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Formula One Will Take On A New Look In 2014

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 23 2013

The look and sound of Formula One is about to change. (Photos courtesy of the Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In theory, there is no such thing as an ugly race car. Any vehicle designed to poke a hole through the air, transfer torque and horsepower to the pavement and move from Point A to Point B faster than the other guy/gal serves a worthy purpose.

But clearly, some race cars are better eye-candy than others. For every timeless beauty like the Ford GT40 or Porsche 962, there is NASCAR’s safer-but-boxy Car of Tomorrow or IndyCar’s “swoopy” second-year Dallara chassis.

Formula One’s current slim, “stepped-nose” chassis have played to mixed reviews when compared to previous iterations, including the “ground effects” cars that revolutionized open-wheel racing during the late 1970s.

The impending introduction of new “power unit” engine regulations in 2014 promises to shake-up the F1 landscape. 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. 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 power units 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 Sebastian Vettel, who clinched his fourth consecutive World Driving Championship in India three races ago, and Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, which also is celebrating its fourth Constructors’ title.

“The changes are so big; it’s the biggest change in regulations that I’ve seen in 20 years in the sport and there’s going to be a lot of different solutions,” Nick Chester, technical

Turbos will return to F1 in 2014.

director of Lotus/Renault, said during last weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. “It will be very interesting to see what everyone brings to the first race. There will be different solutions for aerodynamics and some cars will be better-packaged than others.”

Sam Michael of Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, a dismal fifth in this year’s Constructors’ standings, agreed the changes present a massive technical challenge.

“I think it’s going to be a development war all the way through the season, and probably into the next year as well,” Michael said. “It’s such a big change to not just the powertrain but the aerodynamics. Knowing that the slope that we currently have in the wind tunnel…when you have a slope so steep, then it normally means that you’re far away from the optimum when you first make these type of changes.

“The powertrain is probably bigger in reality and probably more visible because you have such a brand new gearbox, brand new engine and completely new ERS system. And don’t underestimate how developed these current powertrains are on all fronts.

“You can’t replicate the almost decade of powertrain mileage on the track across different teams, so I think that’s going to be a big player in the next year and potentially a bit longer.”

That said, from a purely cosmetic standpoint, how important is it that Formula One cars look good/cool/sexy?

“It’s an interesting question,” said Paddy Lowe of Mercedes AMG Petronas. “I think, in the end, cars tend to look good when they’re quick, so we take a while to get used to change. But it’s surprising how you look back at old cars and they suddenly don’t look so attractive when you didn’t like the change that came. But I think any car that actually is quick tends to start looking good. That’s my view.”

James Allison, technical director at Scuderia Ferrari and formerly of Lotus, agreed that some cars are simply more attractive than others.

“When 2009 came along, I didn’t like the look of those cars at all. But I’m wholly used to it now and I think they look pretty sexy,” Allison said. “The stepped-nose…again, I didn’t like that to start with but I’m OK with it now. I think as a technical team, we really have a duty to try to make the thing quick rather than make it beautiful. Hopefully, the beauty is got for free along the way.

“Notwithstanding the size of the changes, over the years it’s been fairly clear that the teams, although they’re hundreds of people in different places, end up producing cars independent of one another that come together and are very competitive with one another. I would expect that to be true next year as well.”

Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault’s Adrian Newey _ designer of the RB9 that has carried Vettel to a record eight consecutive wins _ said he fully is aware of aesthetics.

“They are important, but they are kind of dictated by the rules,” Newey said. “Technically, obviously, our job is to try and make the car as quick as possible rather than to win any styling awards, so we are at the mercy of the regulations in that regard. I must admit that I think the regulations have caused some ugly areas. In terms of the stepped-nose, I think they aren’t as attractive as they used to be. Probably, in truth, the narrow-track cars I don’t think have ever looked quite as attractive as…they’ve always looked a bit out of proportion compared to the pre-’98 cars.

“The low-nose that we have next year, I think there could be some fairly awkward looking aesthetics, nose-arising. So it’s something that in my view should be given a bit of more consideration when the regulations are drawn-up.”

The RB9 carried Vettel to his 12th win in 18 races last Sunday at COTA. Vettel could tie seven-time world champion and fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 single-season wins at Ferrari with a victory in Sunday’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.

“There’s no magic bullet; it’s the usual development story, I think,” Newey said of the soon-to-be-obsolete RB9. “This year’s car was a very close cousin to last year’s. Relatively small evolutions over the winter with essentially stable regulations. So really started this year where we left off last year from a car point of view and it was just about developing it, understanding it.

“I think the change in (Pirelli) tires back to the 2012 tires was also obviously something that had an effect on the car and possibly suited us. It’s difficult to know exactly. So general development, no magic.”

