Pat Sy­monds on the un­ex­pected

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PAT SY­MONDS

IN FOR­MULA 1 WE CRAVE THE UN­EX­PECTED

Pre­dictabil­ity is a dou­ble-edged sword. It is some­thing we de­sire in our ev­ery­day lives, yet that com­fort zone is anath­ema to any­thing that brings ex­cite­ment into our or­dered lives. And nowhere is this more ob­vi­ous than in sport. Many at­tributes make pro­fes­sional sport the huge draw that it is to the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. Th­ese in­clude el­e­ments of hero wor­ship as we ap­plaud the ap­par­ent su­per­hu­man skills of elite ath­letes and sports­man, and the sense of be­long­ing that al­le­giance to a team brings to the in­di­vid­ual whether di­rectly in­volved or par­tic­i­pat­ing by as­so­ci­a­tion. Above all, the el­e­ment that makes sport so pop­u­lar and de­fines its suc­cess is un­pre­dictabil­ity. We have had many pe­ri­ods when race out­comes have been too pre­dictable. This is noth­ing new. Re­mem­ber McLaren’s dom­i­na­tion in 1998 and Fer­rari’s long run of suc­cess in the Schu­macher era? More re­cently Red Bull have dom­i­nated, lead­ing to four ti­tles for Seb Vet­tel and, of course, Mercedes had a sim­i­lar run in the past few years.

Now it can be ar­gued that even dur­ing the pe­ri­ods of dom­i­na­tion the ac­tual win­ner was not al­ways ob­vi­ous, with Web­ber some­times able to beat Vet­tel and Ros­berg match­ing Hamilton from time to time. It was very dif­fer­ent in 1988 as Senna took the cham­pi­onship with eight wins to Prost’s seven, and the com­pe­ti­tion was in­tense. Equally, you can ap­ply all sorts of statis­tics to ei­ther re­in­force or dis­miss the­o­ries of dom­i­na­tion, but ac­tu­ally it is the per­cep­tion of cer­tainty that causes the dam­age ir­re­spec­tive of the re­al­ity.

It’s log­i­cal that par­ity of per­for­mance will lead to fewer pre­dictable out­comes and that par­ity of per­for­mance, un­less ar­ti­fi­cial hand­i­caps are ap­plied, is best achieved through rule sta­bil­ity. In gen­eral, his­tory would sup­port this the­ory al­though in F1 it is rare for reg­u­la­tions to re­main sta­ble for long enough for us to draw con­crete con­clu­sions. Even so, the FIA has been mon­i­tor­ing power-unit per­for­mance since the start of this sea­son through in­spec­tion of data from the torque sen­sors car­ried by ev­ery car on their gear­box­in­put shafts. It had been con­cerned about the ap­par­ent dom­i­nance of the Mercedes power unit in 2014 and 2015 and as part of a pack­age of power unit re­forms wanted as­sur­ances of near par­ity by 2017.

Power-unit man­u­fac­tur­ers are re­luc­tant to have mer­i­toc­racy ar­ti­fi­cially ma­nip­u­lated and be­lieve par­ity of per­for­mance oc­curs nat­u­rally through evo­lu­tion. The FIA, by its own ac­count, has made th­ese mea­sure­ments and de­clared that the top three power units are now within ac­cept­able tol­er­ances re­gard­ing power. Of course there is more to a suc­cess­ful race engine than power, but for now it is sat­is­fied that the cri­te­ria have been met. Chris­tian Horner has openly doubted the re­sults, but while the full anal­y­sis will not be made pub­lic, the per­for­mance deficit he per­ceives his power unit to have may lie in more sub­tle ar­eas than pure power.

