• Symonds: F1 needs independent regulator, teams too involved

    Williams F1 technical boss, Pat Symonds, may not be that jazzed about how Haas F1 has entered Formula 1 as a team but he is also a guy who speaks his mind and while you may not have agreed with his concern over Haas’s constructor model, you may find that you agree with his concern over team involvement in F1 decision making:

    “The way I explained this to some sponsors was that if this was football and you said: ‘Right, we need some new regulations – let’s ask the teams’. If you have a team with a really, really crap goalkeeper and you say ‘how wide should we make the goals?’, they will say, ‘Let’s make them [this narrow].’

    “You’ve got another team with an ace goalkeeper, they’re going to say ‘well let’s make them this wide’. Teams aren’t the people to ask. You ask what Formula 1 should do; well ask Formula 1 what they’re going to do.

    “If we had a solid direction, we, as the teams, would just follow it.”

    The point here is that each team is going to guard its own interests and this leads to gridlock and stalls in making the kinds of changes that most know need to be made. Max Mosley said this many times and with Max and Bernie Ecclestone at the helm, they made decisions regardless of the threat of a manufacturer leaving the sport or not.

    The FIA has seemingly changed under the rule of Jean Todt and his approach toward a democratic model in which everyone is involved and unanimous votes are needed to advance regulation changes is not something Symonds feels is working:

    “There is not a real body that is looking at it, an independent body that is looking at what’s required,” he explained.

    “But we shouldn’t just say that everything is wrong. This process of governance that we’ve had, while I’m saying we shouldn’t involve the teams so much, we have been doing it for, well, most of the time I’ve been involved in Formula 1.

    “It’s not necessarily dreadful. But as the sport becomes more professional, you get more and more polarised opinions.

    “There are some teams that have huge amounts of money, they want rules a certain way. There are other teams that barely exist, they want different rules. The stronger ones win.

    “If you had someone who wasn’t batting for one team, you might get something better.”

    The Motorsort article does point out an interesting thought in which Red Bull’s Christian Horner suggested the sport could use Ross Brawn as an independent to help lead F1 in the direction it should go.

    If you consider some F1 pundits believing that Jean Todt should ultimately focus on what he really wants which is road safety and UN membership, the FIA should hire an F1 czar who runs the sport leaving Todt to the glad-handing he cherishes. Maybe Horner is right, Brawn might be a perfect fit for that.

    Hat Tip: Motorsport


  • Lewis says what we’re all thinking (saying)

    Most, but not all of us, have been saying this for the better part of seven years now and it’s never taken root in the decision making in Formula 1 because, in my mind, of two reasons.

    Less aero which should beget less aero wake and more mechanical grip for more overtaking. At least that’s our consistent refrain. After all these years, the sport has not changed the levels we feel is needed to achieve this.

    With all deference to F1, they have reduced some aero but not enough because teams continually claw back much of the lost aero through crafty interpretation of the regulations.

    Reason One

    Aerodynamics is the least expensive way to claw serious time out of an F1 car. Sure, it’s expensive but not as expensive as other more radical means like an all-new hybrid engine development program or changing wheel size and drastically altering the entire chassis design. Before you heap scorn on me, I’ve spoken with a few key engineers in the sport who have told me this, I’m not making it up so it isn’t just my silly hunch here.

    Reason Two

    Teams know that big gains can be made through magical interpretation of the regulation via aero tricks when the FIA makes big changes to the technical regulations. They still recall 2009 when Brawn GP showed up with a dual diffuser and rubbed everyone’s nose in the dirt over a relatively inexpensive stroke of genius. They also don’t want to eliminate their current performance advantages or mothball their enormous wind tunnels they spent millions on.

    Reason Lewis

    Leave it to our friend Lewis Hamilton to say what other drivers won’t and certainly team boss won’t or can’t.

    “There’s been a lot of talk about the rules and whether the drivers should be more involved in decision making,” Hamilton said. “It’s not our job to come up with ideas and we all have different opinions anyway.

    “But personally, I think we need more mechanical grip and less aero wake coming off the back of the cars so we can get close and overtake. Give us five seconds’ worth of lap time from aero and nothing will change – we’ll just be driving faster.

    “I speak as somebody who loves this sport and loves racing. I don’t have all the answers – but I know that the changes we’re making won’t deliver better racing.”