TV viewership of the U.S. Grand Prix on NBC Sports was up 47 percent over the inaugural live telecast in November 2012. Sunday’s live telecast drew 1.010-million viewers versus last year’s event on SPEED (688,000), according to final national data provided by The Nielsen Company. The rating was achieved despite blackouts due to news preemptions for severe weather in the Midwest, including the key Chicago and Indianapolis markets.

The F1 USGP (aired from 1:56 to 3:49 p.m., EST) scored an 0.65 household rating according to final national data, up 67 percent versus last year’s race on SPEED (0.39). Sunday’s race also surpassed NBC’s coverage of the Canadian Grand Prix (950,000) in June by 6 percent.

Among Adults 18-49 (387,000), the F1 USGP was the second-most watched race of the season on NBC behind the famed Monaco Grand Prix (441,000). NBC tallied double-digit increases vs. SPEED’s telecast last year among Adults 18-49 (plus-45 percent) and Adults 25-54 (plus-39 percent).

Viewership peaked during the 2:45-3 p.m. (EDT) quarter-hour with 1.233-million viewers. Austin led the nation with a 6.88 rating followed by Greensboro, N.C. (1.90), San Diego (1.69), Columbus, Ohio (1.66) and Orlando-Daytona, Fla. (1.60).

Sunday’s race was played-out before an announced crowd of 113,162 fans, down from last year’s 117,429. Three-day attendance was 250,324, down from last year’s 265,499. COTA management now has completed two years of a 10-year contract with the sanctioning FIA.

On Tuesday, Steve Sexton announced his resignation as COTA’s chief executive officer. Sexton will be replaced by Jason Dial, company president. Bobby Epstein will continue in the role as COTA chairman.

NBC is averaging 1.152-million viewers for its three F1 races this season, up 11 percent compared to FOX’s four-race F1 race average last year (1.038-million). The Brazilian Grand Prix will air live on NBC at 11 a.m. (EST) Sunday.

Scuderia Ferrari will wrap-up a forgettable season in Brazil. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is destined to finish a distant second to Sebastian Vettel of RBR in the Drivers’ championship, while the Scuderia sits a humbling third in the Constructors’chase, 15 points (348-333) behind Mercedes AMG Petronas heading into Sunday’s finale around the 2.6-mile/15-turn Interlagos Circuit.

Ferrari’s recent decision to bring Kimi Raikkonen back to Maranello, Italy, for the 2014 season is a definite signal the current malaise is unacceptable. Raikkonen, who won the 2007 world championship with Ferrari, spent the last two seasons in comeback mode with Lotus/Renault. Raikkonen will replace Felipe Massa, who since has signed with Williams/Renault for 2014.

The enigmatic Raikkonen opted to sit-out last weekend’s USGP and the Brazilian finale to undergo season-ending back surgery. Raikkonen, 34, also has been battling Lotus management over unpaid salary.

In any event, Raikkonen’s return and pairing with Alonso will give the team two drivers used to being treated as No. 1. So, who will be Ferrari’s lead hoss next season?

“That, I know, is a question that’s been here since many, many months,” team principal Stefano Domenicali said. “But I will say that for me, the most important thing is to have a good car and then give the chance to the drivers to express themselves. It has been always the case on our side, because the decision that we took during the season was mainly driven by who was in the best condition to win the title or the championship. So nothing has changed in that respect.

“Next year we have the privilege of having Fernando and Kimi, two very experienced drivers _ not very, very young, so with a more mature approach. And they will give the maximum to support and to give all of what they can in order to win together the season.”

Translation: Have at it, boys.

Drivers’ championship top-10 heading into Sunday’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix: 1. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 372 points*; 2. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, 227; 3. Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Mercedes AMG Petronas, 187; 4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 183; 5. Mark Webber, Australia, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 181; 6. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG Petronas, 161; 7. Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 132; 8. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari, 106; 9. Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 61; 10. Paul Di Resta, Great Britain, Sahara Force India/Mercedes, 48.

Constructors’ championship standings heading into Sunday’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix: 1. Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 553 points*; 2. Mercedes AMG Petronas, 348; 3. Scuderia Ferrari, 333; 4. Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 315; 5. Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 102; 6. Sahara Force India/Mercedes, 77; 7. Sauber/Ferrari, 53; 8. Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 32; 9. Williams F1 Team/Renault, 5; 10. Marussia/Cosworth, 0; 11. Caterham F1 Team/Renault, 0.

*Clinched championship.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 23 2013
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Ed says:

    So much for theory.. That’s one UGLY looking, whatever it is.

    • John Sturbin says:

      Ed: Car in top photo is the 2013 Ferrari; second photo features a Toro Rosso-powered by Ferrari in the foreground and McLaren/Mercedes in the background. As of the checkered flag at Sunday’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, all these chassis/engines are obsolete.