This week’s big F1 story (besides Sutil going gangsta on Eric Lux of Genii capital in a Shanghai nightclub brawl) was talk of the FIA giving the teams a new technical directive banning off throttle exhaust gasses blowing over the diffuser. A testament to how awesome Twitter is, the story broke by a Mclaren engineer tweeting about it, it got picked up all over the interwebz and a few hours later the story was out…a few more hours later and the FIA decided to hold back on the ban, so the plan is on hold for now, but FIA do seem intent to ban it sometime this season and not wait for next year.
Like I said before don’t expect big engineering explanations from me since I’m hopeless when it comes to tech stuff (check this article by Scarbs for a superb technical explanation), but basically what EBDs (Exhaust Blown Diffusers) are is explained in the name, exhaust gasses blowing over the diffuser, giving a significant increase in downforce. Now, what is this banning all about? FIA does not want to ban EBDs itself (at least not this year), what they do want to ban is teams using intricate engine mappings which allow exhaust gasses to blow over the diffuser even if the driver is off the throttle. By doing this the cars generate much downforce when they need it the most, under braking and in corners. The exact reasons behind this proposed ban are vague, fanboys would say it is an FIA scheme to slow down Red Bull and prevent a boring Championship non-fight, others argue it is to boost the sport’s green credentials, and then there’s people like me that say it’s a matter of design philosophy that engines should not be used to enhance aero, to make it harder for drivers, letting the best ones shine through and reducing a car’s dependance on aero.
FIA is not talking about a total ban by the way, they suggested limiting it to 10% off throttle exhaust blowing, but let’s take a look at the three schools of thought (damned political scientist in me acting up again).
1. It’s a trap! FIA want to slow down Red Bull so the WDC is exciting and Vettel doesn’t run away with it (the Ackbar hypothesis)
Sure, Red Bull stand to lose downforce from this, but so do all the other teams using these EBDs and blowing exhaust gasses off throttle (according to Horner himself that is 90% of the grid). Perhaps Red Bull stand to lose a bit more from it compared to the competition, but nobody knows that for sure. Only Red Bull know what they stand to lose, as only Mclaren, Ferrari, Renault,…know what they themselves could lose in terms of downforce. Thinking this through, where is the Red Bull’s main advantage over its competitors? General consensus is that Red Bull’s strong point are high to mid- speed corners, corners where the Red Bulls can go flatout where others have to lift off. Looking at it this way, Red Bull might even lose less downforce in these kinds of turns compared to their competitors as their exhaust gasses will still jollily flow over the diffuser in such corners, whereas the competition has to lift off…they lose the off throttle exhaust gasses…they lose downforce, they’re boned vs Red Bull.
2. Flower Power Tofu Eating No Job Long Haired Hippy Bastards on Sandals are ruining the sport (the FPTENJLHHBOS hypothesis)
It did raise some eyebrows when after the Australian Grand Prix Renault proudly boasted that their engines could use 10% more fuel than normal in the race to increase the flow to their diffusers and floors due to their good fuel consumption rate…that’s not something that goes down well with a sport that is trying to up its green credentials (and shows the insulated world some of these engineers live in). With the 1.6 Turbo engines due to come in 2013 and the reintroduction of KERS, the green image of F1 is important to the FIA (nevermind how hypocritical that is, but that’s food for another article), so there is probably some merit to this hypothesis. Nevertheless I do not think this is the main reason why the FIA decided to break out the banhammer.
3. Aero is King, Vive la Revolution! (The Bastille hypothesis )
Aero is the main reason why overtaking in F1 is so hard without fancy gizmos like the DRS and tires that fall off cliffs. I am pro-DRS, don’t get me wrong, but I’m only for it because it is the only alternative we have at the moment to having less aero dependent cars that would enable closer racing without the need for such artificial devices. Engineers can’t ‘unlearn’ everything they have discovered about aero in F1 for the past 30 years since the first wings started appearing on F1 cars so it’s not as simple as just banning wings alltogether from F1 cars, but still the regulators have been desperately trying to curb the amount of downforce generated by aero, but more importantly, limit the turbulent air coming off cars that hamper anyone following close by.
There is already a lot of criticism on F1’s high reliance on aero and how it has negatively affected overtaking (or lack thereof), and this new step the engineers have come up with regarding EBDs takes the Aero dynasty yet again one step further. The FIA are like the angry French mobs (after all Jean Todt is French) trying to install a republic after years of totalitarian oppression by the aero king (aargh political science go away). The point is that by using the exhaust gasses to generate downforce, the engines themselves have effectively also become aero devices, and I believe the FIA just want to buck this trend.
Latest reports say the ban will come into effect after the Canadian Grand Prix, and I for one am all for it. Not only because of the rationale for an anti aero revolution (which I support) but these overrun EBDs make it easier for drivers as they get more downforce under braking and in corners, and I believe taking this help away from them will allow the best drivers to shine even more than they do today. In the end that’s what it’s all about: who is the best one out there on pure racing skill, and anything that makes the car handling just that tad bit more difficult will open up the skill gaps between drivers. May the best man win!