Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  

Parc Ferme
Picture Courtesy: Rediff.comTo me Formula 1’s charm has never been challenged, and it will continue to hold sway as long as new things pop out at the end of every race. The pleasure of watching machines working at their limit is special and the sheer sound thrills many (including me). The formula 1 car that we see during a race is the pinnacle of the R&D work (at any point in time) that gets us such high quality cars on road. For a connoisseur of cars, the ultimate place to see them act out an ever complicated script would be the F1 circuit. In sports car racing, it’s more about the car than anything else, icons notwithstanding.

Another race weekend is around the corner. Many a race passed by before I could even understand the fundamentals of an F1 car. Interest stemmed from the joy that I experienced whenever I stepped into our 1978 model Fiat (Ferrari’s parent company!). Whatever had been the intention of the designer, ventilation was its hallmark. The complexity behind rolling windows up or down would remind me of the bioscope-guy that I have seen in many a Tamil movie. F1 cars are a shade better (!), in that, they just invert the principle of Bernoulli's theorem, opposite to what aircrafts do. The faster the air moves underneath the car, greater the speed of the car!

F1 calendar is not just about 16 races a year; it's more about how designers adapt their cars to the challenges posed by each track. Talking of tracks, Irungattukottai has been every Chennai motor-enthusiast’s fantasy spot, so much so that our very own “Ajit Sir” has taken up to the thermal suiting with fancy stickers, ignoring the arc lights of Kollywood. Chennai has long been the breeding ground for Indian motorists, which will never be a surprise for anyone who has been on its roads atleast once. The city’s planners have been almost in-sync with F1’s safety regulations so much so that you can find a chicane after every 100 meters or so!

Horses for courses. Aerodynamics being one of the most important aspects of an F1 car's performance, let's look at a single component's influence on the car and the result as such. At a low speed circuit like Monaco, they would use larger rear wings, meaning greater drag and greater downforce for the car, while a high speed circuit would require a larger rear wing. More on the operations inside an F1 car...

>> This CART racing page has explained terms that has relevance to F1.

Amongst the many that have literally stunned me during my days of initiation into the sport, here are few of the amazing facts that go into making this a glamorous sport:
. Drivers experience upto 5Gs of force!
     "Mika, David and Alex experience severe g-forces under acceleration/braking (longitudinal g-force), and through cornering (lateral g-force). Under braking and accelerating out of a corner, the drivers can experience loads that can peak at nearly 5g. This effectively means that the driver's neck has to support nearly five times the combined weight of his head and helmet when braking and cornering during racing - that's up to 25kg. This is the equivalent of having 25 bags of sugar being applied to your head instantaneously."
. Loss of body fluids.
     "Mika and David lose approximately two kilos in weight and two litres of body fluid during the course of a Grand Prix"
. 0-100-0 mph 6.6 seconds.
. Engines - they rev to 19000revs per minute, produce about 900hp and weigh less than 100kg!!
. Race technicians take a sample of oil from the engine after every run. They then burn it in a machine. The colour it burns at, indicates what type metal particles are in the oil. They then can tell what part of the engine is experiencing the most wear.
. Tyres are filled with Nitrogen instead of air, to predict response of pressure to changes in temperature better.
More on facts...

Formula One is broadcast to over 200 countries worldwide and is the most watched seasonal global sporting event. Approximately 366,000,000 people worldwide had watched each of the 17 Grands Prix races during the 2002 season. Although those figures paint a different picture, there has been a drop in the fan-support for the sport, on a relative scale. Alarmed by this fact and the rising costs of F1 race (Team Arrows have dropped out of this year’s championship), FIA decided to bring about some changes to the way a race is conducted.

Of the many effects that the rule-changes might bring about, one is the few minutes of fame that a minnow like Minardi could get at the start of a race. A fact so wonderfully explained by Williams' Technical Director, Patrick Head:
"Last year the Minardi didn't do too bad in qualifying on speed. Let's say there was three seconds difference [between them and the front runners]. Ten kilos of fuel is somewhere between 0.25 and 0.4 seconds. Let's say Michael Schumacher's got 80 kilos in and the Minardis have got 10 when they go out to qualify. That represents 2.8secs so you're talking about them being pretty close."

All said, his finishing statement goes like this: "The fastest car-driver-tyre combination, as long as it keeps going, is generally going to win the races" (3 rounds into this year's championship, Patrick's prediction has been spot on), which sums up the effects of changes in rules from a strategic perspective. Read more on the shake up...

>> BBC's guide to F1 changes.
>> Qualifying rules.

The F1 caravan now travels to Imola, Italy, one of the most significant tracks for all F1 fans. It was here in 1994 that Ayrton Senna crashed to death leaving the entire racing world shocked. Senna was the greatest of all modern racers, known for his bold and authoritative driving skills that Schumi has now been associated with. On a different note, that was also the race when the baton seemed to have been passed on to the Moghul of today’s racing, Michael Schumacher, as he finished on top of the podium that day. It was a race that Senna had, reportedly, wanted to avoid, because of concerns over the newly introduced FIA regulations and also over the safety concerns arising out of a fellow driver's death, the previous day. Read more on Senna’s death and the facts behind his crash…

After FIA has almost included Shanghai and Bahrain in its calendar from year 2004 on, it is high time India got its due too. This should be on the wish list of many Indian motor enthusiasts. But for that to happen, India must prove its capability in providing resources, which seems to be just beyond our scope, for now at least.

Designers have now adopted proven technologies from the F1 circuit. Few among them are, the cambiocorsa (or racing gearbox) as in the latest Maserati Spyder to land in US. This means there is no clutch, instead you shift up or down using paddle-control on the steering wheel. Not wanting to be left behind, Merc has launched itself into the supercar race with aid from its Formula 1 partner, McLaren. There are more that a regular car-user would start experiencing before he/she realizes where it came from, but for now I miss the slow-in, fast-out thrills on Chennai roads that our Fiat would have obliged, graciously!

Having watched the stars drive lap after lap in the most sophisticated driving circuits under the sun, what would the feeling be like when you get to drive in one (a testing circuit isn’t going to be any inferior)? Well, for all those dreamers, the page here offers details of one such experience. Any takers??

The closest that I have come to having a look at one of the premier racing cars was when Microsoft brought in a model of CART racing’s champ car to our campus (on April 8), to show-off .NET’s capability in managing a typical race.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis is still a case of being-so-close-yet-so-far-away!

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If a pixel were to see and interpret things as I do, and should it express, with a dose of my thoughts and afterthoughts; the flavor of such a talk should be close to one that you find on this page. And yes, cricket being my favorite sport, dont be surprised to find one too many related terms. Pad up is one such!

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