    Good on him I say! It’s great Lewis has the brand equity at this stage in his career to call it out when it needs calling out.

    It’s not a popular opinion and I know this but it may be one of the biggest ways to get F1 back on track and fans reinvigorated again.

    We’ve done the hybrid sustainable thing and the gimmicky baubles like HD Tires and DRS so let’s try something different for the next 4 or 5 years. What do ya say? It couldn’t be any worse could it? On second thought, don’t answer that.

    Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1


  • BMW’s F1 ‘rocket fuel’ and aromatic hydrocarbons

    The story of BMW’s turbo ‘rocket fuel’ has long since passed into Formula 1 legend, but there’s a longer and deeper story here, involving the German war effort, some organic chemistry, and the history of oil refining techniques. But let’s begin with the legend, and the breakthrough which enabled the Brabham-BMW of Nelson Piquet to win the 1983 Drivers’ Championship:

    [BMW motorsport technical director, Paul] Rosche telephoned a contact at chemicals giant BASF and asked if a different fuel formulation might do the trick. After a little research, a fuel mix was unearthed that had been developed for Luftwaffe fighters during World War II, when Germany had been short of lead. Rosche asked for a 200-litre drum of the fuel for testing and, when it arrived, he took it straight to the dyno.

    “Suddenly the detonation was gone. We could increase the boost pressure, and the power, without problems. The maximum boost pressure we saw on the dyno was 5.6 bar absolute, at which the engine was developing more than 1400 horsepower. It was maybe 1420 or 1450 horsepower, we really don’t know because we couldn’t measure it — our dyno only went up to 1400.” (‘Generating the Power’, MotorsportMagazine, January 2001, p37).

    An aromatic hydrocarbon called toluene is commonly held to have been the magic compound in this fuel brew, but erstwhile Brabham chief mechanic Charlie Whiting goes further:

    “There were some interesting ingredients in it, and toluene has been mentioned. But it would have had far more exciting things in it, I think, than toluene. I suspect – well, I know – that it was something the BMW engineers had dug out of the cupboard from the Second World War. Almost literally rocket fuel,” (‘Poacher Turned Gamekeeper’, MotorsportMagazine, December 2013, p74).

    Before we delve into the chemistry of fuels, let’s establish some context here. The current F1 turbo engine regulations require detonation-resistant fuels with a high calorific value per unit mass. Detonation resistance enables one to increase the compression ratio, and thereby increase the work done on each piston-stroke, while the limits on total fuel mass and fuel mass-flow rate require fuel with a high energy content per unit mass.

    In contrast, in the 1980s the regulations required detonation-resistant fuels with a high calorific value per unit volume. From 1984, the amount of fuel permitted was limited, but the limitation was defined in terms of fuel volume rather than mass, hence fuel with a high mass-density became advantageous. By this time, the teams had already followed BMW’s lead and settled upon fuels with a high proportion of aromatic hydrocarbons.

    To understand the significance of this, we need to start with the fact that there are four types of hydrocarbon:

    (i) Paraffins (sometimes called alkanes)
    (ii) Naphthenes (sometimes called cycloalkanes)
    (iii) Aromatics (sometimes called arenes)
    (iv) Olefins (sometimes called alkenes)

    Methane, ethane and propane. Each larger disk represents a carbon atom; each white disk represents a hydrogen atom; and each black disk represents a covalent bond.

    Each hydrocarbon molecule contains hydrogen and carbon atoms, bound together by covalent bonds. The hydrocarbon types differ from each other by the number of bonds between adjacent atoms, and by the overall topology by which the atoms are connected together. So let’s briefly digress to consider the nature of covalent bonding.

    The electrons in an atom are stacked in so-called ‘shells’, each of which can contain a maximum number of members. The first shell can contain only two electrons, while the second can contain eight. If the outermost electron shell possessed by an atom is incomplete, then the atom will be disposed to interact or bond with other atoms.

    A neutral hydrogen atom has one electron, so its one and only shell needs one further electron to complete it. A neutral carbon atom has six electrons, two of which fill the lowermost shell, leaving only four in the next shell. Hence, another four electrons are required to complete the second shell of the carbon atom.

    In covalent bonding, an electron from one atom is shared with an adjacent atom, and the adjacent atom reciprocates by sharing one of its electrons. This sharing of electron pairs enables groups of atoms to complete their electron shells, and thereby reside in a more stable configuration. In particular, a carbon atom, lacking four electrons in its outermost shell, has a propensity to covalently bind with four other neighbours, while a hydrogen atom has a propensity to bind with just one neighbour. By this means, chains of hydrocarbons are built.

    Methane, for example, (see diagram above) consists of a single carbon atom, bound to four hydrogen atoms. The four shared electrons from the hydrogen atoms complete the outermost shell around the carbon atom, and each hydrogen atom has its one and only shell completed by virtue of sharing one of the carbon atom’s electrons.

    If there is a single covalent bond between each pair of carbon atoms, then the hydrocarbon is said to be saturated. In contrast, if there are more than one covalent bond between a pair carbon atoms, the molecule is said to be unsaturated.

    Saturated ethane in a state of unconcealed glee compared to the glum unsaturated ethylene, and the vexatious triple-bonded acetylene, (this and the above taken image from ‘BP – Our Industry’, 1958, p69).

    Now, to return to our classification scheme, paraffins are non-cyclic saturated chains, (there is a sub-type called iso-paraffins in which the chain contains branching points); naphthenes are cyclic saturated chains; aromatics are cyclic (semi-)unsaturated chains; and olefins are non-cyclic unsaturated chains, (with a sub-type of iso-olefins in which the chains have branching points).

    Aromatic compounds possess a higher carbon-to-hydrogen ratio than paraffinic compounds, and because the carbon atom is of greater mass than a hydrogen atom, this entails that aromatic compounds permit a greater mass density. This characteristic was perfect for the turbo engine regulations in the 1980s, and toluene was the most popular aromatic hydrocarbon which combined detonation-resistance and high mass density.

    To put toluene into context, we need to begin with the best-known aromatic hydrocarbon, benzene. This is a hexagonal ring of six carbon atoms, each one of which is bound to a single hydrogen atom. Toluene is a variant of this configuration in which one of those hydrogen atoms is replaced by a methyl group. The latter is one of the primary building blocks of hydrocarbon chemistry, a single carbon atom bound to three hydrogen atoms. The carbon atom in a methyl group naturally binds to another carbon atom, in this case one of the carbon atoms in the hexagonal ring. Hence toluene is also called methyl-benzene.

    Closely related to toluene is xylene, another variant of benzene, but one in which two of the hydrogen atoms are replaced by methyl groups. (Hence xylene is also called dimethyl-benzene). If the two methyl groups are bound to adjacent carbon atoms in the ring, the compound is dubbed o-xylene; if the docking sites of the two methyl groups are separated from each other by two steps, then the result is dubbed m-xylene; and if the docking sites are on opposite sides of the ring, the compound is called p-xylene.

    Most teams seem to have settled on the use of toluene and xylene. By mid-season 1987, for example, Honda “reached an 84% level of toluene,” (Ian Bamsey, McLaren Honda Turbo – A Technical Appraisal, p32).

    With respect to the Cosworth turbo used by Benetton in 1987, Pat Symonds recalls that “the problem was the engine had been developed around BP fuel, and we had a Mobil contract. Fuels then weren’t petrol, they were a chemical mix of benzene, toluene and xylene. We kept detonating pistons, and it wasn’t until mid-season that we got it right,” (Lunch with Pat Symonds, MotorsportMagazine, September 2012). In fact, Pat attests that the Cosworth fuel was an equal mix of benzene, toluene and xylene, (private communication).

    At Ferrari, AGIP later recalled that their toluene and xylene based fuel reached density values of up to 0.85, in some contrast with the paraffinic fuels of the subsequent normally-aspirated era, with density values of 0.71 or 0.73. “Given the ignition delays of heavy products, we had to add more volatile components that would facilitate that ignition,” (Luciano Nicastro, Head of R&D at AGIP Petroli, ‘Ferrari Formula 1 Annual 1990’, Enrico Benzing, p185).

    Renault, in contrast, claim to have used mesitylene, as Elf’s Jean-Claude Fayard explains:

    “We found a new family of hydrocarbons which…contained a strong proportion of mesitylene [trimethyl-benzene] and they had a boiling point of 150C, but with a combustion capability even higher than that of toluene,” (Alpine and Renault, Roy Smith, p142).

    Mesitylene is a variant of benzene in which three methyl groups are docked at equal intervals around the hexagonal carbon ring, (naturally, mesitylene is also called trimethyl-benzene).

    Now, the fact that Paul Rosche grabbed a barrel of aviation fuel used by the Luftwaffe is significant because German WWII aviation fuel differed substantially from that used by the allies. Faced with limited access to crude oil, and a poorly developed refining industry, the Germans developed war-time aviation fuels with a high aromatic content.

    Courtesy of the alkylation process, the original version of which was developed by BP in 1936, the allies could synthesise iso-octane from a reaction involving shorter-chain paraffins, such as iso-butane, and olefins such as butene or iso-butene. By definition, iso-octane has an octane rating of 100, defining the standard for detonation-resistance. Using 100-octane fuel synthesised by the alkylation process, the British were able to defeat the Luftwaffe in the 1940 Battle of Britain.

    In contrast, German aviation fuel was largely obtained from coal by applying hydrogenation processes. With limited capacity to produce paraffinic components, the initial B-4 grade of aviation fuel used by the Germans had an octane range of only 87-89, a level which itself was only obtained with the addition of the anti-detonation agent, Lead Tetra-Ethyl. A superior C-3 specification of aviation fuel was subsequently produced, with an octane rating of 95-97, but only by substantially increasing the proportion of aromatic hydrocarbons:

    “The B-4 grade…contained normally 10 to 15 percent volume aromatics, 45 percent volume naphthenes, and the remainder paraffins…The C-3 grade was a mixture of 10 to 15 percent volume of synthetic isoparaffins (alkylates and isooctanes)…[and] not more than 45 percent volume aromatics,” (US Navy, Technical Report No. 145-45. Manufacture of Aviation Gasoline in Germany, Composition and Specifications).

    The Germans, however, also included some interesting additives:

    “The Bf 109E-8’s DB601N engine used the GM-1 nitrous oxide injection system…Injected into the supercharger inlet, the gas provided additional oxygen for combustion at high altitude and acted as an anti-detonant, cooling the air-fuel mixture,” (‘The Decisive Duel: Spitfire vs 109’, David Isby).

    “Additional power came from water-methanol and nitrous-oxide injection,” (‘To Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-44‘, Stephen L.McFarland and Wesley Phillips, p58).

    At which point, one might recall Charlie Whiting’s suggestion that the 1983 BMW fuel brew “had far more exciting things in it” than toluene. This, despite regulations which explicitly stated that fuel should be 97% hydrocarbons, and should not contain “alcohols, nitrocompounds or other power boosting additives.” Still, there’s breaking the rules, and then there’s getting caught breaking the rules. Perhaps BMW were a little naughty in 1983, before settling down with an 80% toluene brew.

    The current turbo regulations, however, require a much lower aromatic content, stipulating the following maxima:

    Aromatics wt% 40
    Olefins wt% 17
    Total di-olefins wt% 1.0
    Total styrene and alkyl derivatives wt% 1.0

    Which entails, in a curious twist, that the current maximum aromatic content almost matches that of the C-3 aviation fuel developed in war-time Germany…


  • Ferrari, cheating, and pop-off valves

    The September 2015 issue of Motorsport Magazine contains an interesting interview with erstwhile McLaren and Ferrari engineer, Gordon Kimball. Together with some revealing anecdotes about Senna and Berger, Kimball also concedes the following:

    “In 1988 I was engineering Gerhard Berger in the F187/88C. That was the year McLaren dominated with Honda and Bernie did all he could to help us. It was the era of turbos and pop-off valves and we had a low-pressure passage that went past the pop-off valve and would pull it open, so we could run more boost. We kept pushing that further and further, waiting to get caught, but we never were. I guess Bernie wanted somebody to try to beat McLaren, so he helped us.”

    FISA Pop-off valve (drawing by Bent Sorenson, reproduced from ‘The Anatomy and Development of the Formula One Racing Car from 1975’, Sal Incandels, p200)

    Now, the first point to make here is that it is actually fairly well-known that engine manufacturers were flouting the pop-off valve regulations in the late 1980s. The pop-off valve was first introduced in 1987, when it was intended to restrict turbo boost pressure to 4.0 bar. The valve was supplied by the governing body, FISA, and attached to the plenum chamber, upstream of the inlet runners to each cylinder. A new design pop-off valve was then introduced for 1988, which was intended to restrict boost pressure to 2.5 bar.

