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Restriction of resources

It seems like a no-brainer to get Formula One teams to stop burning through hundreds of crores of rupees on windtunnel testing and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software to design cars that they proudly tout can ride (in theory) upside down on the roof of a tunnel at speeds at or over 160 kmh. Vinayak Pande writes.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2011 11:22 IST
Vinayak Pande
Vinayak Pande
Hindustan Times
Vinayak Pande,New Delhi,Computational Fluid Dynamics

It seems like a no-brainer to get Formula One teams to stop burning through hundreds of crores of rupees on windtunnel testing and Computational Fluid Dynamics software to design cars that they proudly tout can ride (in theory) upside down on the roof of a tunnel at speeds at or over 160 kmh.

A remarkable achievement but when you consider the oft-used logic of motor racing having some sort of relevance or connection to the automotive industry that supports it, such an achievement sure seems like a waste of resources. The word 'resources' is particularly of interest due to one of the current hot topics of discussion in the F1 paddock. The Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) is essentially a 'gentleman's agreement' between the representatives of the 12 teams currently on the grid.

The purpose of the RRA is to make teams more fiscally responsible by agreeing to be monitored by a third-party auditing firm who will ensure that they don't exceed a certain amount. The auditors will also lay down guidelines to limit the use of CFD and windtunnels to prevent heavy hitters like Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren from running them 24/7 for as long as they want to. And boy is it essential that this never happens.

Take the statistics of McLaren's windtunnel published on the team's official website its Technology Centre (MTC) for example. Measuring 145 meters and laid out in a rectangular circuit within the MTC, the tunnel is constructed using 400 tonnes of steel, has a fan with a four metre diameter that rotates at a speed of 600 rpm. Water is then pumped into giant heat exchangers from artificial lakes surrounding the MTC in order to stop the tunnel from overheating when running at full speed.

Depending on how satisfied the team is with the results of wind tunnel testing and CFD computing, i.e. whether the result of all that testing has any correlation with the car's performance on the track, new parts are manufactured using an extremely expensive raw material. Carbon-fibre composites are predominantly used to manufacture an F1 car. Hence the reason a completed car weighs just 640 kg.

Teams are not particularly keen on divulging the hefty price tag that comes with such high tech expenditure but through an initiative of the Formula One Team's Association (FOTA), we can give you the environmental cost of all this. Based on the figures of a study by an environmental consultancy called Trucost, which was commissioned by FOTA; an F1 team was responsible for emitting 2,15,558 tonnes of carbondioxide (CO2) over the course of the 2009 season. Of this figure, the consumption of fuel by F1 cars over the 17 races of the season and testing accounted for just 0.3 percent of the total figure (646 tonnes of CO2). The consumption of electricity through the use of windtunnels, high performance CFD software and manufacturing accounted for 30 percent (64,652 tonnes of CO2). The expenditure on parts and raw materials accounts for 50.4 percent of the total figure (108,691 tonnes of CO2).

The figures from the study were published last July and over a year on, there are already doubts about whether or not the RRA is having the desired effect of restricting costs. If the current 'difference in opinion' between Red Bull Racing and Ferrari are any indication, the RRA needs to be more than just an agreement between the heads of teams hell bent on getting the better of each other on the race track and attracting major sponsors who would pay for their massive expenditure.

Diffusers -- aerodynamic devices situated at the rear of an F1 car beneath the area between the rear wheels -- have become the latest focus for teams hoping to find that extra bit of downforce in the wake of increasingly restrictive technical regulations outlined by the FIA since the 2009 season. The devices that create an area of low pressure underneath the car -- causing the car to be pushed onto the track by the area of high pressure above it -- reportedly account for 30 percent of the total downforce generated by an F1 car.

In 2009, Brawn GP (formerly Honda F1 and now Mercedes GP) found a loophole in the regulations to create what were known as 'double diffusers' and since 2010 Red Bull Racing created the 'exhaust blown diffuser' (will spare you the details as it would need an entire page to break this down). Bottom line was that other teams were forced to play catch up and create their own respective versions of the diffuser designs. The former has been banned and the latter will be from next year.

