With­out their own magic aids, Seb’s ri­vals are up the creek with­out a pad­dle

Evo India - - BRIEFING - TED KRAVITZ @ted­kravitz

THINK ABOUT YOUR STEER­ING WHEEL. Imag­ine if you had some sort of magic pad­dle, maybe mounted high on the right-hand side, some­thing long that you could ma­nip­u­late gen­tly – tickle, even – with your right index fin­ger. Now think about what you’d like it to do. That’s the pre­cise thought process go­ing through the minds of ev­ery­one in For­mula One who isn’t Se­bas­tian Vet­tel or a se­lect group of Fer­rari en­gi­neers.

Let me ex­plain. Vet­tel has al­ways been very se­cre­tive about his steer­ing wheel. Last year, he had a ti­ta­nium fin­ger grip fit­ted to his clutch pad­dle that gave him a bet­ter feel for the clutch bite point. It worked. Seb got some crack­ing starts that helped him win races. He and his Fer­rari me­chan­ics went to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to keep it hid­den, stor­ing it in a spe­cial box in the garage and mak­ing sure it was cov­ered with an um­brella on the grid. Even­tu­ally all the other teams found out his se­cret, but it was a nice ad­van­tage to have while it lasted.

Now it seems he’s at it again, this time with the magic pad­dle. But what does it do? En­gage the cater­pil­lar drive? Drop oil out the back, Bond-style? Snap a selfie? It could serve any num­ber of pur­poses, but closer in­spec­tion con­firms it’s not an on/ off switch: the pad­dle is at­tached to a lit­tle cylin­dri­cal sen­sor so that Vet­tel can op­er­ate it in a grad­ual way. That im­me­di­ately nar­rows down the kinds of things it could change. It can’t be any­thing aero­dy­namic, like mov­ing a wing an­gle to give more or less down­force de­pend­ing on what kind of corner you’re in, be­cause that would be il­le­gal. Move­able aero­dy­namic de­vices are a no-no.

So if it’s not aero­dy­namic it must be me­chan­i­cal. Sus­pen­sion? A grad­u­ated switch to sup­port one side of the car in a cer­tain corner, or to raise the nose or drop the rear for bet­ter feel? Surely not: that kind of thing is pre-pro­grammed into the sus­pen­sion sys­tems – why bur­den the driver with ex­tra work­load?

No, it has to be some­thing Se­bas­tian wants com­plete con­trol over. Could it be try­ing to fix some­thing? Vet­tel’s prob­lem with the car ear­lier this sea­son was that it was lazy on brak­ing and turn-in, some­thing Kimi Räikkö­nen could live with. But Vet­tel likes the car to be spot-on pre­cise un­der brak­ing and ra­zor-sharp when turn­ing into the corner, and when the car doesn’t give him con­fi­dence in ei­ther, the lap time ebbs away. So could it be some kind of elec­tronic brake as­sist, or power steer­ing ad­just­ment? The magic pad­dle is only on Se­bas­tian’s car so it must be some­thing to cure that lazy brake/turn-in prob­lem, right?

Then again, it could be ex­haust blow­ing. Those with good mem­o­ries will re­call how Vet­tel’s Red Bull mas­tered the con­cept of off-throt­tle ex­haust blow­ing: en­gine maps that kept the Re­nault unit revving enough to pro­duce ex­haust gas that was blown through or over the dif­fuser to pro­duce mid-corner down­force, even when the driver was off the throt­tle. All very clever and very ef­fec­tive be­fore it was pro­hib­ited.

Fer­rari has de­nied ru­mours that the pad­dle acts as some kind of grad­ual en­ginemap change, with the goal of al­ter­ing set­tings mid-corner to keep the ex­haust blow­ing even when off throt­tle. So if it’s not that, our best guess is ei­ther a clever diff ad­just or a man­ual bat­tery power boost through the MGU-K: the ‘Mo­tor/Gen­er­a­tor Unit – Ki­netic’ that’s linked to the en­gine’s crank­shaft.

What­ever, one strength of this year’s Fer­rari is that it’s re­mark­ably quick in a straight line – faster than the Mercedes; some­thing that hasn’t been the case in re­cent years. Lewis Hamil­ton re­cently de­scribed it as ‘very strange’ how the Fer­rari is quick­est in all con­di­tions and on all kinds of cir­cuit, whereas Mercedes is strug­gling. It’s not strange, Lewis, it’s the magic pad­dle. Prob­lem is, you’re no nearer to fig­ur­ing out what it does than the rest of us. ⌧

What does Seb’s magic pad­dle do? En­gage cater­pil­lar drive? Drop oil, Bond-style?

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