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16 Jul 2019
Somers Column - change is on the way, but do we need it?

Just a few races ago there were complaints from fans and media alike that Formula One was broken, despairing at a single race due to a lack of activity. However, the two races that have followed have been barnstormers and it would appear that the modern short attention span and knee jerk reactionary crowd have been silenced, well, at least for the time being.

The important question here though, is Formula One broken? And my overwhelming response is no, nor is it in drastic need of a rethink, which is where we’re heading in 2021. So, in this article I’m going to propose some other, more metered solutions to the issues we currently face. 

First off I have no doubt that FOM’s working group, headed by Ross Brawn and tasked with improving racing is doing some exemplary work. Afterall it’s been suggested that where a driver currently loses around 50% of their downforce when trailing in the wake of another car they have reduced this to approximately 10% and increased the trailing distance it’s achieved within. 

Based on some of the recent racing activity I do have reservations regarding the entire prospect of the overhaul though, as whilst it sounds great to have cars that can follow one another so closely the DNA of the sport is likely in danger owing to the changes too. The mooted changes take F1 perilously towards a spec series, with not only areas of the car heavily restricted, but certain ‘none performance enhancing’ components becoming a unified design element. Now whilst casual viewers of the sport can’t identify components from one team to another I not only make a living from doing so but find it intriguing as to how ten separate teams can come up with components that although share characteristics are not identical.

Engineering is the lifeblood of this sport, as whilst people tune in to watch the race on a Sunday afternoon and cheer on their favourite gladiator it’s often decisions and manufacturing made away from the track that ultimately decide the running order. Mercedes are a prime example of this, a team that is so unified over its various engineering disciplines that it has triumphed for 5 seasons in a row and is all but an implosion going to do so again for another. FOM’s decision to dilute this from 2021 onwards, for me at least, is a turn off and frankly may be seen as one by some of those that actually compete at this highest of levels.

Afterall, the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren to a lesser extent use Formula One as a moving advertising billboard that shows the entire world how great their engineering excellence is and why you should be buying one of their cars, rather than a rivals. Lessening the engineering aspect of the sport could be a turn off and certainly one less reason to put their own funding into the project.

As you can tell I’m not convinced what’s being proposed will fix Formula One’s ills, as I thoroughly expect Mercedes to do another 2014 and throw an enormous amount of money at the new rules before the proposed budget cap comes into play, thus giving them a buffer to the other teams in the opening phase and allowing them to pull clear as the others hunt around for the performance that’s locked into the then W12.

Talking of budget caps I firmly believe that if such a device is going to work and reduce the gap to the midfield that the mooted sums must be far less than is on the table at the moment. At 175m with concessions for driver wages, advertising and costs associated with engines it's still far too much and well out of reach of many of the smaller teams. To be decisive that figure needs to be closer to 125m, with some hefty scrutiny placed on the expenditure associated with the concessions too, as it’s far too easy to have some flexible accounting to enable costs to grow.

This would be my first gambit, rather than introduce an all-new car that will require a floor up redesign for everyone and an opportunity for some to get it right and others to get it extremely wrong. We don’t want or need a topsy turvy shuffle, we need things to plateau to a point where everyone is racing in close proximity.

Talking of close proximity, let’s talk Max Verstappen and Charles LeClerc… the racing between those two has been pretty tasty in recent races, up there with the sort of midfield battling we’ve gotten used to in the last decade or so. So, what’s wrong with the current aero regulations if lap after lap we get that kind of action? Of course there is still work to be done in order to improve what we have, with some of the current freedoms taken away in order to make the cars less predictable but to say that it’s broken is laughable. Have you ever gone back and watched what many consider to be F1’s glory years? Trust me there aren’t any, there are snippets, small moments that define those years but not wheel-to-wheel racing action week in, week out.

So, the Somers Formula (or tweaks) would be as follows and would hopefully make for a much more exciting racing (note I talk about racing, racing ie, wheel-to-wheel action is not necessarily about overtaking!)

Ditch powered steering or reduce its effectiveness dramatically - for those that want to see the drivers work harder this is a must, as it means they have to put more effort into rotating the car
Reduce areas of critical downforce development - Since the giant downforce leap forward in 2017 certain areas of the car have become critical to producing downforce, with the bargeboards and edge of the floor areas within the regulations that require some tidying up. 

The development of these structures have been identified as the designers as the low-hanging fruit, easy to cherry pick as there is freedom in what can be done. The easiest way to reduce their effectiveness is to reduce the box area in which the bargeboards can exist, lower the lip on the leading edge of the floor, making it more difficult to force air underneath and reduce the area on the outer portion of the floor that can be used to create fully enclosed within - a hangup from the way the regulations were transferred from 16>17.

These are changes that will make the car a little more squirrelly, at least until the teams identify ways to recover the lost downforce, at which point you make some further detail changes, perhaps to the size of the diffuser or height of the rear wing in order that their interaction is metered.

The length of the car is also problematic to me, as it’s not only aesthetically woeful - as the length/width ratio is messed up, making the car look less aggressive, it’s also making the cars more aerodynamically stable. One major bug-bear I have with the regulation change in 2017 was the swept front wing, as this increased the nose box by 350mm a dimension that subsequently crept up by a further 25mm, making the cars longer by default. I’m not sure that it actually improves the look of the cars either and whilst it improves safety in the process it also increases weight in front of the axle meaning that has to be compensated for at the rear.

Formula One teams has for years been pushing the envelope to save weight here and sought ever more complex structures to do so, so of course I expect that the more well funded teams have been able to overcome this obstacle in ways that the smaller teams have not, especially as there has been a shift toward more complex nose structures that assist from an aerodynamic perspective.

The black art of tyres is one that requires innumerable articles but it’s quite clear to me that the switch to three compound choices has been a disaster for Pirelli, as it makes life easier for the quicker teams when it comes to one-stop races, especially as the hard tyre is even more performance oriented this year. I’d propose a switch back to the two compound scenario with a larger gap in performance between the two compounds available at each race, that way it forces their hand - really struggle on pace to make a one stop work or go flat out for a multi stop strategy.

The lack of variance in race strategy is also driven by other factors, the most obvious being fuel load, as whilst the regulations have seen the maximum fuel load increased to 110kg to account for the increase in drag it’s still not enough to create divisional thinking and allow the drivers to push throughout the race*. Jean Todt has recently proffered a return to refueling in 2021, worth a cursory glance in its own right but not one that will likely lead to a great deal of strategy variance in my opinion. Instead I’d take away the maximum fuel load criteria and allow the teams to choose how they go racing.

Whilst this potentially means heavier cars at the start of a race it also means they’ll be forced into more tyre stops and we’d have a variance up and down the grid as each team choose a way to go racing that suits their car/direction, much like we had in the V8 era.

I’d also make some changes to the fuel flow restrictions and ERS model too whilst I’m at it, giving the drivers more tools when they require and forcing them to recover more energy at less critical phases in the race. Still at 100kg/h, I’d suggest upping the fuel flow limit in order that the engine can make more peak power, whilst the MGUK is surely at a stage that allows us to push beyond the current 120kw (approx 160bhp) to something a little more potent for when battle ensues.

I’ve also made my feelings about DRS heard in the past but in short the current format for me is somewhat contrived. I want both drivers, both the lead and chasing driver, to have tools at their disposal to fight and my suggestion would be to have a set number of uses per race, deploy them how you see fit but once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Anyway I’ve banged on enough, for me I’m struggling to see the rationale for full blown change other than Liberty stamping their mark on the sport, for me it’s just easier to fix what we have, rather than the risk of another runaway Red Bull or Mercedes. I think this is where the teams are at too and why it’s taking so long to sign off on what appears to be a diluted version of FOM’s original vision.

*In fact the teams will always slightly under fuel the car for a given circuit and do some management throughout a race as fuel is just extra weight that must be carried, which results in a time loss.