It has led to allegations by other teams that Red Bull Racing have violated the terms of the RRA that are designed to reduce CO2 emissions produced by F1 teams by 12.43 percent in time for the 2012 season.

The current situation makes one wonder what exactly F1 is trying to promote itself as. Finding an answer is difficult due to the mixed messages sent out by people like Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner. In a press release issued after this year's Korean GP, Horner stressed the importance of the team renewing its partnership with Nissan's luxury car brand Infiniti that had started after Red Bull won the 2010 drivers' and constructors' titles. Nissan has a corporate tie-up with French car manufacturer Renault that supply Red Bull with engines. He spoke of "mutual benefits on the track and the road" as a result of the partnership. A commonly used line by many an F1 boss in order to not only justify the enormous expenditure involved in F1 to board members but also as a marketing tool to show that there is some relevance of creating a prototype racecar to drivers of ordinary road cars.

But when asked at the very next race in India about the point of talking about the relevance of the RRA and FOTA while continuing to use windtunnels and CFD software to design and build F1 cars, Horner's only defence was to use another oft-used line by F1 bosses. "F1 is the pinnacle of our sport." The urge to roll one's eyes at that statement was great especially as he did not address the possibility of F1 remaining the pinnacle of motorsports if a car's aerodynamic package was standardized and greater freedom was given to teams in aspects that are actually more relevant to the performance of everyday road cars. Namely; tyres and engines. Not to mention the fact that it would come as a huge financial relief to teams that did not have deep pockets like Red Bull. The team does, after all, have the backing of a energy drinks giant that sold 4,204 billion cans of Red Bull worldwide in 2010 according to the company figures published on Red Bull's official website. That led to a turnover of Rs. 26,195 crore.

I guess it goes without saying that the team referred to as "just a drinks" company by Lewis Hamilton prior to the start of this season can easily match the standards set by McLaren (who Hamilton drives for) and their gargantuan wind tunnel facility. While that may be a good thing for Red Bull and the F1 fans who have started to jump onto its bandwagon, it's worrying for the future of F1. Worrying because in this mad rush to be the 'pinnacle of motorsport', F1 folk seem to have forgotten that they are ultimately locked in a sporting competition. Which means that the majority of fans are drawn to people and teams rather than who can most effectively blow exhaust gases from a car's engine through a diffuser while the driver has his foot off the throttle.

Yes there are hardcore F1 fans who obsess over every single detail of the F1 championship that is now in its 62nd year but those are the people who follow the tweaks/adjustments/overhauls made to the championship (grudgingly, more often than not) in order to make it appealing to the majority of its spectators who just want to watch something worth their while on TV for two hours on a Sunday. Not to mention the majority of the people willing to dig deep into their pockets to come to a racetrack and watch a race.

The FIA has banned the use of double diffusers and exhaust blown diffusers will be a thing of the past as well from next year as it tries to shift the focus on road relevant technology as well as making cars more challenging to drive and promoting overtaking. It is for this reason that Williams F1 co-founder Patrick Head and former Benetton and Ferrari chief designer Rory Byrne were asked to create a draft of regulations last December that would see F1 car design overhauled in a major way in 2013. Among the changes proposed was making the entire underside of an F1 car generate more downforce while drastically reducing the size of the front and rear wings that create the 'dirty air' that makes it so difficult for cars to follow each other and prompted the use of stop-gap measures like Drag Reduction System (DRS).

With the world's supply of oil estimated to last just 42 years (according to - a privately run statistical analysis company), one of the aims of the new regulations is to also reduce the direct consumption of petrol by 35 percent as well as promote alternative means of propulsion. F1 folk are notoriously averse to change, however. None more so than the sport's commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone who has repeatedly tried to undermine the authority of the current FIA president Jean Todt. Todt's predecessor Max Mosley engineered (in partnership with Ecclestone) the sale and lease of F1's commercial rights from the FIA to Ecclestone's Formula One Group of companies.

Which means that even if Todt is onto something that could give F1 a much needed reality check as well as improve the racing, there will be opposition from Ecclestone because Todt refuses to be bosom buddies with him the way Mosley was. In such an atmosphere, how can one ever expect teams to take things like the RRA seriously?

First Published: Nov 21, 2011 00:22 IST