Brave New World

Posted on March 13, 2014

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As Formula One enters a brave new world, there is great uncertainty. Will the cars sound rubbish? Will Mercedes win by a lap? Will all the Renault engined cars become mobile barbecues? Will Vettel really be in the midfield? And, importantly, will the data analysis which has served so well for the last few years actually work with the new regulations?

Having not been able to get hold of the testing data this year, the last of these remains unanswered. Up to 2010, the pace was controlled almost exclusively by the fuel load. Easy. The Pirelli era has been dominated by tyres – more complex, but separation of the fuel and tyre effects was not too hard. 2014 could work out the same as last year if the engine mode is roughly constant across the race. But it might not be. Will we see flashes of pace at different stages? Will we see a range of fuel modes used during the race making it hard to get to the real pace of the cars? Will there even be an identifiable underlying pace of the cars?

What we do know is that fuel saving modes in the last few years have been reasonably easy to identify from the race data. A step change in the gradient of the race history chart (of between 0.7s and 1s per lap) can often be seen, and is usually accompanied by the car not completing the slowing down lap – which I think is now a punishable offence. The issue is that if the pace chops and changes a lot, it is not easy to back out what pace the car can do sustainably – which is the only thing that really counts in the race.

So we have a bit of a learning curve. Allied to the fact that I’m now running my own business and have less time to devote to F1 analysis, I can’t promise to cover every race. In fact I’ve been uncertain (and realistically I still am) if intelligentF1 will run this year.

However, I will be having a go at getting some sensible numbers out of the Friday practices, but only time will tell whether the Friday pace is as reliable an indicator of Sunday performance as it was last year. And it didn’t always work then…

Personally I like the new regs. Despite being an aerodynamicist I like the fact that the engine is a differentiator again, I like the reliability issues, I like the energy recovery and boost button, and I like that my ears won’t bleed at Silverstone. I just hope that there is no one optimal solution for how to run the race – or better, that the optimal solution is different for different cars. I think that there should be a rule that once it all settles down, and everyone starts doing the same thing, the rules must change again…

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