Red Bull's reprieve
The FIA will allow free use of 'blown diffusers' - and that's good news for Red Bull in Spain, says Tony Jardine.
Last Updated: 19/05/11 11:34am
Championship leaders Red Bull Racing, the team that stood to lose the most from an FIA curb on aerodynamic enhancing 'blown diffusers', have won a reprieve along with the rest of the F1 teams.
The systems that pump hot exhaust gas under the car and work even when the driver takes his foot off the throttle is a key technological development the FIA wanted to restrict from this weekend in Spain onwards.
The FIA were looking at curbing not blown diffusers completely but specifically the 'throttle off' element which seems to have been perfected by Red Bull and used to great effect in qualifying.
Teams can change engine settings to allow sustained power and therefore hot gases to be funnelled along the aerodynamic under body of the car ensuring downforce is continual whether the throttle is on or off.
As the championship and technology leaders, Sebastian Vettel and technical guru Adrian Newey were delighted to learn that after consultation with the teams that the FIA had decided to reverse their decision and allow the free use of 'blown diffuser' aerodynamic devices for now.
However, it is believed that the governing body of the sport will keep the item on a hot list of potential technical changes for the future.
Sebastian Vettel remains the clear favourite for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix, despite last year's winner Mark Webber intending to close the gap and challenge his rival and team-mate.
According to Adrian Newey, who not only wants Webber to stay with Red Bull Racing next season but expects him to be faster: "It's not the case that Mark is driving any slower. It's just that he has taken a bit longer to adapt to the Pirelli tyres, but the gap is closing."
Mark Webber drove his Red Bull into an indoor conference room to help launch the new £27million Pit and Paddock Complex at Silverstone, on Tuesday, in front of an amazed audience of 800 people which included Valentino Rossi, Jenson Button and Sir Jackie Stewart.
Bike fan Webber later took nine times World Motorcycle Champion Rossi for a ride around the Silverstone track in his Porsche before operating the Italian's pit board as the MotoGP man put a Ducati superbike through its paces in preparation for the British round of MotoGP at the track on June 10-12.
The 4.6km Circuit de Catalunya has always been the toughest track on the Grand Prix schedule for overtaking.
Its long fast curves demand highly efficient aerodynamics on an F1 car which in turn spew out dirty air behind making it difficult for the following car to get near because of turbulence.
It will be fascinating to see if by using KERS and the DRS opening rear wing in the so-far successful 2011 'F1 season of overtaking' the systems can crack the tight Spanish 'no pass' nut.
Situated 20 kilometres from the centre of Barcelona, the curvaceous track is also very abrasive and tough on tyres. Teams must use two types of tyre in the race, a hard and a soft compound, but Pirelli have made their hard tyre even more durable compared to previous versions which have purposely deteriorated forcing drivers to make more pit stops.
The performance gap between the two tyres is now wider so teams will have to employ more creative strategies; however Pirelli is still predicting most will make three pit stops.
Unlike Turkey, McLaren will have some performance upgrades to try and get closer to Red Bull. Hamilton and Button could only manage fourth and sixth in the last race but the British World Champions and team-mates did enjoy a terrific scrap during the race.
"I really enjoyed it" said Button, "although it wasn't the result we wanted so we hope for better in Spain with the updates. We cannot afford to let Red Bull get too far away."
The most likely to challenge McLaren or even surpass them could be Ferrari. Fernando Alonso will perform well in front of his home crowd as his township of Oviedo and the Asturians from his district make their presence felt in Catalunya, and Ferrari signalled that they are curing their performance issues with their first podium of the year in China.
Both Ferrari wind tunnels in Maranello have had calibration problems and results from wind testing have been at odds with actual track performance forcing the most famous racing team in the world to use Toyota's wind tunnel facility in Cologne.
However, engineers now believe they are finding the true story and changing their aerodynamics accordingly so I expect Ferrari to be much stronger in Spain.
Courtesy of Michael Schumacher, Ferrari won five times from 1996 to 2004. The seven-times World Champion won in 1995 for Benetton as well. His 1996 win was his first for Ferrari in a car known to be difficult at the time.
His second season in his comeback has been more than difficult so far with Mercedes GP having described his 12th place finish in China as joyless.
However, Mercedes GP Team Principal and engineering ace Ross Brawn is not worried about the German's lack of pace: "It's just the last little bit that Michael needs. If he had been slow from the beginning then I would be worried but I am not as he is still very quick."
Nico Rosberg showed Mercedes' potential with third on the grid in China although his fifth place in the race shows they need to sustain consistent speed in the race too. If their updates for Catalunya work then one of the silver machines could just spring a podium result.
Renault will also be looking to recapture their early season form as the innovators of the back-to-front exhaust systems that proved so effective in pre-season testing and the early races, when Russian Vitaly Petrov took a superb podium in Australia.
Just about every team will arrive in Spain with modifications to try and up their performance, even the smaller teams such as Lotus expect to improve by a second, but not all of them have the funds to make a full-blown issue out of their exhaust systems.