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15 Jul 2019
'Trumpet's race report - NYC EPrix race 2 - The title decider

Ambient 32C Track 38C Humidity 47% Wind 8 kph

The duel: di Grassi, Vergne, P11 and P12 in a fight for the championship while Techeetah led Audi by 24 points with Lotterer starting P20 and Abt P6. Could be tight, especially if there is the same kind of carnage as Round 12 saw.
Buemi nabbed P2 off the line thanks to starting on the clean side of the grid with Vandoorne into P5. Lopez spun into T6 and getting back in tagged Lotterer who was trying to get by. Great start by Lotterer who was up to P14 before the damage from Lopez, then dropped to P16 after. Vergne was all over the back of di Grassi so close that and into the hairpin he was forced to swing wide to avoid tagging the back of the Audi.

The following lap both Vandoorne and Frijns chose to engage attack mode and the gaps at the front were well under a second. Frijns had a serious go Buemi but Sebastian was able to successfully defend as Lotterer was into the pits and then a Safety Car was called for Lopez who had stopped at T7.

On replay Lopez was first tipped by Lotterer and then Lopez drove into Lotterer trying to regain the track. Broken left rear suspension for Lopez, and lotterer was out, but a lap down. It was clear the drivers had learned nothing from the previous days shenanigans.

Still under the Safety Car, Lynn, who had served his drive through penalty was back out and attached to the back of the pack, a nice break for one who was so cruelly served by the race gods. Restart on lap 5 and Sims was really off before Buemi could react. Sims nabbed attack mode on his way through T5 and was nearly a full second up on Buemi.

Vandoorne, meanwhile, had managed to snatch a spot from Sam Bird and was up to P4 and he, too had grabbed a handful of attack mode. bird responded the following lap be going for his second attack mode, which was needed as he was now under serious threat from Oliver Rowland behind.

Frijns then sold Buemi a dummy into T1 and slid through huge clouds of dust offline at the start of lap 8, somehow getting his Envision Virgin stopped and led the way through the first complex, P2 secured and off in search of Sims in the lead.
Bird, feeling frisky as well, chucked one up the inside of Vandoorne and relieved the HWA driver of P5, setting his sights on Buemi ahead as the team had clearly got something figured out overnight.

The championship battle, by contrast, consisted primarily of Vergne and di Grassi staying quite chilly through the opening stages of the race, with di Grassi just using his first attack mode to get round Paffett for P9. Vergne followed suit and it was status quo in that fight. At the front, though, Oliver Rowland felt no such compunctions and put a ruthless move on Vandoorne, taking P5 away from him.

Another fight was raging as well, as Evans was trying to get by Abt, who shut the door hard and then a lap later, snuck up the inside and put Vandoorne another spot down. Determined to stop the bleeding, he put a robust block on Evans, who tried his best to get round but was forced to concede to the unyielding logic of an approaching wall.

22 minutes to go and 15 laps in the books and Frijns was finally cutting seriously into Sims'lead. Into T1 they went and again Frijns went to the beach, chucking up clouds of sand as Sims tried too late to shut the door. Off he went in search of ultimate glory and he was rapidly a second ahead of the BMW Andretti driver. This left Bird tracking down Buemi, looking for a double podium to salvage a little pride for the Envision Virgin team which had started strong but had been plagued by ill luck and the odd rash decision.

The Lopez and Lotterer tango was officially announced as being investigated, but given they were both out of the race, not much in it. Evans was on a tear in the meantime, and with just under 14 minutes to go he took P6 away from Oliver Rowland, which put his 2nd place in the championship officially into jeapordy as just 3 points had separated di Grassi and Evans at the start of the race.

Responding, di Grassi used his fanboost to steal aplace from Vandoorne. Carrying on, he then did the same to Rowland, minus the fanboost and it was P7 for the Brasilian, with Vergne still in P10 and less than 10 minutes left to go. Realising that time was short, Vergne activated his attack mode and was off to have a go at Vandoorne. Buemi had a go at Sims and that caused him to get very out of shape, opening the door for Bird who pounced. Buemi was able to wrestle the car back from the brink and was able to defend, but the team were well pleased with the way things were going.

7 minutes to go, 28 laps in the books and Bird was told that Buemi was getting agitated on the radio while further back, Vergne had made his way past Bnadoorne and was in the process of lining up Rowland. Yellow flag for Gunther T6 was about to monkey wrench the field but he was able to clear the way before they got back round.

