Circuit De Catalunya – The most boring F1 track ever?

In October 1991, Nigel Mansell was on the brink of losing the World Championship having had a comfortable lead and certain victory thrown away by another pit lane drama in the Portugese Grand Prix at Estoril. He lost one of his wheels after what appeared to be a smooth and tidy pitstop and was later given the black flag. The next stop after Portugal was Spain, but this time the venue was not Jerez. The F1 circus was about to visit a brand new purpose built circuit near Barcelona, the Circuit de Catalunya.

Today, this track is renowned for producing extremely dull races, especially after the 1999 event after there was only one reported overtaking manoeuvre the entire race! But it looks almost certain to stay on the calendar long-term after the impact which Fernando Alonso has had in his home country. In fact today the second Spanish race of the season was held in the new Valencia street circuit and that too was boring! Do the Spanish specialise in boring races or can we blame the modern aerodynamics or Hermann Tilke’s incompetent track design skills?

It’s all very well keeping a Spanish race on the calendar as a result of Alonso’s impact but why not move back to Jerez? There has been some great stuff there over the years such as Mansell and Senna’s battle to the flag in 1986 and the World Championship decider in 1997, but it was that year when the local mayor tried to force his way onto the podium celebrations after the race, which led to Jerez never being allowed to host a Grand Prix again.

So we are stuck with the dull Circuit de Catalunya – and also the Valencia street circuit as of today. This track is used so much by all the F1 teams for testing that there is not much work to be done on the cars come the race weekend and the drivers know the track inside out. There are a lot of turns on the track as well, but whilst it is no Monaco or Hungaroring, the frequency and the medium-speed, aero-dependent nature of the corners means that overtaking opportunities are limited to the fairly long start-finish straight and a large “field spread” is produced.

The organisers tried to improve overtaking down the start-finish straight by installing a new chicane for 2007, but sadly it doesn’t appear to have worked and its very obvious why because right after the chicane, there’s a fast corner where the aerodynamics of the car infront will force the car behind further back again. I mean who’s stupid idea was it? Probably Hermann Tilke!

When the most memorable things that have happened at this circuit are, for example, Johnny Herbert driving off with the rear jack still in the back of his Benetton, or one of Nick Heidfeld’s wheel nuts falling off and being picked up by a Toyota mechanic, you can see why I never look forward to the Spanish Grand Prix. Even this year’s race with Kovalainen’s crash, the safety car being brought out and the novelty in that race being Super Aguri’s last ever F1 race failed to disguise the tedious borefest that this race never fails to produce unless it rains.

In fact it’s almost like watching English Premier League side Middlesbrough who are also dull. Eddie Irvine said after the 1999 race, “I was so bored I wish I had brought my radio with me!”, but, just like today, most of the debate after that race was over the design of the cars and the use of grooved versus slick tyres. But even in the days of slicks there were still tedious races at the Circuit de Catalunya. Except in 1991 …

Going back to 1991, the first race at the Circuit de Catalunya was a classic. It had been raining, the track was damp and Mansell had all the odds against him. Ayrton Senna could have clinched the World Championship that day, but Mansell was not giving up without a fight. He got second on the grid ahead of Senna, but behind Gerhard Berger, but Mansell made a bad start and Senna passed him, then a few corners later Michael Schumacher even went by, but Mansell dispatched the soon-to-be 7 time World Champion and set off after Senna. One of the most memorable moments in Grand Prix racing happened on the start-finish straight when Mansell went side-by-side with Senna all the way down the straight to take 2nd place with Murray Walker’s BBC co-commentator James Hunt exclaiming, “Wheel-to-wheel stuff, look at this! They’re almost touching!”

Meanwhile, this was also the race where Murray Walker uttered one of his immortal lines, “The boot is on the other Schumacher!”. In only his fourth race Michael Schumacher was showing the world what he was capable of, harassing Mansell and Senna, and flinging his Benetton Ford around the track in a way which Nelson Piquet or Roberto Moreno – the man who the Benetton controversially replaced with Schumacher – had not managed throughout 1991. Schumacher looked as though he was on course for his first ever podium finish until he had a spin, but recovered to finish a fine sixth, while Mansell went on to win and ensure the Championship wasn’t going to be decided yet.

The only other time races here have been any good were the following year 1992 and 1996 when it rained. Every other year it has been boring. With next year’s regulations coming into play to allow more overtaking, if there’s one track the regulations will not work on, it’s Catalunya. I don’t think even a race held here in the Turbo era would have been exciting either, nor the 70’s or any races going back to the days of Jackie Stewart or even Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio! The bottom line is that Catalunya is the most boring race track ever.

Analysis: Standard ECUs and the mechanical culture shift

The introduction of Standard Electronic Control Units (SECUs) to prevent drivers using electronic aids marks one of the most radical regulation changes to date. Christopher Hayes assesses the impact of the common unit and looks at the reaction in the paddock.

“The driver shall drive the car alone and unaided,” states article 20.1 of the FIA’s sporting regulations. Easier said than done given the technological advances made in recent years. To police and safeguard this sporting fundamental all teams participating in the 2008 championship must use the same FIA-specification Electronic Control Unit the Microsoft McLaren ECU for controlling their engine and gearbox.

No longer will drivers be able to floor the throttle out of a corner safe in the knowledge that traction control will kick in and prevent excessive wheelspin. And the fine art of bringing an 800bhp machine travelling at speeds in excess of 200mph down to just 40-50mph without over-cooking it will be lovingly restored in the absence of engine-braking systems (EBS). Weighing in at some 35% more than last years units and producing half the power, the new ECUs will cost drivers up to four tenths of a second per lap, according to Renault.

Towards the mechanical

Driver aids have been banned before of course but this is the first time that an attempt has been made to universalise the whole electronic package. Combine this with the freeze on engine development and the introduction of life-long gearboxes and you have a regulation change that attempts to bring about a broader culture shift in F1; away from the electronic and towards the mechanical.

No longer will teams be able to turn up at race weekends with pre-defined ‘software setups’ with traction control, engine-braking systems and other electronic gizmos all mapped and tailored to the unique characteristics of the track and even corners in question. This puts a much greater onus on the mechanical setup; getting the best out of the areodynamics, suspension, balance and other chassis elements.

As Fernando Alonso told Formula One’s official website: “You have to adapt the set-up of the car to compensate for the loss of all the systems. It will be down to the driver to adapt.”

This could hurt the rookies. Lewis Hamilton, who will no doubt excel without driver aids, could nevertheless suffer due to inexperience in the technical development of the car there were rumours last year that the Mclaren driver struggled in this area and was forced to copy team-mate Alonso’s set-up on several occasions.

An upshot of this broader design shift is a much bigger focus on aerodynamic efficiency, particularly at the front end of the car, as a means to maximise stability and traction under braking. BMW for instance have been experimenting with all sorts of front-end flaps and components in pre-season testing. The team have ended up reincarnating their banned tall wings as smaller ‘horns’ on top of the nose-cone. The rather ugly looking components make the air “spiral” across the car and help provide additional downforce.

And Renault have made the transition to a ‘zero-keel’ setup where the front suspension is mounted directly to the nose cone. With their previous ‘V-Keel’ design the suspension wishbones attached to a vertical v-shape plate underneath the nose section. This allowed for the wishbones’ optimal positioning: as low and as parallel with the ground as possible.

By getting rid of the vertical v-plate and moving to a zero-keel design the team have in theory sacrificed the ideal suspension set-up in favour of better aerodynamic efficiency under the car. In fact, Renault have got the best of both worlds. With a generally lower front nose section (see the comparison with Honda’s RA108) the team have been able to hold on to their almost horizontal wishbones without the aerodynamic inefficiencies caused by a v-flap. It’s a neat design and highlights the extra focus that aerodynamic gains like this are receiving under the new regulations.

