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6 Feb 2016
'Halo', Angelic or Fiendish?

The 'Halo' concept as first envisioned by Mercedes and animated by Giorgio Piola -

It seems that when the Strategy Group convene lots is discussed but very little ever sees the light of day.  However, following the news that the powerunit token system will be abolished in 2017 is that an agreement, at least in principle, was reached to include the 'Halo' head protection in the 2017 regulations.

The device, originally designed by Mercedes will polarise opinion, as aesthetically it does appear a little cumbersome and there are those that say it detracts from the sports 'open cockpit' history.  Progress should not come at the expense of safety though, with speeds set to rise once more as the sport undergoes another metamorphosis, it is the right time to act.  Is the halo the answer? Probably not but, it is the best solution currently available without making serious technical changes to the rest of the car, a sentiment echoed by seasoned racer Anthony Davidson when interviewed by Will Buxton.

I have several issues with the 'Halo' just as I do with any of the designs that are simply tact onto the current chassis'.  Firstly what happens in the event of a submarining accident like Carlos Sainz Jnr's in Russia last season?

The halo has to be removed before the driver can make his escape and if the car is lodged under a barrier, as Carlos' car was, it delays the time taken to extricate the driver.  Now all being well the halo would do its job under such circustances, protecting the drivers head but, we are adding a new variable to the mix.

Giorgio's animation shows the halo being tilted upward to allow access and although that's how I'd expect it to be used under normal entrance and exit procedures I'm sure several failsafe mechanisms can and should be employed, perhaps allowing the halo to tilt forward too and/or allow a pincer style action where it splits open and swings outward, rather than upward.  All of these actions will need to have their own failsafes in place too though, stopping the halo from inadervtantly deploying.

Perhaps the one that comes up the most when talk crops up about canopy protection is inversion.  What happens when the car is upside down? currently the driver, if required, in most circumstances could clamber out but the halo adds but another obstruction for them to deal with.

The latest such case of this was Sergio Perez clambering out of his VJM08 in Hungary.  It's difficult to ascertain how the marhsalls would have dealt with the situation had they needed to right the car to extract the Mexican.
Whilst the driver already has aerials and pitot stacks in his line of vision, these are further down the chassis and are almost tuned out, as the drivers depth perception forces him to look beyond them.  The central support for the halo frame is a different kettle of fish though, mounted on the cockpits rim it is much more substantial and will undoubetdly impede the drivers view.

The halo also represents a significant weight obstacle that must be overcome, especially as weight has been one of the major issues since the rule changes in 2014, with the drivers hauling around an extra 60kg's, as the minimum weight was increased to allow for the powerunits.  As it's relatively high up on the car it will also have an impact on the cars centre of gravity, which could lead to an interesting challenge for the teams and drivers.

The halo will also come with some interesting aero challenges which the teams will have to work around.  I've mocked up a very basic idea of what I mean above showing how I'd guess a CFD plot might look (Red is high pressure filtering to green at the trailing edge).  A question mark remains over whether the halo will be a standardised component like the side impact protection spars either side of the cockpit or be designed by each team.

I can just imagine the latter....
Reshaping of the halo itself, the addition of vortex generators and/or other trinkets (like the mirrors mounted to it), all in order that aero parity be restored or improved.  The usual box and surface curvation regulations might not be enough to hinder the teams from doing this sort of thing should they be given too much rope by the FIA.  Even if the teams are forced into a uniform design there will still be scope with which to take advantage of the halo's shape, with all of the surrounding components being reshaped to maximise performance.  Furthermore, expect to see some minimilistic but effect changes made to the shape and appendages on the drivers helmets too.

The halo may be aesthetically unappealing but it is the lesser of several evils with the FIA having conducted studies with numerous solutions over the years which has subsequently intensified since Jules fatal accident.  Whilst it is impossible to mitigate for every situation just imagine where we'd be without the development of crash structures, wheel tethers, hans devices and the like making the 'halo' just another element that is unloved but perhaps a necessary evil.

