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!


Cars Of The FA Cup Stars

The FA Cup semi-finals 2015 to be played this weekend will by no means be the most thrilling stage of this year’s competition. Current holders Arsenal take on Championship side Reading in the first match (Saturday, 18th April) before Liverpool face a rejuvenated, but still relegation-threatened, Aston Villa in Sunday’s tie.

The bookies are (naturally) expecting an Arsenal vs Liverpool final, which would fall on May 30th – the birthday of retiring captain Steven Gerrard. However, despite Tim Sherwood’s claims that the FA Cup is “unimportant” compared to top flight survival, he would surely like to crown a first season at Villa Park with silverware.

The good news is however that the semi-finals will boast a lot of players with excellent taste in cars. For this article, where we examine the supercars of footballing millionaires, we are indebted to Liverpool for knocking out Blackburn Rovers in their 6th round replay; as this article would be somewhat shorter had they progressed instead!

Arsenal – Ferrari 458

The Ferrari 458 seems to have become the “team car” of Gunners players, with at least three known to own one including Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. The 448 Speciale has a top speed of 202 MPH and will achieve 0-60 in 3.0 seconds – enough to even leave the notoriously pacy Walcott gobsmacked!

What’s more, the 458 is simply a beautiful machine; its bodywork so sculpted and aerodynamically perfect you might worry about being sliced by the car’s wake if it passed too quickly.

While we can’t understand why seemingly the entire Arsenal 1st team squad would plump for the same supercar, we concede they’ve made a fine choice.

Gabby Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) – Lamborghini Gallardo

The 458 may scream style, but the Gallardo puts out an altogether different vibe – raw power. Lamborghini’s best ever selling car will hit 100km/h in 3.6 seconds and look damn fine whilst doing so.

All footballers everywhere: Range Rover Sport

Many decry the Range Rover as an obnoxious accessory owned by crass vulgarians. I happen to disagree. For one, what car do you own if you’re excessively rich but incapable of controlling a supercar – step up the Range Rover. Also, you’d feel a lot more comfortable navigating hordes of paparazzi if your vehicle were built like a light battle tank.

Glen Johnson (Liverpool) – Aston Martin DB9

The DB9 is understated British excellence wrapped up in a beautifully sleek cocoon. The perfect car then for Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson whose excellent performances for club and country are overlooked more often than not.

Honourable mention: Mark Wright (Liverpool) – Volkswagen Passat Estate

The era of “mega money” football may have started with the Sky TV deal in 2002, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking footballers were poorly off before then. In the early 1990s the Anfield parking ground would fill with Porsches, Mercedes and Land Rovers – with the addition of a particularly ugly estate car.

Some assumed the beaten up Volkswagen Passat belonged to a cleaner, but it was actually the property of Liverpool defender Mark Wright, who treasured it for years.

Though envy is a natural reaction to the incredible lives footballers lead, Wright gains a lot of kudos for showing you don’t need to splash the cash to be taken seriously!

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Luca di Montezemolo calls for Knights of the Round Table

Going on the back of our previous article, Ferrari-plays-down-switch-to-lemans  Ferrari issued a more in-depth statement about the actions it is taking to change the direction of the sport.

“Ferrari has had Formula One coursing through its veins for over half a century and that’s why it has decided to make a move to turn the sport away from the wrong turn it appears to have taken,” the statement read. “The Maranello marque has decided to do this through the means of a formal act, which is a concrete proposal, in the form of a letter from its President Luca di Montezemolo to the Formula One rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone and to Donald McKenzie, the president of the company that owns Formula One [CVC Capital].

“It is not an ultimatum, nor a threat, but a proposal to call together all the key players in the sport to sit down around a table and come up with new ideas that will see Formula One continue to set the benchmark in motorsport, on level terms with global events such as the Olympics and the football World Cup. The President wants to see a collective brainstorming from the group to act for the good of Formula One. Contributions from all areas are of value; teams, sponsors, promoters and media, so that the key values of Formula One can be reestablished. President Montezemolo would also like to see other high-end players invited, those who are currently not involved or only partially so; new media, social networks and colossi such as Google and Apple.

“Formula One has to be based on technical innovation, research and development, but this must all be done with sustainable costs and above all, must be moved forward as part of a product that can put on a show. Because it is the show that draws in the commercial partners, the sponsors and, above all, the fans, who are the real end users of the Formula One product. Finding the right mix of these ingredients will be vital for the sustainability and the future success of our much-loved sport.”

Ferrari have struggled all season with its current packaged and are falling back every race to the front runners Mercedes.


Then and Now – Season Opening Races

As the first four fly-away races have now

finished and we have a short break before the European leg of the season

starts, I thought it would be an opportune moment to examine how the new

regulations have changed the racing when compared to the previous rules

(2009-2013).  Three of the first four tracks have been consistent through the period from 2009 to 2014, with

Bahrain changing to a longer layout in 2010 and missing 2011 altogether before

returning in 2012.