While ma­tu­rity may or may not have led to par­ity of per­for­mance in the pow­er­train, we have en­joyed a much closer bat­tle in the over­all com­pe­ti­tion this year, at least at the front of the field. Surely this flies in the face of any the­o­ries of par­ity through sta­bil­ity. It is true that the gains made by Fer­rari and Re­nault in both the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion engine ef­fi­ciency and the man­age­ment of

en­ergy re­cov­ery and de­ploy­ment have moved their teams and their cus­tomers closer to the gold stan­dard set by Mercedes, but this is not enough to ex­plain the fab­u­lous sea­son we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

To un­der­stand this, look at the dif­fi­culty of get­ting the 2017 cars into their re­spec­tive sweet spots.The change of reg­u­la­tions should have favoured big­ger teams who were able, last year, to de­vote more re­source to their 2017 con­cepts while main­tain­ing the re­lent­less de­vel­op­ment needed to chase their 2016 po­si­tions. At test­ing in Barcelona it ap­peared that Fer­rari had stolen the up­per hand, but there will al­ways be ques­tions over test­ing per­for­mance and, in­deed, on Fri­day in Mel­bourne, Mercedes con­tin­ued their dom­i­nance. On the day, Fer­rari com­plained that they had lost the bal­ance they had en­joyed at Barcelona, but on Satur­day got the cars work­ing and were ex­tremely strong. In China we saw Mercedes fal­ter and Fer­rari emerge dom­i­nant. And so the sea­son has pro­gressed with the bat­tle swing­ing one way and then an­other. In gen­eral, if cir­cum­stances are taken into ac­count such as Hamilton’s po­ten­tial to reach Q3 in Monaco were it not for Van­doorne’s ac­ci­dent, then the de­vi­a­tions have been rel­a­tively small.

But why are the de­vi­a­tions there at all? We have got used to pre­dictabil­ity be­ing the norm and now we hear com­plaints about not find­ing the right setup week af­ter week. To many this may seem strange, given the amount of sim­u­la­tion avail­able, and cer­tainly, were it down to old-fash­ioned setup pa­ram­e­ters such as springs, roll-bars and ride heights, it would in­deed be sur­pris­ing. But this is not re­ally where mod­ern F1 set­ups em­anate from.

True th­ese pa­ram­e­ters can of­fer some com­fort to the driver and aid his abil­ity to ex­tract the max­i­mum from the car, but they will not, in the ex­treme, give the kind of grip that is needed to pro­duce com­pet­i­tive lap times. In­stead, this comes from two sep­a­rate ar­eas: aero­dy­nam­ics and tyre tem­per­a­ture. It is the lat­ter that is still the holy grail. The new gen­er­a­tion of Pirelli tyres have achieved the ob­jec­tives set for them, but all tyres fun­da­men­tally rely on be­ing in the right tem­per­a­ture op­er­at­ing win­dow and the re­quired val­ues for the new gen­er­a­tion of tyres are sub­tly dif­fer­ent to those of 2016.

With the teams un­able to per­form tests di­rectly on the tyres, they need to build up a dossier of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence in or­der to drill into the sub­tlety of the data. It ap­pears that Fer­rari, as well as hav­ing a good ba­sic car, have been able to do this more suc­cess­fully than any other. Maybe this is just re­ward for the ef­fort ex­pended in test­ing last sea­son. Mercedes, on the other hand, are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the amal­gam of com­pound, track tem­per­a­ture and track sur­face char­ac­ter­is­tics which form the path to suc­cess. Ul­ti­mately they will, but, un­til then, long may un­pre­dictabil­ity rule.

WE HAVE GOT USED TO PRE­DICTABIL­ITY BE­ING THE NORM AND NOW WE HEAR COM­PLAINTS ABOUT NOT FIND­ING THE RIGHT SETUP WEEK AF­TER WEEK

Mercedes’ dom­i­nance in 2014 and 2015 prompted the FIA to mon­i­tor power units to try to pro­mote par­ity

@F1Rac­ing_­mag face­book.com/ f1rac­ing­mag

Fer­rari and Mercedes are do­ing well this year, seem­ingly tak­ing it in turns to find the cars’ setup ‘sweet spot’

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