Q&A with the FIAs Charlie Whiting 25 Jun 2011
In what the Formula One press corps hopes will become a regular occurrence, FIA race director Charlie Whiting gave another of his media briefings at the Valencia Street Circuit on Friday, explaining F1s governing bodys position on many of the hot topics of the moment. Here are the edited highlights
Engine map change restrictions
Q: Simply put, what are teams now banned from doing under parc ferme conditions?
Charlie Whiting: The teams are not allowed to make any changes with a computer that they plug in. The drivers are still allowed to change things from the steering wheel [however] the single ECU only supports fine adjustments from the steering wheel.
In very general terms, anything that can be done from the wheel is OK; anything they need to connect a computer for is not.
We are on the verge of issuing a note to the teams to give them a list of things that they can change when they connect their computers but that will be a very limited list.
Q: What will happen if the weather conditions change between qualifying and the race?
CW: We will allow certain changes to be made for ambient conditions. Normally, we only announce a change of climatic conditions if one [session] is dry and one is wet, but we have indicated to the teams that if there is a change in ambient temperature of more than 10¡C between qualifying and the race, we would allow them to compensate for that. But that's all.
Q: What is the goal of implementing this change?
CW: A team can't have a base map in the ECU that is only good for a few laps. If you want to use it, you have to use it for the whole race.
There isn't anything to prevent [a team] from exploiting the use of their exhaust gasses - providing those exhaust gasses are there for the genuine reason of engine combustion.
Q: Will this affect every team equally, or will some suffer a greater penalty?
CW: It is not for us to say whether or not one team will be penalised more than another. If depends how extreme they're going [with their previous map]. I've certainly seen evidence of maps from a number of teams that are extremely' extreme. And it's not confined to one team.
Q: Why do you want to see this stopped?
CW: Because it's illegal.
Q: How big an effect will this have on qualifying lap times?
CW: It isn't something that we concern ourselves with and it's impossible for us to quantify it. However, during discussions I've heard that the most extreme maps may give you half a second a lap, but that would vary from car to car.
Q: Why will the off-throttle blown diffusers be banned from Silverstone onwards?
CW: We know exhaust gasses have an influence on the aerodynamic performance of the car and we accept that. The point is that a design should not attempt to use the exhaust for a completely different reason [aerodynamics as a primary, rather than a secondary effect].
Q: What are the new operating conditions with regard to throttle-opening and spark?
CW: We only want to target this one specific issue - what we think is illegal use of maps for aero reasons. We don't want to influence the perfectly legitimate systems on the car - engine braking for example. We're happy for them to use that, but we want to be sure it isn't being abused.
We're saying that if a driver comes off the throttle - zero pedal - then the throttles have got to be [maximum] 10 per cent open at 12,000rpm and [maximum] 20 per cent open at 18,000rpm.
One engine manufacturer is asking for a little bit more - for what appear to be genuine reasons. We have the ability to go back on this particular point, to look at 2009 maps, when [teams] did not have in place the exhausts that they have now. If they needed 28 per cent throttle in order to achieve 0Nm at 18,000rpm back then, then that would appear to be a perfectly reasonable request.
The engines haven't changed: they are homologated engines and identical to the ones we have used from 2007 onwards.
Similarly, we will look at any extreme use of ignition. We will know what the team used to do with regard to fuelling and ignition. If we see a clear imbalance then I think we will suspect it is being done for different reasons [other than delivering torque]. We haven't put clear limits, we haven't put plus or minus 20¡, for example, for a given torque demand. We have just said the set up that you use for fuelling and ignition must be normal for the demanded torque. We are looking for anything abnormal. I think that's the best we can do for the moment.
Q: Does that mean there will not be blanket limits across all makes of engine?
CW: A lot of it depends on engine architecture. For example, we have to be very careful not to disadvantage barrel throttles versus butterfly throttles, because they have a distinctly different way of working. In answer to the question, if it's clear that in 2009 one engine with a butterfly throttle only needed 15 per cent [at zero pedal] but another engine using a barrel throttle needed 20 per cent, we could make a distinction. We don't want to put a figure across the board which will affect one team in a different way to another.
Q: Why will this ban appear at Silverstone? Why not earlier?
CW: Our argument is that there is a strong case to suggest they [blown diffusers] are illegal. Ultimately, the stewards will decide.
We have not had protests yet. I think we got close to a protest in Monaco. I gave the team in question an assurance that we were going to follow this through; we weren't going to give it up. On that basis we haven't had any protests yet, though I have always emphasised to the teams that this option is open to them.
I think everyone is doing the same thing, to some degree, so I think we need to be sensible about this and approach it in a pragmatic way to get the situation under control.
