Power Unit Turbo Talk Heats Up COTA Weekend
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
AUSTIN, Texas – While Sebastian Vettel’s Formula One World Victory Tour continues through Circuit of The Americas this weekend, the sport’s technical directors are dickering with rules changes that figure to significantly alter the landscape in 2014.
“I suppose in probably less than 10 days’ time is when the focus is going to change away from this year and more importantly onto next year’s car,” said Paul Di Resta of Sahara Force India, perhaps anticipating what 2014’s engine and aero packages will bring to his second-tier team.
Turbo power, outlawed in F1 in 1989 after a 12-year run, will return in a 1.6-liter V6 configuration to replace the current normally-aspirated 2.4-liter V8 power plants. But in keeping with a leaner/greener initiative, this generation of turbos will tout efficiency over pure horsepower via a system implementing two electric motors and an energy recovery program.
In addition to the inherent issue of turbo lag, the new engines will require additional cooling capacity demanded by the electric motors, necessitating a bigger overall package and larger air intakes. As a package, the revised regulations might be the only way to break the monopoly currently enjoyed by Vettel, who clinched his fourth consecutive World Driving Championship in India two races ago, and Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, which also is celebrating its fourth Constructors’ title.
Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, is a massive 130 points behind Vettel heading into Sunday’s second annual United States Grand Prix. And Ferrari, the most successful team in F1 history, sits a humbling third in the Constructors’ race, 11 points behind Mercedes AMG Petronas.
Mark Webber, who is leaving Red Bull as Vettel’s shadow for Porsche’s revived Prototype sports car program in 2014, delivered a parting gift recently when he suggested RBR again will be the clear favorites next year.
“Don’t know to be perfectly honest,” said Adrian Newey, design guru of the RB9 that has carried Vettel to a record-tying seven consecutive wins and 11 overall in 17 races this season. “I think first of all the cars are hugely complex compared to the cars that we’ve been used to. The level of reliability that everybody’s achieving now is the result of a lot of evolution on what actually looks a relatively simple product compared to what we’re facing next year. So I think reliability’s going to be quite an issue for the teams _ could well be a deciding factor in the championship. Who knows?
“And then effectively you can divide it into the very large power train regulation changes which is obviously in the power train itself down to the three manufacturers for next year (Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes). But then from the team’s point of view, how you install the engines and the power train…I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of different solutions to start with to what is a very complicated problem.”
Rob White of Renault Sport F1 said he believes a differentiating factor will be a driver’s ability to get the most out of the new and complex “power units” – the FIA’s preferred term over “engine.”
“Clearly we’ve had some idea of what this would entail for some long time,” White said, “but we’re getting up-close-and-personal now with the necessary tools and procedures to do that. Some of the underlying engineering work is still underway. Some of the code-writing in order to execute the necessary control systems on the cars is still underway and the tools that the engineers and technicians in the garage will use to look after it all is still a work in progress. I think the drivers adapting to the new environment will be something that will be interesting to watch.”
And while White’s observation would seem to favor a veteran lineup – for instance, the revised Ferrari pairing of former world champions Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen – archrival Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes will pair former world champion Jenson Button with rookie Kevin Magnussen.
“To be honest, you can argue that either way,” said McLaren’s Sam Michael. “You can argue and say experience is going to count; you can also argue the benchmark is being reset. But ultimately it’s four tires on the ground that you drive as quick as you can around a circuit. We’ve got a good balance of Jenson, who’s a world champion, plenty of experience. And if you’re going to have the risk that you take putting a young guy in (Magnussen is 21) – because there inevitably is – then it’s a good time to do it.”
Scuderia Ferrari’s James Allison is several months into his new role as technical director at Maranello after a tenure at Lotus F1. Ironically, Kimi Raikkonen, who won the 2007 world championship for Ferrari, will rejoin the team in 2014 after spending the last two seasons at Lotus.
James was asked if his presence will help F1’s “Ice Man” during his transition. “I don’t think it will make much difference to Kimi at all,” James said with a laugh. “Beautiful though I am, I don’t think I have a massive impact on his life. Kimi’s relationship with the team is predominantly with the people that are at the track, racing the car, with him, with his race engineer and the people that campaign around the world with him.
“My job is mainly a factory-based one and while I would try to lead a factory team that is sensitive to what the drivers are saying about the car and hopefully making the most of the feedback that they gave us, my day-to-day interaction with the drivers is not overly extensive.
“I think technical director at any Formula One team is a very big job; it certainly doesn’t leave much room for much else than the job in your life. Ferrari is an extremely prestigious Formula One team with a lot of resource and an extremely high level of expectation. There is really no result other than winning that is good enough at Ferrari. So, there is a lot of pressure to make sure I play my part in achieving that, but it is a wholly realistic ambition. Looking forward to being there when it happens.”
Friday’s two practice sessions were topped by Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. Alonso paced the morning session with a lap time of 1 minute, 38.343-seconds around the 3.4-mile, 20-turn road-course. Vettel responded by pacing the afternoon practice at 1:37.305-seconds before an announced attendance of 58,276. A third session lasting one-hour is set for 9 a.m. (CST) Saturday, with qualifying scheduled for noon.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment