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.
How fast do you want these things going in a straightline @willbuxton? They could rev out to 15k if they wanted now but no extra power
— Matt Somerfield (@SomersF1) April 6, 2014
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)