Teams have also been investing heavily in CFD (Computation Fluid Dynamics) technology as a cheaper and more efficient alternative to the wind-tunnel.

Driver reaction

The reaction to the new electronic units in the paddock has generally been positive particularly amongst the ‘old guard’ for whom the memories of racing without electronic assistance are still fresh. The consensus so far is that it is the loss of engine-braking systems that will have the biggest impact.

“That [the loss of EBS] will affect the car on the entry to the corner, so I expect to see more locking up and more running wide on the entry to corners. That will affect the lap time more than traction control,” said the vastly experienced David Coulthard earlier in the year.

“I think the traction control, a lot is made of it, but in actual fact with or without it, that is what you do as a driver. You instinctively make a decision as to how much road you have available on the exit of a corner, whether you have TC or not.”

Indeed, the sport’s younger generations have been quick to adapt to the loss of traction control. According to Nico Rosberg the transition only takes a few laps: “You learn to live without traction control after seven laps – that’s no problem at all anymore in the dry. Unaided braking takes about eight laps.”

The German instead points to the race start as the main challenge under the new regulations. “Getting the perfect start is the hardest thing. It is completely different. Driver control is back in the game now.”

Meanwhile the BMW drivers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica have reported much greater driver responsibility for managing tyre wear as a result of the loss of driver aids.

The most outspoken driver against the new electronic units has been Toyota’s Jarno Trulli. At testing in Bahrain alongside Ferrari earlier in the year, Trulli hinted that some teams have found ways to simulate a ‘launch control’ system despite the ban on traction control.

“I m not going to name any names, but I think that some teams have already found a way to automate the starting procedure and reduce to the minimum the chance of spinning the wheels under acceleration,” Trulli was quoted as saying in Autosprint Magazine.

“I m not saying someone s cheating, even though we ve received some conflicting information at Toyota,” he added.

And in F1 Racing this month Mike Gascoyne, Force India’s chief technical officer, and his former Jordan colleague Gary Anderson warned that teams would inevitably find ways to implement driver aids through the back-door.

“Even with a mandatory ECU, there are ways a team can generate a form of traction control,” Anderson told the magazine.

“It wouldn’t be an out-and-out traction control, but they could find a way of reducing torque when its not needed, which would give the drivers a bigger working window, especially in the wet.”

The future of standard Electronic Control Units

So will new electronic devices last the distance? There is no doubt that the new units will spice things up and make for a better sporting spectacle. Whether or not they are here to stay depends on at least two key factors. Firstly there is the issue of policing and whether or not or perhaps how quickly teams are able to circumnavigate around the regulations and develop other forms of electronic control. Secondly there is the question over wet-weather driving. Major concerns over safety have been raised with drivers citing erratic behaviour of the more sensitive and ‘peakier’ V8’s in the wet without traction control. Expect the first wet race in 2008 to seal the fate of the Microsoft McLaren ECU.

Picture: With thanks to F1Technical.net

Honda recovery will take time

Money doesn t buy you happiness, nor does it buy you success as Honda have been quick to realise this season.

The arrival of former Ferrari Technical Director Ross Brawn to the struggling Brackley based team, along with a series of other high profile appointments, illustrates Honda s new found commitment to long term capacity building as well as continuing to throw money at research and development. But patience will also be required if Honda are to return to winning ways.

It has been a dismal season for the Anglo-Japanese team; the worst in Honda s modern history.

The team s 2007 challenger the RA107 was dogged by aerodynamic instability, consistently outshone by its 2006 predecessor and managed a sum total of six championship points, barely enough for 8th in the constructors championship. The result was a far cry from the success of 2006 in which Jenson Button scored his maiden victory at Hungary.

To make matters worse, the team s performance did little to promote or even justify the team s environmental message conveyed in the car s innovative ‘Earth livery.