If we look at what should be an indication

of the outright speed of these cars, the pole position time, we get these






































Unfortunately, rain has affected three of the first four qualifying sessions this year, with only Bahrain being dry.  Rain also impacted Malaysia in 2010 and 2013.  As stated above, the time for Bahrain in 2010 can be ignored as the circuit layout was longer for that year only.  From 2009 to 2011 the cars got steadily faster, before the change in 2012 (to ‘ban’ exhaust blown diffusers) which slowed them down.  In Australia 2013 Saturday was so wet that Q2 and Q3 were postponed until Sunday morning, so the lack of rubber on the track may account for the pole time being slower than 2012, while the other dry races had faster times than 2012.  Looking at Bahrain qualifying, the current generation of cars are only 0.8 seconds slower in ultimate pace than last years.  This is a much smaller drop in absolute pace than was seen in 2012 when the cars were about 1.4 seconds a lap slower.  This is particularly impressive given that cars are some 49kg heavier this year than last (conventionally the cars should be 0.3 seconds a lap slower for every 10Kg additional weight carried, so these cars should be nearly 1.5 seconds a lap slower than last year, just from the additional weight).

Looking next at the fastest lap of the

race, these are the results:

Fastest Lap




































Once again the figures for Bahrain in 2010 can be discounted due to the longer lap, and of course there is no time for 2011.  Also China in 2009 was badly affected by rain so the whole race was wet.  Although other races were also rain affected, the fastest times were set on a dry track (although in some cases this may have been early in the race when the cars were relatively heavy).  Interestingly these times generally get

slower each year (the opposite of the qualifying times above) which shows the impact of having to save fuel or tyres through the races.

Fastest laps in 2014 are 3 to 4 seconds slower than in 2013 with the notable exception  of Bahrain, which has been the only race to date where the two Mercedes have been racing each other (and were some 2 to 3 seconds a lap faster than everyone else), and here they were less

than six hundredths of a second slower than 2013.  Maybe this is a true indication of just how much faster the silver cars are than the rest of the field this year.  If that remains true for the rest of the season we can only hope that Rosberg starts making some better starts to enable

him to take the battle to Hamilton.

Overall race time is an interesting

comparison, particularly as this year the cars have approximately a third less

fuel to complete the same distance.

Race time




































Note that many of these races had safety cars, so the times are not representative of the cars pace.  Safety cars circulated on the track in

Australia (‘09, ‘10, ‘12 and ‘14), Malaysia (‘09 and ‘12) with the ‘09 race being stopped early, Bahrain (‘14) and again ’10 being on a different layout and China (’09 and ’10), for this year’s race the chequered flag was shown too early so the race was officially called two laps early.  Hamilton’s actual time to complete the 56 laps was 1:36’52.810, less than 26 seconds slower than last year.  The only other non-safety car affected time was from Malaysia where the race time was within 90 seconds of the 2013 time.

Once again the general trend is for slower times each year, possibly due to tyre or fuel conservation, rather than outright speed of the cars.

In that respect, this generation of F1 cars do stand up well to comparison with the previous generation.

However all the talk of the absolute speed of the cars is rather academic, what really matters is the racing.  Unless you are looking at a stop watch can you really tell whether the cars are faster or slower than the previous year?  What really matters is how good the racing is.  As has been discussed before, over this period we have been particularly fortunate in having a very high quality field (as measured by the number of World Drivers’ Champions there have been competing in each year).

It is very difficult to quantify how good the racing is in terms of statistics.  One possible measure (which the FIA seem to think important) is the number of overtaking manoeuvres.





































Once again there is no data for Bahrain in 2010 as there was no race.  We can see the number of overtakes was increasing even before the introduction of DRS in 2011, and it continued to go up in 2012 thanks in part to the changes in the tyres.   For this year the absolute number of passing manoeuvres has dropped compared to 2013, which is possibly due to a greater spread in performance between the teams at this stage of the development of the cars to this rules package.  The data in this table is from analysing the lap charts for each race and determining the number of on-track passes that occurred (i.e. not due to pit-stops) between one lap and the next.  What it doesn’t take account of is the passing and re-passing that can occur within a single lap such as between Rosberg and Hamilton in Bahrain this year.  While Bahrain in 2011 was hailed as a turning point for what had previously been a dull circuit, the race in 2014 was to my mind at least much better.  Perhaps the FIA need another metric to determine the quality of the racing?

So in summary, the cars are slower this year, but not as slow as they should be given the regulation changes, and the racing has shown potential to be better than last year.  The only problem is the Mercedes domination, but this could be countered if either one of the other teams catches them or Rosberg gets back on pace with Hamilton.  The developments the teams bring to the next race in Barcelona will be crucial.



All eyes on Austin as MotoGP touches down in the USA

All eyes on Austin as MotoGP touches down in the USA

When the fans arrived at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas last year, little did they know that they were about to play host to what would become a hatrick of victories in the USA for Marc Marquez in his rookie MotoGP season with the superfast Spaniard securing his first victory on American soil from his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Fast forward to 2014 and reigning MotoGP Champion comes to Austin on the back of a thrilling victory against Movistar Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi.

While Marquez will be reliving his winning strategy from last year, Rossi will aim to improve on his sixth place finish and back up his stunning pace under the floodlights in Qatar three weeks ago. Pedrosa also comes into the race off a third place finish in the first round and the Spaniard was unlucky not to have won the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas last year after leading the race for 12 laps last year.

Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Yamaha MotoGP

Jorge Lorenzo will be focused on getting points on the board after crashing out of the first round while in the lead for the Movistar Yamaha team. Lorenzo has an improved YZR-M1 this year but the two-time MotoGP Champion is still struggling to get to grips with the 2014 Bridgestone rubber but despite this a third place finish here last year will give him something positive to focus on.

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