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I'm Matthew Somerfield, a freelance journalist focused on the technical elements of Formula One. It has been a pleasure to provide content via this site for the last 5 years, which has led me to several paid freelancing jobs along the way. I'm currently plying my trade with and working alongside the legend that is Giorgio Piola.

This has seen the content here diminish as a result and I'd like that to change. In order to accomplish this I need your financial support, as I need to break free of the shackles of doing this part time. If you like the content I've been producing and want more of it I'd ask that if you can spare some change each month it'd go a long way towards transforming this site into the technical behemoth I know it can be.

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9 Apr 2014

Formula One has yet to embrace the new era of racing it has found itself in and I have to question why?  The biggest problem as with anything associated with F1 is conveying it to the masses, unfortunately everyone has done a relatively poor job of this, thus far.

I'm contacted all the time on twitter with people saying that the FIA should simply scrap the fuel flow limit they imposed of 100kg/h or raise it.  But raise it to what? what is going to make a difference?  My question however is 'Why should it be raised?' we are two races (writing this before the start of the 3rd race) into a new season with the largest set of regulation changes in the sports history.  The technology being used is in its infancy and so therefore is the teams knowledge of how best to extract performance from it, this therefore suggests a knee jerk reaction from a crowd (Bernie, Montezemolo etc) that know little of how monumental Formula One's involvement in this technology is going to be.

An exchange of views between myself and Will Buxton on twitter today was the catalyst for this piece and so I'll try to take some of that exchange, along with comments from other twitter users and explain why the fuel flow limit is pivotal.

The fuel flow limit was placed in the regulations for several reasons with the most important being the amount of power that could be generated by the ICE/Turbo if the flow of fuel was un-restricted.  Imagine the fuel flow was un-restricted, as Will rightly pointed out in our conversation the regulations allow the ICE to rev to 15,000rpm but no-one is really revving much beyond 12,000rpm.  This is because of the fuel flow restriction, going beyond 12,500rpm leads to a flat power curve as you have no fuel left with which to extract power (sat on the 100kg/h limit).  So with no fuel flow restriction you could easily rev out to 15,000rpm but obviously by doing this you're ultimately inviting the teams the chance at more power and therefore an increase in top speed.  We've already noted that they are more than capable of attaining a higher top speed with the new cars than they did with the last set (09-13), and that's whilst they're still recovering some of the downforce they have lost.  Imagine if you will once they have recovered some of the downforce they have lost, the driver will pick up the throttle earlier and this speed could be increased further.

This is partly where the battle between the teams should commence over the next few seasons as they battle over aerodynamic efficiency.  I say this because I'm sure it would be relatively easy for the teams to garner some additional downforce if they wanted it, it would just come in the form of 'dirty' downforce, ie downforce that is inefficient and come at the expense of drag.  The reason they are looking to create more efficient cars is that the upshot will be better fuel economy and so you can see it's a Peter, robs Paul scenario.

The other problem with no fuel flow restriction in place is the speed disparity between cars on the circuit, as the drivers still only have 100kg's of fuel onboard with which to complete the race.  Imagine if you will, one driver on a concession of hot laps, pushing the envelope in order to get into the best strategy window to overtake his rival(s) at the next pitstop.  Meanwhile another driver trying to save fuel because they've either already done too many quick laps or are saving fuel for later in the race could be 5-10 seconds a lap slower than the hot lap driver.  It would be easy to see plenty of situations where a similar incident that happened to Mark Webber in Valencia 2010 could occur.

We were of course discussing the issue of the fuel flow restriction as it's the most current argument in F1 and is really a veil for the political characters in F1 to drive change that would see a narrowing of the field.  Bernie, Di Montezemolo, Horner, Remi Taffin (Renault) and many others have already alluded to the fact that in order to increase the noise made by the powerunits it would require more revs.  To do this the fuel flow restriction must be modified or removed, however what this really masks is their intention to hand Ferrari and Renault powered teams a lifeline.  Mercedes have no doubt made a better fist of every corner of their powerunit when compared to Ferrari and Renault (rather than suggesting it's as simple as the split turbo concept like SkyF1 did this weekend).  However where they're far superior is the way in which the MGU's work alongside the ICE to supplement power supply.  If the fuel flow restriction was modified this advantage would be lost as the preference to utilse the ERS would be lessened.  I will look at the differences between the 3 powerunit suppliers next week but for the time being I would suggest that Mercedes have done an excellent job in understanding that the key flaw in EV technology (the batteries) can be mitigated with the transfer of energy between the two MGU's.

I explain this in my latest video (see the sidebar) but the largest challenge that faces electric vehicle technology is the storage of energy (a flaw that is plain to see in the FIA's Formula E, but this is best saved for another blog post).  The reason is efficiency, with around 20% of the energy harvested, lost in the transfer from AC to DC to be stored in the ES with the loss coming at the expense of heat.  However if you are able to transfer the energy directly from either MGU to power the other the loss is minimal and has more to do with voltage fluctuations.  This in my opinion is where Mercedes have bested their rivals and is clear to see with how balanced the cars running Mercedes power seem when compared to the rest.  (I have more on this topic but feel it better covered with the piece later in the week)


  1. You're not going to have fuel flow / usage problems when 10% of the race is under a safety car.

  2. After this 3rd race I'd say that the racing is actually very tight with the exception of the factory Merc and that the FiA would be advised to leave well enough alone.