I must shamefully admit to an element of satisfaction in seeing a team with one of the biggest budgets in the sport estimated to be just under $400m along with Mclaren and Toyota struggle so badly; especially when you look at teams such as Williams perform so well with only a third of Honda s budget.

I take great comfort in the knowledge that despite all the money that pours into and is generated by Formula One, success in the sport is by no means dependent on budget alone and this should add weight to any future cost-cutting proposals.

You would have to wonder if Honda have had a different view these last couple of years. Heavy investment in R&D has coincided with some very poor decisions surrounding key personnel.

The wind tunnel debarkle in the summer of 2006 was a case in point.

First came the appointment of Schuei Nakamoto as the team s Senior Technical Director. Nakamoto was a former project manager for Honda s motorcycle racing operations and later Race and Test Team Manager for Honda F1.

Geoff Willis, the team s previous technical lead and a chief architect of BAR Honda s turnaround and success in 2004, had effectively been sidelined. He eventually ended up leaving the team after it became clear that newly appointed chief aerodynamicist Mariano Alperin-Bruvera would oversee work at the team s new £30 wind tunnel a role Honda claimed had been set aside for Willis.

Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing but even the most casual of F1 followers would have expressed doubts about the decision to appoint over the head of the vastly more experienced Willis a man whose engineering background had predominantly been in motorcycle racing.

It seems to me that with the loss of Takuma Sato, the appointment was heavily motivated by a desire to promote Honda back in Japan. Team Principal Nick Fry had little say in the matter as did Jenson Button who went out of his way to back Willis.

Much of the RA107 s aerodynamic problems have since been attributed to these personnel changes though the team reportedly also had major problems getting the wind tunnel up and running.

Seeing the error of their ways Honda went on a massive recruitment drive in 2007. The team poached several high-profile aerodynamic specialists including ex-Williams chief aerodynamicist Loic Bigois, the replacement for Mariano Alperin-Bruvera who left for BMW-Sauber.

With one of the biggest budgets in the paddock and a strong set of staff headed up by Ross Brawn Honda are well poised for a recovery. But this will take time.

Ask anyone responsible for driving change in an organisation and he or she will tell you that it isn t the new flashy idea in itself that motivates progression but the way in which that idea is put into practice and becomes ingrained in the routine day-to-day practices.

Ross Brawn will have a limited influence on Honda s 2008 challenger. Indeed the recent testing in Jerez suggests Honda are still off the pace by a big margin.

His best bet would be to focus on the more mundane technical processes and systems something that Ferrari excelled at so that the design he does have control over has the maximum impact and can be properly tested and monitored. This is something Honda have suffered from badly with the team even admitting once to resorting to the traditional method of throwing parts on the car and seeing if it goes quicker.

The big question now for Honda and Jenson Button in particular is how much time they are prepared to give to the team s recovery.

Christopher Hayes

Colin Kolles – the new Paul Stoddard?

Spyker lodged an official complaint about the cars of the Super Aguri Team, after they jumped from back markers last season, to solid midfielders in Australia earlier today. However the Stewards at Albert Park dismissed the protest saying it was a commercial issue, not the responsibilty of the FIA.

Team Boss Colin Kolles will now seek arbitration, saying that the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri teams should not be eligible for World Championship points as their cars are not legal. Williams publicly backed this claim several weeks ago, but it is believed that this course of action is secretly backed by McLaren, Renault, Toyota, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone amongst others.

It is likely that it will take months until we see any conclusion to this story.

Traction Control

Traction control is slightly different on a Formula 1 car to that of an ordinary road car. A road car’s traction control is there to give stability under everyday use. In a Formula 1 car, traction control is there to help deliver the maximum amount of power to the road at all times. However the underlying principles behind traction control remain the same for both Formula 1 and road cars.

