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Friday, November 30, 2012

Sebastian Vettel, what "dirty tricks" are you talking about?

Sebastian Vettel said the following after the Brazilian GP, having won the WDC for the third time in a row.
"It was a very tough race but we were present all the time, we remained ourselves throughout the whole year even though people did some things that we would never consider to do," he added.
"A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks but we did not get distracted by that and kept going our way and all the guys gave a big push right to the end."
Then Christian Horner came out with the following:
"People tried everything, inside the lines and outside the lines, to beat us and the amount of questions we had to deal with, stuff we had to deal with throughout the season, didn't make our life easier"
"He's never given up, never allowed himself to get distracted, no matter whether people were trying to get under his skin," he said. "The more pressure he has been under, the better he has delivered.
"The fastest way of becoming unpopular is to have repeated success. The success we have had does not sit easily with some of our more established colleagues."
Sebastian Vettel followed up with "It's not our decision and it's not in our hands when people try literally everything to beat us,"

We obviously can't be sure about what they were talking about but there is no question the Red Bull was the subject of serious scrutiny throughout the 2012 season. Here's some of the most public stories.

Scrutiny 1:

In June, in the Monaco F1 paddock, a number of teams questioned the legality of the Red Bull's floor but Monaco Grand Prix stewards judged the car to be legal despite Article 3.12.5 of F1's technical rules, which states:
all parts lying on the reference and step planes must produce uniform, solid, hard continuous rigid, impervious surfaces under all circumstances.
After Monaco, the FIA deemed the Red Bull's tyre squirt slots in the floor of the car to be illegal and the team had to change their floor and diffuser layout before Canada to take on-board the FIA rule clarification TD13, which required that the 650mm area outboard of the car's centreline could not exploit fully enclosed holes.

The Red Bull design was deemed to be illegal retrospectively so they kept the results from Bahrain (37pts), Spain (8pts), and Monaco (37pts) where they had raced the design.
The Red Bull design first incorporated the illegal floor in Bahrain where Sebastian Vettel won
Copyright: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Scrutiny 2:

In Canada Red Bull were forced to change the design of its brake cooling ducts after the FIA found them to contravene the technical regulations.

The FIA ruled that the front wheel hub did not comply with Formula 1 regulations even though the design was on the car since the start of the season.

Red Bull argued that the air flow being channelled through the cooling system within the brakes was purely for cooling purposes but the FIA counter-argued that because the rim, hub and bolt moved they could not be classed as 'immobile in relation to the car' and therefore any use as aerodynamic aids contravenes Regulation 3.15.
Regulation 3.15 of the Formula 1 Technical Regulations says that "any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance" must be "rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car" and must remain "immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car". (In Canada the team scored 18pts)

In Canada the Red Bull team were forced to cover holes in the wheel hub which the FIA judged were being used
to aid the aerodynamics of the car as well as being used for cooling.

Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

Scrutiny 3

At the German GP in July at Hockenheim Red Bull were once again under the microscope with the FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer, issuing a statement on the Sunday morning, before the race was due to start in which he identified the specific issue as a lower torque map in both cars than previously seen at other events.
"Having examined the engine base torque map of car number 01 and 02 it became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid rpm range than previously seen for these engines at other Events.
In my opinion this is therefore in breach of Article 5.5.3 of the 2012 Formula One Technical Regulations as the engines are able to deliver more torque at a given engine speed in the mid rpm range.
Furthermore this new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars which is also in contravention of TD 036-11.
I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration."
The FIA stated that Red Bull had breached the technical directive forbidding the use of using engine mapping to improve aerodynamic performance (in this case by allowing more air in to the engine and thus aiding the blowing of the diffuser).

James Allen made the following comment on this matter:
Bauer felt it was illegal because the rules say the connection between the opening of the throttle and the torque demand on the engine should be linear and in his view Red Bull was introducing a deviation in that process. Bauer had observed that the torque demand was less than at other recent races.
The stewards in Germany decided to take no further action against REd Bull after this FIA accusation regarding both their cars using illegal engine mapping to increase airflow through the diffuser.

If they had taken action it would have meant both Red Bulls starting from the back of the grid rather than second and third and would probably have impacted upon their overall score in the race (14pts).

