Guest Author - Christine Blachford
The first race of the new season is rapidly approaching, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the rule changes that will be in force as soon as the cars take to the grid in Australia. There are two types of rule changes: we have already looked at the sporting regulations, and now we’ll look at the technical side of things.
The technical regulations dictate exactly how much the engineers can get away with in terms of building and setting up the car.
This year, the engine homologation perimeter has been widened. This means that the engine freeze that is in place for five years from this year now encompasses more of the engine. The two-race engine from last year continues, with a penalty for a failure, however, the FIA have said competitors are now able to make the first engine change without penalty. This seems to be adding genuine confusion amongst fans, and will no doubt be complicated to follow out on track.
This year, teams have to use a standard ECU – the engine and gearbox components that are controlled electronically. This is made my Microsoft-MES, a partnership with a sister company of McLaren. The ECU eliminates traction control and engine braking, and has been tricky for some teams to implement into their car seamlessly. Renault said that the ECU caused them a weight gain of over 35%. There are obvious concerns that McLaren may have an advantage, with their close connections to the ECU suppliers.
After Coulthard and Wurz’s close call in the season opener last year, the cockpit sides of the car have been raised 20mm for this year. It offers the driver greater head protection, but has caused some consternation regarding the placement of mirrors. It is unclear whether driver visibility has been reduced or not.
There is now a list of permitted materials, with restrictions on what teams can use to build their car. Some teams were using small quantities of expensive materials, and the FIA are keen to prevent excessive spending for a limited return on track.
Lastly, the FIA want to implement the use of biofuels and have introduced the first stage this year. 5.75% of fuel must comprise oxygenates from biological sources, which the FIA are hoping will bring F1 in line with what is assumed the road car norm will be by 2010.
The technical rules have a less obvious effect than the sporting ones but they will play their part in making this season different (and hopefully better) than previous ones.