  3. Fans don't seem to realise that if you increase the maximum flow the current leaders (who have proven to have the greater thermodynamic efficiency) get rich and the poor gets poorer. Obviously it WILL lead to fuel saving though the amount of recoverable energy should be higher too. Anyway its not a solution that should be leaped at. One can imagine that it will led to a significant decrease in overtaking: everyone would be saving fuel till the last 10 laps and then turning up the flow. Perhaps RBR can suggest a trial on the last double points race in Brazil? Just joking.

  4. The summation I have found on this is that the 100kg fuel they are allowed for the race ensures that the engines produced are fuel efficient. The fuel flow limit of 100kg/hr is to ensure that they are used efficiently by the teams.

    Just doing one or the other is not good enough for Formula 1 to innovate a change in road car development. In road cars MPG is not a fixed value, as a carefully driven V8 brute can achieve a better range than a poorly driven hybrid.

    I really hope the spectacular Bahrain GP shows just what Formula 1 can achieve given time for the rules to bed in. The future of road cars need these rules and the time to develop the technology.

  5. Group C was based on restricted fuel. The world did not fall of its axis when the drivers had to fuel save.

  6. My one disappointment with that Bahrain race was that it was like watching an opera with your fingers in your ears; some of the best visuals I've ever seen in F1 betrayed by the soundtrack.

    Funnily enough it was a Ferrari pit stop which did it for me - they should NOT sound like that, exiting the pits. I think I'll put a 2004 race on my hifi whilst watching China.

  7. To me the main problem with the sound is that you can't hear the cars coming even with skysports turning up the volume. I don't know whether that's because of the new engines or the layout of the exhausts. I'm willing to give up the sound for the new PU tough. I think the traditional engine wasn't relevant to the auto-industry since most cars have either a turbo or an electrical component to help efficiency.

    Letting go of the fuel-flow regulation would make the cars slower in the exiting bits and faster in the boring bits. Because they're going to save fuel in corner-combinations and push on the full-throttle bits of the track.

  8. After reading this article I realized the reasoning for the flow limit. I thought RBR was winning about the inaccuracy and unreliability of how the flow is measured. Getting rid of the limit was a simple way to avoid the measurements problems. Or are the problems just an excuse to get rid of the flow limit?

    Matt, do the RBR complains have merit? Or are they just loser's crying?

    1. I think Red Bull's case stands alone as they simply to recoup the points loss they've already had whilst showing their disdain for the new regulations. Their problem is that Newey detests (K)ERS...

  9. I don't think the problem is the fuel flow, i think that the limit is fine (indeed i can see it getting tighter in the future), I think that problem is the limitations placed on the amout of recovery energy that can be used is too tight for MGU(K) the "33.33 seconds" needs to be raised or lifted completely to make it more relevant for road engines, if that is the FIA's intention.

    I think that the other limitation is the homologation rules are too tight on the engine manufacturers for this year to push the technology, particularly given the lack of pre-season testing, and also the weight limits on the Batteries. Battery technology is not that advanced and these limitations need to be lifted to improve development of energy storage; if they can get them more power dense and efficient, then this will only improve the technology transfer to the public as we would all benefit from better batteries, or at the very least then it will at least make them lighter meaning that drivers might be able to start maintaining a safe and healthy weight again!

    1. Hi Lee

      I'd have to disagree and ask the teams to do a better job, the 33.33 seconds of energy use per lap is incorrect and being proliferated by the media that don't understand the energy flow diagram.

      The MGU-K can use 4MJ from the energy store per lap, which if used at the maximum rate of 120kw (160bhp ish) would last 33.33 seconds. However the driver isn't using 120kw all the time as the energy is dispensed at a rate firstly set on the steering wheel but then linearly by the amount of pedal accelerator travel. So let's say at 4000rpm they're only using 40kw at 6000rpm 80kw, so on and so forth, this means that 4MJ of energy suddenly becomes much more than 33.33 seconds of power ;)

      Furthermore the K can only harvest 2MJ of energy per lap and store it leaving a shortfall of 2MJ for the H to harvest and store in the battery.

      On top of this the two units can actually send energy to one another without limit and this is more or less free energy. By that I mean the losses are negligible. What losses? I hear you say. When energy is recovered it's done so in AC (Alternating Current) but in order to be stored it must be converted to DC (Direct Current) and the opposite when used from the ES.

      Have a watch/listen to my video in the sidebar as it explains the energy transfer and when/where the energy is being stored or used direct. The most important development in this field for me is how electricity can be shared between the H&K as this makes the battery (ES) redundant.

    2. Matt,

      thanks for the clarificaton of the MGU-K, I agree that the mainstream media have been reporting this badly, hence my miss-understanding. That said, any limitations currently placed on these technologies surely is a disadvantage to encouraging the teams to develop them to their fullest extent?

      I disagree with you on the redundancy of the ES, any electro-mechanical system requires some form of ES to ensure a contiuous and smooth supply of electrical energy due to the natural peaks and troughs in the mechanical driven electric supply. This doesn't have to be batteries in the traditional sense, but could include high performance capacitors or other as yet undiscovered forms of energy store.

      (p.s. i will watch you video when i get home as youtube is blocked from work so i can't watch it in my lunch break!)

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