Evans on Abt was the fight on track with Abt defending ably but Evans not about to give him any quarter. Under 4 minutes to go and Massa had a lunge up the inside of the hairpin, on Turvey, resulting in the inevitable contact, of the non-race ending variety.

1 minute to go and Frijns began to ratchet it down in hopes of running one less lap. Vergne had decided to hold station behind Rowland, sensibly and as the clock ran to 0:00 the next lap was to be the last of the season. Frijns 4 seconds up the road easily sailed through the final lap and crossed the line while OOOOH, not to be outdone for spectacular sendoffs, di Grassi, trying to go up the inside of Evans, wound up locking wheels instead and the pair of them roasted the hoardings all the way down to the runoff for T11. di Grassi got the worst of it, with Evans able to cross the line in 14th while Lucas was stranded in the runoff, sealing the championship for both Vergne and Techeetah.
For Vergne it was back-to-back championships, and for Techeetah it was a redemption after last years bitter loss in the teams championship. On replay, the action between Evans and di Grassi looked clearer, with di Grassi, after tagging Evans on the way into the the hairpin, tried to sell a dummy on the outside with Evans already heading that direction. Evans cut back to the inside, but di Grassi had already cut back and was already there, and they touched wheels and it was all over.

Evans was dinged with a 10 second stop and go which was converted to a time penalty and he was dropped to P17, that being the end of that. But he paid a higher price in the championship, as with the win Frijns elevated himself to 4th overall by a single point, a result he'll likely not soon forget.

The other participant in that kefuffle, di Grassi also managed to cost himself a place in the championship, thought that would've been a done deal regardless as he would've needed to get by not only Evans, but Abt and Bird, highly unlikely on the final lap....

Quick shout to Gary Paffett finishing in the points after a season of remarkably bad luck and to Alexander Sims as well, his first podium in Formula E and well deserved after a strong season.

Perhaps the biggest winners on the day, though, were Envision Virgin whose haul of points, 37, in the final round was enough to move them past Nissan e.Dams and up into 3rd overall in the teams championship. Never dull, apparently, this little race in New York and with Porsche and Mercedes joining the championship next season, there will definitely be some fun to be had with the driver market over the summer but it's worth remembering that new teams, regardless of how well prepared they are, tend to take a season or so to really get their feet under them.

Editors notes - Lastly, a big thanks to Matt for providing his insight and coverage for the site this weekend
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'Trumpets' qualifying notebook - NYC EPrix race 2

Ambient 32C Track 42C Humidity 54% Wind 4 kph

Group 1 - Vergne, di Grassi, Evans, Buemi, da Costa

da Costa led the way followed by Vergne, di Grassi, Buemi and Evans last. After the outlaps it was Buemi, once again fastest, but for the moment just in the least favorite of qualifying groups according to the drivers. Evans was next closest, taking advantage of his last place position to finish within 0.06 seconds of Sebastian. di Grassi outpointed Vergne by a mere 0.023 seconds but he was mre than a quarter second back of Evans so another midfield start was looking likely for the pair and da Costa, apparently less concerned about start position after yesterdays race, finished at the bottom thanks to his role as cleaning the track. Interestingly, on the way in, Vergne kept swerving well offline, kicking up huge clouds of dust, though whether that was to annoy di Grassi, spoil the line for Group 2 or just to test the surface before the race was impossible to say...

Group 2 - Lotterer, Abt, Frijns, Bird, d'Ambrosio

Lotterer and Abt were out first to do a warm up lap, but by time they got round to the business end of their circuit they were both on the edge of making the start line before the checquers fell. Lotterer nailed the line by just 3 seconds and it was Bird, then Frijns then Lotterer all taking the fastest first sector. Neatly arranged first Bird then Frijns then finally Abt took P1 and it was a disaster for Lotterer, who finished dead last, losing huge chunks of time in the second and third sector, a 1:10:699 vs a 1:09:902 for Abt at the top of the sheets after the completion of the first two groups.

Group 3 - Rowland, Wehrlein, Mortara, Massa, Sims, Vandoorne

Rowland was the leader in group three, tracked closely by Sims who looked as if he wanted to get past and there was almost a coming together down the starting straight as Rowland swung back toward the wall as Sims was trying to go round the outside....