As the sport contemplates the shape of the car for 2017, perhaps it should set itself a task for the next major overhaul in 2020.  Just maybe, rather than offering self defeating platitudes the Strategy Group could think beyond their own egos and setup and fund and independant working group, tasked with designing a set of regulations for a new racer from the ground up, including pioneering safety initiatives.

EDIT 08/02/16

In an article from this morning it has been revealed that the teams will also investigate the option of including a transparent screen, albeit with 2017 providing too short a lead time to its implentation.
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4 Feb 2016
Renault RS16 launch

Renault's return to Formula One as a constructor is now complete, having purchased the ailing Lotus team that's worn their moniker before.  In recent days we've learnt of Maldonado's departure from the team with the Venezuelans financial backing drying up.  Numerous suitable candidates were inline for the spare drivers seat but the team decided upon McLaren outcast Kevin Magnussen.  The second-generation Dane brings useful and relevant experience, having completed the 2014 season with McLaren and qualified in Fernando Alonso's place in Australia 2015.  (A catastrophic engine failure left him on the side of the track on the way to the grid)

Partnering Kevin is 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer who was promoted to a race seat, having completed several free practice sessions in 2015 and performed the function of reserve driver.  Meanwhile, the team have moved Frédéric Vasseur into the team principal role.  The French man may not have F1 credentials but is well connected within the Motorsport industry, not only running the ART GP teams but he is involved in the Spark program that helped build the original Formula E cars.  Bob Bell makes a welcomed return to the Renault fold having spent the last few years milling around at Mercedes and more recently Manor, performing the Chief Technical Officers role.

Throughout its time in Formula One the team that will be called Renualt once more has achieved great things and the personnel that remain at the teams base in Enstone is undoubtedly talented.  However, the loss of key figures to rival teams in the last few seasons and ongoing financial issues have been crippling to the teams development.  Furthermore, the teams move from Renault powerunits in 2014 to Mercedes in 2015 didn't help them gain the momentum they craved. And, whilst it may have saved them money directly, indirectly it cost them time and money in redesigning the car to suit the PU106B's charateristics.

This is where the new challenger may also be compromised, a lack of budget and indecision over who would be powering the 2016 car has led to a protracted development phase.  The powerunit and its ancilleries form the fundamental basis of the cars layout and so the early designs were shaped around the development of the Mercedes powerunit.  Easy then, you might say, just revert to the 2014 design and work outward from there.  Now if only it were that simple but, lest we forget the E22 was asymmetric starting with the fork nose and moving all the way back down through the car, something that can no longer be done owing to the changes in the rules.  Furthemore, that's only the surface of the car, the internal configuration of the E22 and E23 were vastly different too.
Left - image copyright AMuS / Right - image copyright Race Tech Magazine
As we can see, the team went about packaging in a totally different way car-to-car, with the 2014 challenger featuring almost vertical cooler installations, whilst the 2015 challenger had a more conventional lent back installation.  Both are the teams best attempt to maximise the powerunits thermal potential, whilst minimising the aerodynamic impact, and as both powerunits have very different thermal targets the results cannot be easily correlated.

The 2015 campaign saw the team produce perhaps the least amount of large scale upgrades in Enstones history, with the team muddling along with essentially the same car for much of the year.  Again this was down to budget and not ingenuity, with the long mooted 'short nose' finally showing up at the last race in Abu Dhabi but wasn't raced.

So, most importantly what you'd like to know is what have learnt from Renault's launch of the RS16.  Well, I'm afraid not a huge deal more than we already knew.

The car displayed at the launch and in the images above is an E23 in drag, yes, they went to the effort of adding a small wastegate pipe alongside the main exhaust but aside from that and the paint job it's last years car.  Now I'm not expecting a revolutionary design from the team for 2016 but certain areas of the car are a given in terms of changing design.  The cooling parameters, as I've already discussed, will clearly be different, as the thermal output of the powerunits differ.  As such, I suspect we'll also see the team return to a conventional roll hoop / airbox layout, discontinuing the cumbersome tri inlet configuration used on the E23 and seen above.

