BMW boss Mario Theissen has admitted that his team are already working on a new diffuser for their Formula One car in case the Court of Appeal finds the design legal next week.
BMW are one of a handful of F1 teams who have complained that the diffusers that Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams are running are illegal. Next week, the Court of Appeal will decide whether the diffusers are legal or not. BMW are taking no chances and in the case that the diffusers are declared legal, they will already have made significant headway on their own version.
So far, the diffusers look to be a critical part of F1 cars with two of the three teams running the technology looking to have a significant advantage Brawn GP have won in both Australia and Malaysia and Toyota are also running well. However should the diffusers be deemed illegal, it is possible that Jenson Button will be stripped of his race wins this season.
“Two of the three teams with a two-stage diffuser are clearly quicker,â€ Theissen explained to Reuters. “Brawn as number one and then Toyota.
“Everybody (is working on their own). We cannot sit back and wait until the Court of Appeal if held and we have a decision. We have to work on it and we are spending money on it.
“The sooner it is sorted out, the better. But you cannot expect to make up for such a big gap within a few weeks. And it is clear that the teams that have it already are developing their cars as well.â€
The row over the legality of the diffusers on the Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota cars is unlikely to be resolved before the FIA International Court of Appeal hearing on April 14 after the latest protest against the two floor design – this time from BMW Sauber – was rejected in Malaysia on Saturday.
Following protests from Renault, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari in Melbourne, BMW Sauber today lodged a fresh complaint to the stewards at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The protest was rejected by the stewards but BMW Sauber appealed against the decision to ensure that the results of the Malaysian Grand Prix are taken into account at the International Court of Appeal hearing after Easter.
“It was just a formal issue in order to make sure that this race is taken into consideration at the appeal, like Melbourne,” BMW boss Mario Theissen said. “There is nothing more than that.”
“It is in order to make it clear it is a formal thing and has nothing to do with what goes on on the weekend here. We just want to make sure that at the court of appeal they will decide on both events.”
Should those teams protesting against the diffuser ‘gang of three’ win their appeal it is possible they would call on the ICN to overturn the results of both the Australian and Malaysian grand prix.
Under pressure BMW Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld gave his chances of staying with the team for next year a further boost in Spa-Francorchamps after an impressive charge to the third step of the podium, courtesy of a well-timed switch to wet tyres.
The German driver, who has yet to have his contract renewed by BMW, impressed in qualifying on Saturday when he hoisted his F1.08 onto the third row of the grid.
For a moment it looked as though it would count for nothing though as he dropped to tenth place with a scrappy start. But after clawing his way back up to seventh thanks to a long first stint, the 31-year-old was poised to take full advantage of a switch to wet tyres as the rain fell with two laps remaining.
Closely followed by Fernando Alonso who also made the switch to wets, Heidfeld then blitzed the final laps, passing the Toro Rossos as well as his team-mate, to take his fifth podium of the year.
“I had a fantastic race weekend and I am very happy today,” revelled the German afterwards. “At the start I got off better than the guys in front of me. Then I decided to go for the outside line, but unfortunately Heikki Kovalainen crashed into my car.”
“This can happen, and I was lucky my car wasn’t damaged. Of course I lost a lot of places. Later on in the race I was able to get some back, but then I got stuck in traffic. When the drizzle set in I was convinced it would be heavier on the next lap and decided to change to wet weather tyres. The team asked me if I meant what I said.”
“When I left the pit lane after the stop I asked on the radio how many laps to go, and my engineer said this one and another one. As I couldn’t see any cars on the track I thought, oh this was probably the wrong decision, but then it paid off. It was a Hero or Zero decision.”
Robert Kubica, undoubtedly the star of 2008 with multiple podiums and a win in Canada, struggled with the handling of his BMW all weekend but managed to muster sixth place, despite staying out on the dry tyres in the final laps. But the Polish sensation was far from happy with the end result.
“I am not happy with the result, as today I had the chance to finish on the podium,” rued the Pole. “We had a problem during the second pit stop. I lost two or three positions and returned to the track behind Nick.”
“When it started raining he went into the pits to change tyres. I could not do the same as it would have cost too much time because I was directly behind Nick, so it would have meant us coming into the pits together.”
“Also I had no information about the weather as I had problems with my radio. We gave away points today. However, that’s racing.”
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen was just happy to see his cars finish after such a chaotic grand prix: “It was a turbulent race – both immediately after the start and during the final laps,” said the German. “Nick was involved in a collision in turn 1 after the turmoil at the start and, like Robert, lost some positions.”
“As a result, both cars dropped out of the points’ positions. After that the pit crew had problems connecting the nozzle during Robert’s second pit stop.”
“Finally we recovered from these problems. Nick, his race engineer and our strategists took the right decision two laps before the end of the race by changing to wet weather tyres. The team’s ninth podium and Robert’s sixth place scored us nine points. With five races to go the team has 105 points, four more than in the entire 2007 season.”
Technical director Willy Rampf added: “This was the most amazing race I have ever experienced. Up until two laps from the end everything was quite normal, but then things changed dramatically when it started raining. Nick radioed to the pits that he wanted to change tyres. He was the first driver to take this decision.”
“The pit crew reacted quickly, and from then on he was the fastest man on the track and made up many places. He finally finished third. For Robert things, unfortunately, went wrong during the second pit stop when we had a problem when refuelling, which cost him several positions. However, overall it was a very good result for our team. We scored another podium finish and a total of nine points today.”