Mortara was first up on his hotlap and the car was decidedly sketchy under braking, the rear looking to go first left, then right at the first hard braking zone. Behind, Sims was going quicker than anyone with Vandoorne there or thereabouts. Massa, off to a wretched start was well off the pace even before a mistake into T6 ended his efforts, leaving him parked sideways in the runoff area.

Sims completed his run and went to the top and Vandoorne, confirming his form in the first sector, finished P2. This dropped both di Grassi and Evans out of superpole and left Buemi sitting on the bubble, with the very speedy Alex Lynn coming up in the last group.

Group 4 - Gunther, Lynn, Paffett, Turvey, Lopez, Dillman

Massive controversy as Gary Paffett, on a fast lap clearly capable of ousting Buemi from superpole, was balked by a loitering Dillman, clearly unaware that the fast moving HWA was heading straight toward his rear wheels. Easily costing him half a second just from having to slow to avoid a collision that sealed the fate for the Buemi, confirming him in superpole as Lynn, the other driver considered capable of mounting a superpole drive, had a mistake in his first sector that put him out of contention. Even at that, Paffett was quickest of the session, going P9 overall, with Lopez behind then Dillman, Gunther and Lynn, already tagged with a 20 spot penalty for his change of motor after yesterday's failure....

Superpole - Buemi, Bird, Frijns, Abt, Vandoorne, Sims

Buemi was first off the line, good first sector, as he without a prep lap times tend toward the slower. Neat around the hairpin, carrying good momentum through T11 and across the line with a 1:09:729 a high bar to clear for the remaining competitors.

Bird was next to go, slightly up after the first sector and then a huge lockup into T9 and again into T10, losing a quarter second and even with a fastest final sector he was unable to undo the damage, going P2 a tenth slower than Beumi as his teammate was getting ready to take his turn.

A bit slower through the first sector, Frijns was much neater through T9, still trailing by a tenth. A clean exit from T11 saw him able to carry momentum to the end, despite swiping the wall on the way into T13 and he was just able to clear Buemi, by 0.017 seconds, ending the championship possibilities for the Nissan e.Dams driver as without the points for pole position he was mathematically eliminated from winning.

Abt was next up, and having lost a quarter second through the first two sectors, he lost another tenth and half through the final sector, slotting P4 behind Bird. On replay, you could see he clouted a kerb that unsettled the rear and that cost him dearly.

Vandoorne, who was quite rapid in his group qualifying, continued the trend going up by 0.001 seconds. It began to slip away in the second sector, going down by a quarter second and he was third fastest in the final sector, leaving him P4 with just Sims to go.

Sims was clearly in a big mood, practically drifting it round T14 as he crossed the line and banged it down over the start line to begin his hot lap. Up a tenth through sector 1 he was down to half a tenth margin with the third sector looming large. The BMW Andretti driver gave it everything he had, and as he crossed the line he was a decisive, if not very large, 0.095 seconds up on Frijns taking pole position and moving Buemi down to P3, not as much of a disadvantage given how dirty the offline grid slots were.....

Further down, di Grassi and Vergne, locked in their own private duel, would be starting side by side, P11 and P12 respectively and Abt's performance also put a great deal of pressure on Techeetah, with Lotterer starting P20 versus Abt in P6 and just 24 points in between them...

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14 Jul 2019
'Trumpet's race review NYC EPrix

Matt dissects an absolute chaotic race on the streets of New York city...

Ambient 31C Track 38C Humidity 57% Wind 4 kph

Good start by Buemi and great start by Lynn. Lots of bumping through the first 3 turns. Sims was first to make the big move on the 2nd lap, a punishing maneuver that wound up dropping Wehrlein down to P5. No sooner had that taken place then some kind of utter catastrophe had put Lotterer into the wall heading into T5, with carnage all round. Vergne, too was caught up in the mess and after extricating himself was into the pits with damage to the front of the car, bodywork waving wildly in the wind. Lotterer was in worse shape but he still managed to drag the smoking carcass of his car around the track and to the pits, bodywork dragging heavily on the tyres and billowing out their protest.