Even with the grip that a Formula 1 car has and as the huge aerodynamic downforces that are produced, the cars can still break traction and wheel spin because of the huge amounts of power they have. Formula 1 cars are more prone to wheelspin in corners because the loads are that much higher. Wheelspin is bad because it slows the car down and can flatspot or damage tyres. Traction control is employed to stop wheelspin and therefore improve performance. Traction control can also allow the traction at the rear of the car to be actively controlled by the drivetrain at any one time.

The tyres on a Formula 1 car only offer a given amount of grip. This can be longitudinal grip (‘straight’ grip, pointed in the way the car is facing – used in braking and accelerating) or lateral grip (‘sideways’ grip, used in cornering) or a combination of the two. The amount of lateral and longitudinal grip that a tyre can provide is a difficult thing to call for a racing driver. If he gets the call wrong, the car may go into a power slide. Whilst this looks good, it slows the car down. This is where traction control can help.

In a steady state corner, if a driver has oversteer and he lifts off, the oversteer may become worse. Traction control can predict how fast the throttle can be taken off without making the oversteer worse and will override the driver until it decides the car will be stable again under driver control. It can also sense and predict when the car is going into oversteer on its own and it will gently come off the throttle without any drive input.

Traction control has had a patchy history in Formula 1. It was introduced in the 1980s before being banned by the FIA. It was the reallowed in 2002 as it was becoming too difficult to tell whether the ECUs on the cars were not being used to copy and simulate traction control functions.

Traction control on a Formula 1 car compares the wheel and track speeds of the car. This information is gathered by a series of electronic sensors. If the wheels are travelling faster than the road it is going over, the engine will be throttled back to prevent wheelspin. This technique can be used in ‘launch control’ to allow the driver to get the best possible start however launch control techniques were banned in the 2004 season.

Traction control is a highly debated topic in Formula 1. Some people say that drivers should regulate the amount of power transferred to the car wheels. However if traction control was banned, it would be near-on impossible to police, therefore traction control as it stands remains legal in Formula 1.

V10 to V8 – was the rule change successful?

In 2006, the FIA introduced a new rule that the 3 litre V10 engines were out and the 2.4 litre V8 engines were in.

Formula 1 has become a much safer sport. Cars now sport a variety of safety features which allows modern racing drivers to walk away from horrific crashes which they would not have survived years earlier. The last time a driver died on the track was 1994.

Despite this, the FIA still believe that more can be done to increase the safety margins and help protect the drivers further. However this sometimes compromises the whole essence of Formula 1. Formula 1 is meant to be the pinnacle of racing, mixing speed with cutting-edge technology.

The first reason that the FIA introduced this rule was in the hope that the cars would be slower and hence safer. Early on, teams predicted losing as much as 2.5 seconds a lap with the new engines on-board. It also meant radical changes to the cars’ design to ensure they were getting the best performance possible. Gone was the tactic of putting down as much power as possible out of the corner; In was trying to carry as much speed as possible through the corner to dissipate the effects of the differences in torque between the V10 and the V8 engines.

This is not the first time that the FIA have imposed engine restrictions. Before 2000, engine configurations were largely left up to the teams. Engine capacity was always limited, but the number of cylinders was always a team choice. Honda were at one stage considering a V12 engine as it would have provided a lower centre of gravity and more revs. In the end, they stuck with the V10 saying these positives were outweighed by the poor torque characteristics and engine lengths. In 2000, the FIA announced that all teams had to use a V10 engine. Toyota had unfortunately been developing a new V12 engine and lost out with this announcement. They had to pay a £6 million penalty and create a whole new engine in just one season.

Downsizing engine configuration and capacity will obviously leave the car with less BHP and this will affect the maximum speed of the car, as well as the torque patterns and acceleration.

As it turns out, the teams’ predictions of losing about 2.5 seconds a lap were nearly spot on. In previous years, Formula 1 cars would be about one and a half seconds per lap faster than the year before through technological advances. . Between the 2005 and 2006 season, Formula 1 cars were just over a second down on lap times from the previous year. This shows that the estimate of 2.5 seconds loss was a pretty good guess.