Both cars were cited as illegal by the FIA in Germany but were not sanctioned by the Race Stewards
Copyright: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Scrutiny 4

Next it emerged in Hungary that Red Bull was asked at the Canadian Grand Prix to change a mechanism on the cars that allowed them to change the suspension manually.

Manual Ride height Control found by FIA in Canada
Copyright: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Article 34.5 of the FIA Sporting Regulations states:
"If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set-up of the suspension whilst the car is being held in parc ferme conditions, the relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane...
"In order that scrutineers may be completely satisfied that no alterations have been made to the suspension systems or aerodynamic configuration of the car (with the exception of the front wing) whilst it is in post-qualifying parc ferme, it must be clear from a physical inspection that changes cannot be made without the use of tools."
When this story came out in Hungary, Team Principal Christian Horner said:
"It was something that could either be changed by hand or by tool but the FIA said they preferred that it was a tool that was used, so we never changed the ride height in parc ferme or anything like that, so it really is a non-issue."
But the Technical Regulations state manual adjustments to the Aero Configuration cannot be made.

Asked why the team would have a manually adjustable part on the car when tools are required by the regulations, Christian Horner said:
"There's a lot of parts that are changed manually on the car. But a tool was used. As I say, the suspension has never been changed once it's in parc ferme. Never."
A lower, more aerodynamically advantageous ride height, on low fuel is estimated at around 0.3s improvement over a qualifying lap.  In 2010 F1 wrote a piece on ride height and described the advantage in the following way:
Since qualifying is now run with the lowest fuel levels possible, and given the fact that a car's suspension has been set up for the race to also withstand high car weights, cars with normal suspension designs are naturally higher above the ground. While this could equal a marginal difference of 1mm, any such difference is vastly important for the efficiency of the car's underbody and diffuser.

Scrutiny 5

This is the bendy nose saga that came to public attention in Abu Dhabi.  While the McLaren cars were earlier identified as having a front wing which tilted on the horizontal axis, footage emerged in Abu Dhabi of the Red Bull nose and wing bending significantly on the horizontal axis.

The argument of other teams related to the perceived aerodynamic advantage of the system which saw the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel triumph in four consecutive races; Singapore, Japan, Korea & India.

The Red Bull "Bendy" nose is said to have been introduced in Singapore but its effect was most visible in Abu Dhabi
Copyright: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
I presume the benefit of this wing is to provide a more efficient airflow under the car and towards the rear diffuser which improves rear downforce.  This would improve grip and allow for improved cornering.


None of the foregoing really matters in the overall season but it goes to show that, just like the Ferrari team in the Michael Schumacher years, the Red Bull design team is innovating constantly and seeking to wring out an advantage from every interpretation of the Technical Regulations governing the design of the car.

Mercedes and McLaren have attempted the same this year with the Mercedes double DRS and the McLaren front wing.  Exhaust exit configurations have been explored and altered to improve aerodynamic efficiencies, Brawn GP won a championship with the double diffuser.  F1 is all about innovation and pushing at the boundaries of what is permitted.

In Adrian Newey Red Bull have the best designer in the paddock and it is to be expected that he will attempt to exploit any piece of the car where one of his ideas is not specifically banned.

Having said all of that it is a bit disingenuous of Christian Horner, Sebastian Vettel, and Helmut Marko to talk about "dirty tricks".  Every team has raised perceived anomalies on competitor's cars with the FIA and I doubt Red Bull are saints in this regard.

Finding the white space between the exact wording of the Technical Regulations is the job of the designers and technical directors of the F1 teams; clarifying those regulations as they pertain to the solutions found by the teams is the job of the FIA; raising the questions in the first place is the job of the other teams, the journalists, the Tech experts, and any fan who spots something unusual or odd and raises the question in an online forum.

This is not a dirty tricks campaign it is simply the sport as it has always been.  If a team can't make a rivals more efficient solution work then they seek to have it's legality clarified; if it's legal then all teams attempt to copy it and if it's not legal then it's banned.

How many times have we seen Adrian Newey walking up and down the F1 grid on raceday with his notebook and pencil in hand?

I'm happy for Red Bull to win but I'd prefer if it was done gracefully.  The comments made by Sebastian and Christian in the wake of winning the WDC and WCC for the third consecutive time remind me just a little too much of Father Ted's speech when he won the Golden Priest award.