Di Grassi was in P14 and now looking to advance and take advantage of the championship leader's misfortunes. A replay of the previous lap's catastrophe showed that heading into T5 Bird tagged Lopez who looked to be trying to get round Gunther and then it was an accordion behind, with Vergne tagging the car ahead of him and then getting whacked from Lotterer behind, who wound up being just about turned around by Di Grassi when Lucas tapped him from behind.

Whilst that madness unfolded, Alex Lynn was busy consolidating his hold on 2nd, but with Buemi running a conservative race, likely to keep a careful watch on battery temps and energy, the interval between the top 4 was just under a second each.

36 minutes to go and Lynn was first to tag the attack mode, forcing Buemi to respond the following lap. Still, Lynn was loitering around half a second off the lead and still setting purple sectors as lapped traffic hove into view. Further back, Di Grassi had worked his way up to P11 and was now chasing Frijns for P10, a position he handily took into T10 with 31 minutes left in the race.

Bit of bump drafting into T10 as Lynn urged Buemi forward at one of the best overtaking spots on the circuit. 10 second penalty for Bird was announced, causing a collision, and then it was Lynn, making his move through the first complex of turns, before Buemi ably snatched the position back on the long straight to T6. Massa and Paffett had a bit of a tangle into T10 and it was Massa coming off better and Paffett dropping back to P15.

Frijns meanwhile was suffering and the decision was made to retire him. 22 minutes to go and Lynn was all over the diffuser of Buemi and as they rounded T5 Sims, just behind picked up attack mode. As Lynn defended from Sims, suddenly he pulled over, a momentary loss of power, but then reaccelerated. It was but a brief remission as seconds later, Lynn pulled over, day done.

Sims used the remainder of his attack mode to close down the gap to Buemi and Sam Bird, still with a 10 second penalty, had moved himself up to P4, with a nifty pass on Wehrlein. Behind, Da Costa and Evans had also sensed a weakness with the Mahindra and had followed suit, bringing Wehrlein down to P7, with Gunther, having a good drive for Dragon behind.

Safety Car at 19 minutes, called to remove the stricken Jaguar with a restart at 16 minutes. Buemi had a torrid restart with Sims all over him as he failed to create any gap whatsoever. As Sims hung outside Buemi, Abt, on a run tried to come alongside and as the rolled into the turn the by now iconic sound of crunching diffuser was clearly audible. But the next duel was between Evans and Abt with a savage move into T10 crunching the Audi driver and down the field he went, to P9 before he recovered his footing.

Another savage move, farther back, was Turvey taking on Paffet and just basically driving into the side of him in T10, not the most artful of things but effective, even if it was only for P16. Evans was next up to make a fantastic move up into P2 past Sims, avenging his lost comrade.

A big smash with Mortara trying to send one up the inside on T10 promoted Vergne to P12 and with 7 minutes to go it was another place. Di Grassi under investigation as Buemi continued to weave his defensive spell at the front, with Evans, now past Sims, lingering about a second back. The next lap he was another second off and Da Costa was all over him, with likely battery or energy issues making his life very difficult. Vergne nabbed his second attack mode and was up to P9.

2 minutes to go and it was Evans saying the balance had gone and as he defended from Sims, he set up Di Grassi to have a go at Bird, up to P5, not a bad haul from a P14 start. Last lap and then it was Vergne, stealin all the focus as he and Massa, who had passed him for P9, had a terminal disagreement into T1 and created a bottlenck, costing him 3 points as Di Grassi finished P5 and Buemi, who was on 76 points at the start of the race, was now holding 104 points to Vergne's 130.

In replay, it was Massa on the outside around T2 as Vergne made a move, shutting the door into T3 and putting Vergne into the wall and spinning himself. D'ambrosio, behind the both of them, drove directly over them moster truck style to carry on with his race.

With Evans P2 the championship was down to 108 DIG and 105 EVA while on the team side, just 24 points separated Techeetah from Audi for the team championship. And a huge win for Buemi, the first for Nissan this season and coming at the best of times for them in their first season as partners for the e.Dams team. But at the top, nothing was going to change and it was Buemi, Evans and Da Costa, in that order, taking it to the podium before they did it all again tomorrow.

Matt's report has probably got you hyped to see the whole thing but here's the highlights
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