Q: There is a perception that decisions like this are political rather than technical, and damage the image of F1. What is your opinion?
CW: I'm aware of some stories being written, but to be frank with you, I know it's not a political decision. I know it's purely a technical intervention on our side and I feel perfectly comfortable with that.
Q: In recent years both the F-Duct and the double diffuser have been banned, but not until the end of the season. Would it not be simpler to allow the current technology to stay in place until the end of this year?
CW: No, because the double diffuser and the F-Duct were legal. [In those cases] during the course of the season the teams got together with us and we decided they weren't good for F1 and weren't needed, so we wrote laws to outlaw them. But they complied with the rules, which is why they were allowed to stay until the end of the season. They were completely different to the situation we have now.
Safety cars and race stoppages
Q: Regarding the Canadian Grand Prix: the safety car starts, safety car periods and the red flag, did everything operate as you wished it to there?
CW: The decisions that needed to be taken weren't particularly hard. When it rained it was quite clear we needed to stop the race.
I think there are two things we've learned from suspending a race this year. One is we need to discuss with the teams whether or not working on cars should be allowed and whether a change of tyres should be allowed during a [race] suspension.
Also - and I never would have thought it - we maybe need to think about a maximum time for the race. At the moment, as you know, the time for any suspension is added onto the two hours [maximum race time], that's why we ran for four hours and four minutes. We're going to discuss that with the teams.
I think the procedures worked perfectly well. Unfortunately, quite a few spectators left. I don't know what happened with television broadcasts, that must have been quite difficult for TV companies, to know when to cut to something else and how long it was going to be. It would be nice to have been able to say during the suspension how long it might be, but it was almost impossible to say, because apart from knowing when the rain was likely to stop there was the problem of clearing up water on the track, which was quite serious. I think the guys that did hang around got a good show.
Q: How do you decide between a racing start and a safety car start?
CW: We look at what the likelihood of bad visibility is. That's the main thing. We have to make a call as to whether we think visibility is acceptable or not. [In Canada] we didn't think it was. I think the conditions were quite bad and when we actually got the race underway it was on the limit for visibility. My personal view is that this was the right decision.
I know we can all go back 25 years and remember worse conditions but I think we are expected to do things slightly differently these days. As far as the race resumption is concerned, I think we did eight laps behind the safety car. It's always going to be a judgement call and we have to make that judgement but I think it's better to err on the side of safety. I maintain that it was the right decision to start the race with the safety car. I'm not expecting everyone to agree.
Q: Are you looking again at the rule that would put lapped cars to the back of the field to allow the leaders to race cleanly at the front?
CW: Yes, it's on the agenda. We've attempted this before, as you know, but the procedure then was a bit complicated. I think there are simpler ways of doing it and we've discussed a few, but we haven't been able to agree on anything.
I agree that when the restart comes you don't want lapped cars there as it dilutes the field.
Q: Do you take into account what the drivers are saying on the radio when making these decisions?
CW: We listen to all the drivers' conversations [and consider] a selection of opinions from drivers' whose opinions we think count. We also take account of what position they're in.
In Canada, we were listening and you get the odd driver, usually the same one or two, who say c'mon let's go, let's go', and then there are others who say it's not ready yet. We usually take their advice. It's very worthwhile listening to the drivers.
A good example of that was in Korea last year, where it was getting dark towards the end of the race. We were listening to the top six drivers, only two of whom were complaining. One of those two, his rear tyres had completely gone, so he had another reason for wanting the race stopped.
Q: What was your feeling about the double-DRS zone in Canada. Did it work, are we likely to see it feature again in the races after Valencia?
CW: I don't think it worked in Canada. We weren't really expecting it to. It was more an experiment, as the second section was too short. One of the things that has emerged from it is that, if a driver passes in the first sector he's then able to use the wing again in the second. We were aware of this, of course, but we've had a chat with the drivers about this and the general feeling is that we shouldn't allow the driver to use it for a second time if he has passed in the first sector.
It isn't a trivial matter to get that to happen automatically, so we're still discussing it. We are going to try to use two sectors more but I think we do need to address this point.
Q: Are you looking at having two detection zones in the future? Are there technological problems with doing this?
CW: If we had two detection points we would need two notification points and two activation points. It doubles the chance of something going wrong, and we have had a few problems because it all relies on loops and beacons beside the track. That's the only thing I'm a little wary of.
[The idea of] having two zones emerged in discussions after Australia, where the first straight wasn't quite long enough. Obviously in Canada the first activation zone was sufficient and the second one was really a bit of a bonus. I don't think it worked out as intended. I think it could work here [in Valencia] because we have two decent-sized zones.
But yes, in answer to the question, we could do it with two of each but it doubles the amount of work and it double the chance of something going wrong.
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