BMW have explained that the KERS incident at Jerez testing last month, which saw a mechanic fall to the ground having received an electric shock from their new car, posed no real danger to either the mechanic or the driver, Christian Klien, despite the fact that high voltages were involved.
BMW have been investigating the incident and have said that Klien was protected from the electric shock by his racing overalls and gloves. The mechanic involved was taken to hospital after the event as a precaution, however he escaped serious injury.
Markus Duesmann, head of BMW s powertrain, answered questions over the incident:
What exactly happened in Jerez?
“The mechanic suffered an electric shock after touching the sidepod and steering wheel of the car. There was a high frequency AC voltage between these contact points, the cause of which has been traced back to the KERS control unit and a sporadic capacitive coupling* from the high-voltage network to the 12-volt network. The voltage ran through the wiring of the 12-volt network to the steering wheel and through the carbon chassis back to the control unit.”
Was there a serious danger to the mechanic and the driver?
“No, as only a small amount of energy can be transferred through this capacitive coupling effect. However, the energy is sufficient to cause an extremely painful reaction. The driver was insulated against the car by his racing overalls and gloves and therefore not in any danger.”
Why did the investigation take so long?
“It was not possible initially to reproduce the capacitive coupling effect in the car, as the problem was caused by a sporadic error in the control unit. Due to the extremely high frequency of the voltage in the steering wheel, the safety mechanisms and data recordings did not pick up on the error. In the absence of data, all the theoretical possibilities had to be systematically investigated and analysed in tests. Furthermore, the capacitive coupling effect only occurs under certain conditions. Without the option of driving the KERS test car used in Jerez again, we had to reconstruct these conditions. We also had to develop a model to be installed between the steering wheel and sidepod which replicated the characteristics of the human body as an electric transfer element.”
What measures are now being taken to solve the problem?
“In addition to the measures required to tackle the issue at hand, the extremely far-reaching analysis we conducted also gave rise to other recommendations which are of great value for the development of electric KERS systems. Among the measures arrived at are changes in the design of the control unit to avoid capacitive coupling effects, extended monitoring functions for high frequencies and a conductive connection of the chassis components to avoid any electric potential.”
What will happen with these findings now?
“We have already handed over this safety analysis, complete with measures and recommendations, to the FIA, and will also make our findings available to the other teams at the next meeting of the Technical Working Group.”
When will the next track test for KERS take place?
“We will resume the testing programme once all the necessary amendments to the safety concept have been implemented. We expect this to be the case in the autumn.”
*Note on capacitive coupling: this refers to an inadvertent transfer of electric voltage between two transfer media by inductive or capacitive coupling.
Team principal Mario Theissen has said that the system is currently undergoing a re-design however they will not run KERS at the next test at Monza on August 27-29.
“Certainly we will run it within one of the tests during the season,” said Theissen. “But definitely not the coming Monza test because that will be totally dedicated to the Monza race package.
“In our view the result is not just a step forward for KERS and F1, but also for future hybrid road cars,” said Theiseen of the diagnosis of the problem. “It’s installation and design related. In the course of the investigation we found not just the reasons for this specific incident, but also some other design principals you should respect when doing high-voltage systems.
“We ended up not just with a solution to the Jerez problem, but also a design guide to high-voltage systems which will be presented to the FIA and to the other teams in detail. We have offered to do a detailed presentation at the next Technical Working Group.”
BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica was another victim of the championship shake-up that the Hungaroring so callously through up today.
In growing signs that BMW Sauber are starting to fall out of touch in this year’s title race perhaps as a result of focussing on next year’s car both drivers suffered from a distinct lack of pace in today’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the cause of which BMW say they are investigating.
Kubica, who only a few races ago was leading the world championship after a string of podiums and a dazzling victory in Canada, managed to pull something out of the bag in qualifying he lined up in fourth place – but come the race, he, like team-mate Heidfeld, struggled with severe handling issues on his F1.08.
“This was a difficult race,” mulled the Pole after trailing home in eighth. “We were very slow and I was struggling with the overall grip of the car. I had massive oversteer and could not really push. I was trying hard to keep the car on the track. Anyway, one point is better than nothing.”
Nick Heidfeld’s race wasn’t much better, but the German managed to claw his way up to tenth thanks in part to an impressive start having started a disappointing fifteenth.
“My start wasn’t perfect but okay,” commented the 31-year-old. “As I had hoped, I was able to overtake three cars on the first lap. But later it became more difficult than expected to race with the heavy car.”
“We went for a one stop strategy, so my car was almost full of fuel at the start and I also had to take care of the tyres. I couldn’t match the pace of the cars in front of me. Now we have to analyse today’s lack of race pace. Normally this is one of our strengths!”
Indeed, BMW were left scratching their head after today’s performance. Team Boss Mario Theissen admitted the team would investigate the causes, but with the summer development freeze coming into place, it remains to be seen how much of a step forward the Hinwil and Munich team will take before Valencia.
“We were completely off the pace during the race,” bemoaned Theissen. “Neither driver was able to do the lap times we expected after the sessions on Friday and Saturday. It was the same on both tyre compounds.”
“The reason for that is currently not clear, but we shall analyse everything. Congratulations to Heikki Kovalainen for his maiden win in F1 and, of course, Timo Glock for his strong weekend, crowned by finishing second.”
Willy Rampf BMW Sauber’s Technical Director added: “Of course we are very disappointed with today’s performance. Now we need to analyse why we were not able to match our qualifying performance during the race.”
“We shall do this in the factories in Hinwil and Munich because, due to the testing break, we are not able to test before the next race in Valencia in three weeks.”