The sport of Formula One is always in perpetual motion, as is evidenced by the teams always testing future setups, the FIA and their regulations, and also Formula One Management’s Bernie Eccelstone always throwing a fit when it comes to bringing the sport into new markets and stripping some of the most hallowed tracks in Europe and North America of their races. Little known events occurred at the Barcelona test one week before the Spanish Grand Prix. Some of the teams took part in simulation runs of the new 2009 package and regulations. The 2009 regulations will change the sport quite a bit and usher in a new, exciting era into the sport, and it could not have come at a better time.
Formula One is arguably THE most watched sport in the world, with the exception of the FIFA World Cup which only occurs every four years. Nearly every country tunes in to watch Sunday grand prix and about 55 million people watch on any given weekend. In the early 2000s during the dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, however, TV ratings dropped. People would just tune in and see Schumacher winning the race and then they would just simply switch the channel to something else. Now Schumacher is in his second year of retirement and the sport is completely wide open for the taking. A few years back the FIA and F1 Racing polled fans about what they would like to see more of on the track. An overwhelming percentage of 94% of fans said that they would like to see more overtaking in the sport. The FIA seems to agree and has kindly responded with new regulations for the 2009 season.
The three main introductions (or reintroductions) for the 60th Formula One World Championship will hopefully greatly improve the chances of overtaking. Bridgestone will shod the cars with racing slicks, a first since they were banned in 1998. The FIA is also standardizing and regulating parts of the aerodynamics as well. To further sweeten and ice the cake the new Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) device will be fitted onto the cars allowing them and extra 80 horsepower boost when used right.
Teams that tested the 2009 regulations did not run an actual 2009 package. All they did was simulate with the current 2008 package. Like all things now in Formula One, the teams began testing the 09 Package in computer simulations and wind tunnels. Tests were showing the restricted downforce was going to cost the cars about a 3 second deficit. By allowing racing slicks back on the cars it will give the cars back about 2 seconds, leaving approximately a 1 second decrease in lap times, and knowing the engineers they will magically find some of that 1 second by tinkering with the aero they are given to mess with.
What’s so different about the new aero package for next year are three things. First the middle part of the front wing will be homogenized on every car which will be less aerodynamically effective than the current wings. Barge boards on the side and winglets on the top will also be strictly regulated, further hindering the car’s speed. It will all be counteracted by an underbody diffuser which will greatly offset the turbulence that affects a car. Since the air under the car will not be as turbulent then it will not create a rift in the back of the car. That means the cars will be able to drive closer behind the rear wing and make overtaking a little more easier to do.
With some of the aero gone it will make the car not grip as much as usual, as evidenced by the 3 second deficit. To make up for it the FIA is allowing slick tires for the first time in more than a decade to be used. The slicks will generate better grip than the current treaded tire. The grip from the new tires and the lack of downforce from the aerodynamics will enable drivers to outbrake each other while going into turns, something not as easy to do with the treads.
To throw a hard slider to the drivers, the new KERS system is also being introduced. The recovery system is not ready yet and was the only part of the 09 package that was not simulated during the tests. The system is designed to recover and store the energy from braking and will be used as a power boost to aid the drivers in overtaking. When a driver pushes the KERS button on the wheel, it will give him an 80 horsepower burst for about 6 seconds. When the stored energy is used up, it will take an additional lap to store the 295 feet per pounds of force.
Formula One will be a different looking machine next year. Will it be for the best or worse? Everything looks good in theory, but can sometimes be messed up in practice. Right now the new regulations look like they will deliver a great beneficial impact upon the sport. With the old rules of letting the teams usually do what they want with the car under loose regulations, the teams usually with the big pocketbook were the ones that came out on top. By “collectivizing” some of the rules there should be more competition. The drivers and teams will no longer have to worry about putting on a “hard” or “soft” compound tire during the race either. It will be interesting to see the strategies that the drivers will use when overtaking someone. The drivers will have to be calculating and strategic in their moves. The KERS will also have a profound effect. A defensive driver will have to time his 80hp boost with the attacking driver in order to keep his position. With the slicks it will be cool to see the outbraking maneuvers while entering the turn.
Still a doubter? Well, picture this: Brazilian Grand Prix 2009. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen are within three points of each other in the championship. It is the final race and the final lap going into the turn 12. Raikkonen’s Ferrari is leading Hamilton’s McLaren. Hamilton, who is already an expert over-taker, dives left to the inside of Raikkonen. Hamilton runs hard into the turn and suddenly brakes as he gets even with Raikkonen. Both cars lock the front wheels. Coming out of the apex both drivers hit their boost button. Coming down the homestretch it becomes a drag race. Who will win with the championship hanging in the balance? It would come down to the very end of the race when both drivers cross the finish line.
Still doubting now?
The new, fast, exciting, and breathtaking era of Formula One starts next year. Prepared to be dazzled by the best drivers in the world.