F1 January News Roundup: Teams Already Gearing Up For 2014

f1-2014-mercedes-turbo-v6The covers haven’t been taken off the cars for the 2013 Formula One World Championship and teams are already working on their engines and cars for 2014. With a big rules change coming in 2014 with the turbocharged V6 engines and increased emphasis on KERS, there is an opportunity for all teams to capitalize and vault to the front of the grid.

According to Williams’ chief engineer Mark Gillan, one of Williams’ biggest challenges during this offseason is balancing resources, including man power and wind tunnel time, between the team’s 2013 car and their 2014 car. Thanks to the rules changes for the 2014 season, teams are already working on their cars so as not to fall behind in their hunt for the top step of the podium.

Ferrari is taking a different approach. Finding that their approach to 2012 didn’t do much to improve performance last year, the Scuderia has two design and aerodynamics teams working on their cars. One team is hard at work on this season’s car which, understandably, is an evolution of the F2012. The other team is working on the 2014 car which effectively has a clean slate for design.

Given that once a design philosophy is established, teams are evolving their car, getting a good start under a new set of technical regulations will go a long way to determining a team’s success in the near future. Just look at how Red Bull translated the strongest car at the end of 2009 into three-straight World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championships.

While the biggest talking point about the 2014 technical regulations is the change from the current 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 to the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6, there are several major changes.

The KERS unit will be replaced by a Thermal Energy Recovery System (TERS). This will power a bigger and longer electric power boost on the cars. The TERS will provide an additional 161 bhp over 33 seconds per lap, up from 80 bhp over 6 seconds per lap. The tip of the nose is also going to be lowered from 550 mm above the reference plane to 185 mm.

These aren’t small changes. The smaller engine will allow for tighter body work at the rear of the car but will also require less cooling. However, the TERS battery will be bigger and heavier which means more cooling and a heavier weight to consider when placing ballast. Also, the lower nose will require a change in how designers move air under the car with less space while they are currently trying to maximize space for airflow. There is much in the way of compromises and philosophy changes required ahead of 2014.

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With the demise of HRT and the big teams trying to push the massive rules changes back to save money, it would be understandable if one wondered if the smaller teams are at risk of having to spend their way into bankruptcy. However, the bosses of Caterham and Marussia both think they can survive 2014 but have different ways of doing it.

f1-2012-brazil-van-der-garde-caterhamCaterham’s new team principal Cyril Abiteboul suggests that the way for his team to go forward is through collaborating with other teams. He cited Caterham’s road car plans to build a new car in collaboration with Renault and Alpine as an example of how collaboration saves money and allows for efficiencies to benefit all partners in a collaborative effort. The same principal could be applied in F1 as teams work together to design and build the best parts for 2014 in order to share the expect high costs of building a car to a new set of rules.

While Marussia actually has a technical collaboration with McLaren through the latter’s McLaren Applied Technologies company, they’re looking for cost savings rather than cost sharing. While sporting director Graeme Lowdon didn’t specify how Marussia would contain costs but he said that technologies are currently available to make it possible. When the team started as Virgin F1, the car was designed and aerodynamics fine tuned using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). That clearly was a non-starter as the cost savings compared to renting/running a wind tunnel were offset by poor results.

Even without the cost of juggling 2013 and 2014 programs, HRT wasn’t able to stay afloat. Sure, the Spanish economic crisis and being the slowest team in F1 during its existence meant that sponsorship revenue was hard to come by. The fact remains that the team was unable to sustain itself for more than three seasons even with low costs, pay drivers and extra money for the new team from FOM. You’d be justified to be pessimistic about Marussia and Caterham’s ability to remain financially solvent over the short-term.

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The talk that there would be replacement for New Jersey’s Grand Prix of America as the 20th race on the 2013 calendar has been hot and cold but Bernie has heated it back up again. Just when we all thought that there would be only 19 races this year, Ecclestone said that there is still interest from potential host venues.

The list of potential hosts is down to two with France and Portugal as the two remaining countries still in the running for the race. Both Austria and Turkey were in the running earlier but appear to have dropped out or are no longer under consideration. Portugal is a late entrant in the proceedings and hasn’t hosted a Grand Prix since 1997 at Estoril. The Portuguese applicant this time out is the new Algarve International Circuit.

However, Bernie still thinks that there won’t be a 20th race. He says that the teams only want 19 races so he may not add the 20th. This begs the question, if he’s willing to listen to the teams now, why did he schedule 20 races this season and plan to continue do so in the future?

Speaking of calendar issues, there is some talk that we won’t have a confirmed host of the German Grand Prix until after the season starts. The Nurburgring is the scheduled host of this year’s race but declared bankruptcy last year. It’s likely that Hockenheim will step in to host the race if the Nurburgring can’t but that’s an assumption and not a certainty. The race is shared in order to save money for the two circuits as the sanctioning fees for hosting the race annually would be prohibitively expensive. I’m not sure if Hockenheim would step in without some assurance that this wouldn’t become an annual event that would bankrupt them too.

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A couple of weeks ago, Ferrari broke ground on a new Formula One headquarters that the Financial Times described as the largest construction project in Europe. Normally, I don’t think that this would be a noteworthy piece of news but I recall something that Steve Matchett wrote about McLaren after they built and moved into the McLaren Technology Centre.

Matchett suggested that McLaren’s reliability and performance issues that prevented them from winning a World Drivers’ or World Constructors’ Championship in the early 2000s was a result of the team’s move into the MTC. The logistical challenges of moving the team and personnel to a new headquarters in addition to the distraction of the construction and the move took senior personnel’s eye off the ball.

Now that Ferrari is building their own F1 super complex, could the same issues that affected McLaren harm the Scuderia’s hunt for a title? Most of the planning for this building took place last year and likely involved input from Ferrari’s top men. That could mean that they were distracted in planning for 2013. On the other hand, the focus on the F2012 for Alonso’s title chase could be just as reasonable explanation for why Ferrari could struggle this year (assuming they struggle this year). Of course, that’s assuming that planning for the Scuderia Ferrari HQ wasn’t a distraction heading into last season which resulted in a dog of a car that only Alonso could get any pace out of.

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I’ve saved the silly season news for last because there isn’t much. Unless Pedro de la Rosa signing as a simulator specialist with Ferrari is driver market news, I don’t have any new signings to report.

Marussia is the only team to make a splash in the drivers market but not because they signed someone. The team released driver Timo Glock last week in order to find a new driver who brings money to the table. Glock joins Heikki Kovalainen as good drivers who have lost seats because their teams need more money than talent to remain operational. No word yet as to who Marussia is targeting as a replacement alongside Max Chilton.

Force India, Caterham and now Marussia are both without a confirmed second driver for next season. Force India’s shortlist is said to be down to Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi. While Sutil is fast and has race experience, Bianchi has backing from Ferrari that FI is trying to parlay into engines starting in 2014. There hasn’t been any recent news out of Caterham but the last we heard implied that money would be the deciding factor in who got the seat.

At least Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicalli said that there won’t be a Vettel and Alonso dream team at the Scuderia. It would have been interesting to see if his issues with Lewis Hamilton in 2007 were Hamilton/McLaren related or if he was mentally shaken up by having a teammate who could keep pace. Still, in F1, anything can happen when it comes to the driver market. Just because Domenicalli says it now doesn’t mean that Vettel still won’t drive for Ferrari eventually.

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Let’s close on some good news. The 2013 cars will start being unveiled this week and testing starts next week. The 2013 season can’t come soon enough. It’s only been two months but it sure felt like a long winter.

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