The controversy surrounding the off-throttle blown diffuser continues to rage on with Hispania’s Colin Kolles revealing that his team may lodge a protest at the next Grand Prix.
Last week the FIA announced that the system would be banned from Spain onwards after declaring that it was in breach of Article 3.15 of the technical regulations which states that, with the exception of the Drag Reduction System, driver movement must not be used “as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car.”
The exhaust blown diffuser was first pioneered last year by Red Bull and used to full effect when the RB6 was in qualifying trim. The concept was soon adopted by the other teams and has been subject to vigorous development up until now.
For all the benefits of the system, whilst a car is at full throttle, teams soon discovered that the blown diffuser had some draw backs – most notably the huge instability experienced at the rear of the car and loss of downforce whenever a driver lifted off while cornering.
To counter this the teams began developing new engine mapping systems, with the view of creating a constant flow of exhaust gasses even when a driver got off the throttle. According to ScarbsF1’s wonderful blog this was achieved by retarding the ignition whenever the driver lifted off the accelerator, resulting in fuel no longer being burnt inside the engine’s closed combustion chamber but instead being burnt inside the exhaust pipe. When it reacted with air, the gas produced would expand and blow out of the exit of the exhaust to guarantee a continuous flow – thus bridging the gap when on and off the throttle.
Such a concept has become relatively fool proof for teams – especially with increased investment in exotic materials. However such has been the development rate of these systems, over a short period of time that the governing body has now decided to act.
“It became apparent to us, through examination of data, that what we thought was a fairly benign feature was turning into something that was being used, in our opinion, illegally.” Head of the FIA’s F1 Technical department Charlie Whiting said in a media conference held on Friday night.
“An exhaust system is there for the purpose of exhausting gasses from the engine and when you’re off-throttle, it isn’t doing that any more. Therefore it’s being used to influence the aerodynamic characteristics of the car. We think arguably, this infringes Article 3.15 of the technical regulations.”
In the initial correspondence with the teams it was announced that under braking, the throttle input will no longer be allowed to be larger than 10 per cent of its maximum. However prior to Whiting’s comments teams – many of whom having scheduled to introduce updated versions to the rear of their cars – had managed to gain a reprieve for the Spanish weekend, stating that they had not been given enough notice to make adequate changes.
Subsequently Whiting revealed that the issue will be now discussed on June 16th at the next Technical Working Group meeting, with the view of introducing the new ruling for next month’s Canadian Grand Prix.
So why has the FIA decided to move to ban the use of these systems and does it contain hints of wider political issues dominating the sport?
The prime reason appears to be that the FIA believes that such technology is not right for Formula One and sends out the wrong message to the outside world. Certainly this concept does result in a sharp increase in fuel consumption and this is something which does not equate with the governing body’s aim to present the sport as a champion of road-relevant green technology.
Moreover the FIA does not want the system to escalate out of control, with JamesAllenOnF1 stating the Whiting likened this situation to that of the ban on mass dampers in 2006.
However there may be other implications behind this ban – whether intentionally initiated by the governing body or not.
Clearly this issue has started to drive a wedge between teams with news that Hispania and Virgin are not using the system. This has led the former to announce that it will consider protesting against the teams at Monaco – on the grounds of the FIA’s decision.
“The only reason why we are not considering it [for the Spanish race] is because we were not really involved in any sporting decision today.” Hispania team principal Colin Kolles told the BBC after the race. “But it is clear that the other cars are illegal, we agree absolutely with Charlie Whiting’s view and we are not the only ones who agree.”
“I think that if this is not going to be stopped then we have no other choice (but to make a protest). I cannot tell you at what stage during the Monaco Grand Prix, maybe after qualifying. This I cannot answer at the moment. The point is that it has been very clearly stated that it is not corresponding with the regulations.
“We have studied this very carefully – you cannot influence the aerodynamics with hot exhaust gases, you cannot influence the aerodynamics by any movements like gas pedals or moving devices on the engine. So this is illegal and it brings the other teams a huge advantage.”
Over the past few years the teams have shown great strength in numbers when negotiating with the governing body. However this issue has real potential to split this unity and could give the powers-that-be a huge leg up as talks continue to rage on about renewing the Concorde Agreement.
Whether this issue will be used to play power politics or upset team harmony remains to be seen. However the threat of a protest should not be taken lightly and could have a devastating impact on the image of the sport.
Given that the FIA has already made its ruling clear and that the majority of the teams will continue to use the off-throttle diffuser in Monaco, a protest could potentially disqualify the majority of the field – creating yet another watershed moment for the sport to deal with.
With the likes of Indianapolis 2005 still fresh in the mind of many, Formula One will have to ensure that it has moved on from inflicting damage on to itself and instead show that all sides can sit down and find a solution to this issue.