Of course, this varies from track to track and in some cases such as Monaco, the cars were actually going faster. Monaco is seen as one of the most dangerous tracks – the track is narrow and there aren’t many run off areas. So this looks like it contradicts the FIA’s objective of creating a safer sport. Why were the cars at Monaco quicker this season? Because the cornering speeds were higher and there are a lot of tight corners at Monaco! Again, this contradicts the FIA’s main objective. Corners are generally more dangerous than straights because it’s where the majority of overtakes take place and if something is wrong with the car – maybe a flat tyre or part of the car is damaged – it is more likely that the car will go out of control and crash.

The second objective of the introduction rul change was to save money. Short term this has not worked. All the teams have had to spend money designing and developing a new engine, and then redesign their car around the engine performance. Long term, it will probably be cheaper as the V8 engines are cheaper to produce, however it may be a long while before the teams see the full positive monetary effects that this rule change was meant to usher in.

Overall, did the rule change work? The safety aspect: Yes, they slowed the cars down however they did not slow them down where in mattered the most – the corners. The money perspective: Costs may be down long term, but it’s impossible to say how much the change has affected the teams. The new engine homologation rule and the engine concessions will affect the engine costs far more than the introduction of the V8 engine did. The new rule also stifles the very soul of Formula 1 – innovation, particularly when they also ban innovations such as mass dampers and new style wings. Overall, I do not believe that the rule change was successful.

Oversteer and Understeer

Understeer and Oversteer

The forces exerted on the wheels by the weight of the vehicle are not distributed evenly. This means the slip angle for each tyre is different. The ratio between the slip angles on each tyre determine the way the car corners. If the ratio of front to rear slip angles is greater than 1:1 (ie the front tyres do not have as much grip as the rears), the car will tend to understeer. A ratio of less than 1:1 (ie the front tyres have more grip than the rears) will produce oversteer.

Understeer causes the car to go straighter than the trajectory that the driver is trying to take. This is sometimes known as pushing, plowing, or ‘refusing to turn in’. However, the car will be fairly stable as it is not wanting to spin. Understeer can appear under heavy acceleration and through heavy braking. If the brake balance is too heavy at the front (the front brakes are stronger than the rear), the car may understeer because the front wheels lock and lose effective steering. To counter understeer, more rear wing can be added to create more downforce at the back of the car, and the rear suspension softened.

Oversteer is when the rear wheels of a car do not track behind the front wheels. Instead, they tend to slide out towards the outside of the turn. This can easily cause a car to spin. In a race car, particularly open-wheeled cars, oversteering in high speed turns is caused mainly by aerodynamic configuration; A heavy aerodynamic load on the front of the car relative to the rear causes it to oversteer. In low turn speeds, oversteer can be reduced by traction control systems. To overcome oversteer, more front downforce is needed. This is usually achieved by changing the suspension settings.

Although understeer and oversteer can both cause a loss of control, many cars are designed to lean towards understeer as it is generally believed that it is easier to recover from understeer than it is from oversteer.

A car which neither understeers nor oversteers at it’s limit is known as a car with ‘neutral handling’. Race cars are often setup to slightly understeer as accelerating hard after the apex of a corner allows the car to get the maximum amount of speed down the following straight. The car that starts the acceleration soonest will usually have the biggest advantage, so slight understeer will help the driver to maximise the traction on the tyres and help them get a good exit out of the corner. An oversteering car also has a tendancy to be quite ‘twitchy’ meaning the driver is more likely to lose control during the course of a race.

Driving style is a massive factor in whether to setup a car to slightly understeer, or slightly oversteer. Some drivers prefer oversteer as they like to have a car which is more willing to turn into corners.  This is why drivers in the same team will often run with different balance settings and also why these settings may be changed during the course of a race.