We may not see it on the car straight out of the box but also expect the team to converge on the front wing design that others used during 2015, whereby the outer elements almost entirely serve the purpose of dealing with wheel wake.  Their design has been cutting its own path now for some time and at some point teams either innovate beyond the rest or join the club, I suspect Renault will do the latter.

2016 will provide the team with a springboard, with focus placed on restructuring the work flow and development structure based around a new company ethos.  I don't expect the team to be challenging at the sharp end and they'll more than likely struggle to make Q3.  The new tyre rules could be used to marginalise some of the pace deficits but the truth of the matter is they will struggle all round.  An under developed chassis paired to the under powered Renault powerunit will see the team looking down at 2017 with fondness, especially if the new rules get ratified, as it'll give them a blank sheet to work from.
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3 Feb 2016
Unfettered powerunit development from 2017?..

Cyril Abiteboul let it slip at the Renault launch that changes to the powerunit homologation process and token system have been agreed going forward.  (

For 2016 the parts that were locked out will be available to be changed once more, meaning any errors made in the early development phase can be remedied.  

The both exciting but also potentially risky development is that the manufacturers have seemingly agreed on the token system being removed from 2017 onwards.  From the outset this seems like great news for Renault and Honda, as it gives them the chance to catch up to Mercedes and Ferrari.

So, why the concern I hear you say.  Well firstly costs are going to spiral rapidly, which could see any advantage gained by Renault and Honda rapidly dissolved.  It'll be a bit of a yo-yo effect until such point that the gains become smaller and smaller for Mercedes and Ferrari, as they hold a larger funding pool than those chasing.  Even though an agreement has been put in place that ensures the none 'works' teams pay a maximum of €12m per season, meaning Mercedes & Ferrari recover €36m each, whilst Renault recover €12m and Honda nothing based on their current supply deals.   That's a substantial funding deficit Renault and Honda have to make up to promote their wares against the other two manufacturers..

The other issue I have with 'carte blanche' development is that it opens up even more possibilities for the 'works' teams to take advantage over the supplied teams.  Yes you still have the penalty system to keep them in check to some degree but, with 5 complete powerunits to play with it opens up some delicious technical implications that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Whilst the current allocation of powerunits are designed to remain largely unchanged (save the in-season token spending conducted in 2015 and will be spent in 2016).  However, think laterally, circuit characteristics dictate that the manufacturers have to make compromises in order that they extract the maximum performance over the 21 race calendar.  

Imagine though, that the six main components (ICE, Turbo, MGUH, MGUK, ES and CE) could be designed to maximize the different track configurations be it turbo trim, component layout etc, etc.  These changes could be implemented as the season unfolds and a driver simply selects the relevant specification based on the circuit rather than just a mileage plan/upgrade schedule as is currently the case.

It's something we used to see in the V8 era to a much smaller extent.  For example each team ran different exhausts, some teams even changing them race by race to suit the circuit demands.

I'm both excited by the potential of the news that Cyril extended to us today but also filled with trepidation over how this could be exploited.  One thing is for certain it'll be very messy and could cause just as much confusion as the outgoing token system.
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29 Jan 2016
Pirelli wet weather test from Paul Ricard (25-26/01/16)

A selection of the best images from the wet weather test conducted by Pirelli at Paul Ricard with the Ferrari SF15-T, Red Bull RB11 and McLaren MP4-30 courtesy of Sutton Images.

There is nothing of major interest and certainly nothing we haven't seen before but during the lull til testing I thought them worth posting in any case.  A small aside is that I notice that all three teams were using early 2015 specification front wings during the tests.

Day 1

Day 2

If that wasn't enough to whet your appetite McLaren race mechanic Giuseppe Marciante posted this video to twitter this morning too
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