing field and bring focus back to the core of F1, i.e, the driver. While all of this has been done for the benefit of the sport, the regulations have no doubt produced a slower, heavier car. The minimum weight of the cars has been increased from 642 kgs to 691 kgs to incorporate the weight of the hybrid power unit. There was also a definite 3-second lag in the fastest lap this year in the Melbourne Grand Prix as compared to 12 months ago. But the season has barely started and there are plenty of races to follow, as avid fans, we’re just happy that the element of unpredictability is, at long last, back in this prestigious sport.