The Gearbox

At Monaco, an F1 driver will make a gear change every 2 seconds on average.

The Gearbox is mounted at the back of the engine and is (usually) made of carbon-fibre. Its job is to transfer the power from the engine to the wheels in the most smooth and efficient manner possible. Modern F1 cars have done away with cables and manual clutches – cars are now fitted with electronic fly-by-wire devices; Gears are selected by paddles on the steering wheel. Electro-hydraulics perform the actual gear change meaning the driver can keep his foot firmly to the floor. Modern F1 clutches are made of carbon-fibre. They are less than 1cm in diameter and weigh less than 1kg.

In a race weekend, mechanics will replace every cog in the gearbox to reduce the chances of failure. The ratios of the gearbox are changed according to the track – how much acceleration and top-speeds the driver will need. Top gear (seventh) is adjusted first to make sure the car is approaching the rev limit at the end of the main straight. It is adjusted to slightly under the rev limit to allow for a revs increase for when the driver is in the slipstream of another car. The lowest gear will then be adjusted to give the best acceleration on the slowest corner of the track. The other gear ratios will then be adjusted to approximately equal intervals between first and seventh gear. This whole process takes about 40 minutes to complete.

During a race, the gearbox can feel temperatures of up to 100 degrees centigrade and it will see thousands of gear changes. It takes about 20 milliseconds for a gear change to happen and this is incredibly tough on the gearbox. This means it is really important to make sure there is enough oil in the gearbox and that it is working well. There will always be a trade-off between the efficiency of the oil (the lubrication) and the protection it gives the gearbox.

Hydraulics

Because of the huge forces exerted on an F1 car, it can be incredibly difficult to turn the wheel without any assistance. Hydraulics are used to help ease this. Hydraulics are also used in other elements of the car such as the fuel-filler cap and the gearshift. Hydraulics are used over electronic systems because they are lighter.

The point of hydraulic fluid is to create a link between two points. Fluid cannot be compressed, whereas air can be. This means that by having a tube filled with liquid (hydraulic fluid), you will get an instant response when you press a button or pedal. This makes system control quicker and more consistent. An F1 car can experience a range of temperatures. Because of this, the hydraulic fluid is made to ensure that it will operate safely at a range of temperatures.

Electronics

A modern F1 car has more than 1km of cables in it.

Modern F1 cars are packed with electronics systems which govern a huge range of features. The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) is the heart which controls various systems on the car to make sure they work to maximum effect. One of the things the ECU controls is the differential – this controls the rotational speed between the rear wheels on the entry and exit of corners. It also controls inlet trumpet height and fuel injection to help maintain maximum torque.

The ECU will also control the clutch and gearbox. The clutch is only ever controlled by the driver when starting a car from standstill (such as at the race-start). When changing up a gear, it lets the driver keep their foot flat to the floor; when changing down a gear, it will match the engine and transmission speeds to prevent driveline snatch.

Engine mappings can change from circuit to circuit, depending on the speed and twistiness of the track. In a circuit such as Monza, the driver will apply the throttle quickly out of chicanes so the accelerator will be adjusted so that a tiny amount of movement on the pedal results in greater acceleration. At a circuit such as Monaco, the system helps the driver to maintain greater throttle control by making the first half of pedal travel very sensitive, and the latter half of pedal travel to be less sensitive. This system gives the driver greater control through the twisty bends.

Almost every part of the car is measured during a race from the pit wall. There are two main types of telemetry – microwave and real-time. When a car passes the pitwall, a burst of data about 4MB big is sent to the team’s computers. When the car is in the pits, about 40 MB of data can be downloaded via a laptop plugged into the car. This type of telemetry is known as microwave telemetry and is important because it gives the engineers a good idea of how well the car is performing. When on the track, the car is constantly sending smaller pieces of information to the team, such as track position. This is known as real-time telemetry.