Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Race Relations 02/04/14

More opinions I am not qualified to have.


Apparently the feng shui in the heart of the RB10 is all wrong - no wonder it kept breaking down. It's also remarkable how closely the controversy over Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification at Albert Park followed the pattern set in 1987.

Image via Today Online

Essentially Daniel's DSQ was inflicted for failing to comply with the FIA's orders. The rules limit the fuel flow to a maximum 100 kilos per hour (although since they're limited to 100 kilos for the whole 90-minute race, they mostly have to run it at a lot less). The hassle was, Daniel's car had been fitted with a faulty flow meter. Christian Horner and all the crew at Red Bull knew that, and so did the FIA, so the FIA told them to adjust the readings to compensate. They did this, but using their own telemetry found the FIA's adjustment was a bit harsh - Daniel could run a bit more flow than they said and still be under the 100kg/h limit, just not according to the FIA's meter.

So although I hate siding with the FIA, it's pretty clear to me that Red Bull are the ones in the wrong here. It reminds me of that line from A Few Good Men, "It doesn't matter what I believe, it only matters what I can prove!" The rules say from the outset that the FIA's homologated flow meter will be the one they use to judge fuel flow, not your own, so protesting that you complied with the regulations according to your own telemetry isn't going to save you. Let that by and the standardised fuel flow meter will become irrelevant, the F1 version of an appendix, hanging around in the guts of the machine but long since engineered out of the loop. Everyone will switch to their own monitoring systems instead and when it squeals they've gone over the fuel limit they'll just shrug and say, "Gosh, another faulty one? What are the odds!"

Or to put it another way, you can swear until you're blue in the face that your new laser-cut metre rule is a more accurate one-metre length than the one in SI vaults in Paris, but it won't matter. The one in the vaults is the one everyone's agreed to use.

But the shape of the drama reminds me of the introduction of pop-off valves in 1987. Fitted to the monstrous turbo cars of the 80's, they were designed  to limit the cars to 4.0 bar (about 59 psi) of boost to keep power outputs manageable. Like the fuel flow meter, they were standardised pieces of hardware handed out by the FIA, and like the fuel flow meter, they proved faulty right away.

"Don’t talk to me about bleeding pop-off valves," said Arrows driver Derek Warwick after his first Friday session. "Most of the time mine was cutting in at 3.5 [bar] or thereabouts, and some of the time it was at 2.6! The whole thing’s a joke.” Benetton's Thierry Boutsen confirmed: "One turbo was cutting at 3.7, and the other at 2.7." But at the second race? Nothing. Not a peep. The bellyaching about the pop-off valves had completely disappeared: the teams realised that you really only ran into trouble if you actually used the valves, which tended to weaken them. Work around them and most of the problems just disappeared.

How much complaining about fuel meters did you hear in Malaysia?

None of this is to say the FIA doesn't have a responsibility to provide working equipment. But maybe someone should take Red Bull to a cricket match some time this week, and whisper that old truism in their ear: "No, the umpire isn't always right, but he's always the umpire." Or if that can't happen, would it at least be possible to see Charlie Whiting mouthing off like Jack Nicholson in the court of appeal? "Horner, I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Ricciardo, and you curse the FIA. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know - that Ricciardo's DSQ, while tragic, probably saved the sport. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves the sport. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a team who rise to become World Champions under the blanket of the very regulations that I provide, and then question the manner in which I provide them. You want the truth? You can't HANDLE the truth!"


Next problem: the new F1 engines sound awful. It's true, here's a fantastic video that shows the difference from 2013 to 2014 (and also gives a fantastic impression of how they sounded when you were actually there).

Be sure to watch the video soon before they take it down again: for such a high-tech sport, Formula 1's guardians are amazingly reticent about letting us experience it online.

Anyway, there's no denying it: last year the sound of an F1 car at full speed was pure aural sex; now they sound like a Kenworth got frisky with a Victa. So it seems to me the clear solution - the ONLY solution - is to record each race without the sounds, and then let each viewer to dub in whatever engine note they'd prefer to hear. The possibilities are endless: Matra V12, Ferrari Breadvan, M1 Procar, or hell, why not the Renault that won the very first Grand Prix back in 1906? If we're going to stick with the principle of older = better, then surely that's the oldest, bestest GP car of them all? Mmm, just think of that old monster chugging along at 1,600rpm like a a vintage tractor... No?

Image via Wikipedia

Look, I miss the old engine note too. It was glorious. But I wouldn't have it stick around at the price of becoming a mere special effect. As I've said before, a huge part of the appeal of F1 is that it's real. From 2006 to 2013 the cars were really glorified karts, and that undercut the whole programme in many peoples' eyes (including mine). Formula 1 is not the WWF, where everyone knows it's just a show and the competitors in the ring know you know. Formula 1 is reality TV. The director might have to interfere to shake things up occasionally, but on the whole the appeal is watching real people have real meltdowns over the achievement of real goals.

If you want something shallow but entertaining, NASCAR's a-waitin'. Meanwhile, the real irony of the noise complaints is that F1's glorious soundtrack didn't vanish at the end of 2013, it vanished at the end of 2005. I was once at Albert Park when they were giving rides in the 2-seater Minardi, fitted with the last of the 3-litre V10 monsters. On one pass I tried it without ear plugs, and never did that again. The V10 was just on another level, as far above the V8s as the V8s were above this year's turbo sixes. Sweet, singing, piercing, eardrum-shredding magnificence.

And dead as the Nazi Empire. The past is great and worth celebrating. But it's also the past. Remember that.

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