    Ian Bamsey noted the following in his monumental 1988 work, The 1000bhp Grand Prix cars, “In 1987 some engines were coaxed to run at more than 4.0 bar. With a carefully located single pop off valve merely an irritating leak in a heavily boosted system as much as 4.4 bar could be felt in the manifold. The key was in the location of the valve. It was possible to position it over a venturi in the charge plumbing system. Air gained speed through the venturi losing pressure. Either side of the venturi the flow was correct and the pressure was higher,” (p29).

    In fact, there appears to have been at least two distinct methods of flouting the 4.0 bar limit. If one attached the pop-off valve over a venturi, then one could keep the valve closed (contra Kimball’s explanation) even if the effective boost pressure was greater than 4.0 bar. A second method simply involved inducting compressed air into the plenum chamber at a greater mass-flow rate than the open pop-off valve could vent it:

    “Turbo boost was theoretically restricted to four bar via popoff valves, but there was a way around this on self-contained V6s like the Honda. They required just one pop-off valve (as opposed to those like the Porsche and Ford which effectively ran as two separate three-cylinder units and so needed two pop-off valves) by overboosting, forcing the pop-off to open and then controlling it against boost. It meant 900bhp in races, 1050bhp in qualifying,” (Mark Hughes, Motorsport Magazine, January 2007, page 92).

    Indeed, the general suggestion at the time is that it was Honda, rather than Ferrari, which first identified these loophole(s). Bamsey makes this point in his superb 1990 work, McLaren Honda Turbo – A Technical Appraisal: “By mid-season [1987]…Ferrari is believed to have achieved levels of 4.1/4.2 bar through careful location of the pop off valve, a technique Honda is alleged to have pioneered,” (p92).

    The next question, however, concerns what happened in 1988, when the more stringent 2.5 bar limit was imposed, and a new design of pop-off valve was supplied to the teams. This valve (perhaps by deliberate design), was somewhat tardy in closing once it has been opened:

    “The new pop off opened in a different manner and once opened pressure tumbled to 2.0 bar and still the valve didn’t close properly…on overrun the effect of a shut throttle and a still spinning compressor (the turbine not instantly stopping, of course) could cause pressure in the plenum to overshoot 2.5 bar. In blowing the pop off open, that adversely affected the next acceleration…The answer to the problem was in the form of the so called XE2 [specification engine]…run by all four Honda cars in the San Marino Grand Prix.

    “The XE2 changed the throttle position, removing the separate butterfly for each inlet tract and instead putting a butterfly in each bank’s charge plumbing just ahead of the plenum inlet and thus ahead of the pop off,” (ibid 1990, p91-92).

    No questions of dubious legality there. However, Bamsey also explains that an XE3 version of the engine was developed by Honda, purportedly for exclusive use in the high-altitude conditions of Mexico City: “The Mexican air is thin – the pressure is around a quarter bar – so the turbine has to work harder. Back pressure [in the exhaust manifold] becomes a potential problem, affecting volumetric efficiency and hence torque. Power is a function of torque and engine speed: Honda sought higher revs to compensate. Thus the XE3 employed an 82mm bore size and it was apparently tuned for a higher peak power speed. It was a complete success and on occasion was tried for qualifying elsewhere thereafter (in particular, at Monza),” (ibid. 1990, p92).

    What’s interesting here is that the XE3 seems to have caused some scrutineering difficulties at Mexico. Road and Track magazine reported that there was “a claim that Honda had built vortex generators into its system – which would allow it to use more than 2.5 bar – and FISA scrutineers spent an unusual amount of time examining the McLarens in Mexico,” (Road and Track, volume 40, p85).

    Generating a vortex would offer an alternative means of keeping the pop-off valve closed. Even with a constant diameter pipe, the pressure could be lowered by transforming some of the pressure energy into the rotational energy of a vortex. One would presumably need an expanding section downstream to burst the vortex in a controlled manner, but it does offer a method of reducing the pressure without using a venturi. It’s intriguing to read that an engine ostensibly developed for high-altitude conditions was used in qualifying for the rest of the season…

    So perhaps it would be wrong to cast Ferrari here in their stereotypical role as regulatory bandits. Although Kimball does also suggest that their fuel-tanks carried somewhat more than the mandatory 150 litres of fuel when they won the Italian Grand Prix that year!