In both this season and last season Ferrari tailed off performance-wise just after the summer break. Is this more to do with Mercedes upping its game or Ferrari reaching the full potential of its design concept?
lukeeshaw_, via Instagram
I don't believe Ferrari has reached the limit of its design concept or its development, and we've seen more new parts appearing on the car. But clearly something has happened over the past few races.
Reading between the lines, we've had all this stuff about the twin battery supposedly enabling Ferrari to get more power from the engine. Previously I've said I didn't believe that was happening, but we've now seen such a swing in Ferrari's performance since the FIA was prompted to start monitoring its energy deployment that you have to start questioning this.
Yes, Mercedes has made its car better: it has reduced the blistering problems we saw in Belgium and it's stronger off the slow corners. But in the past three races - in Singapore, Russia and Japan - Mercedes has been way ahead on pace. Ferrari is now 0.6% behind, having dominated the preceding three races (Hungary, Belgium and Italy) on pace and been about 0.1% ahead. So that's a 0.7% swing.
That swing in itself is possible, but now look at Red Bull. For those previous three races it was 1.1% behind Ferrari but now it's about 0.5%. And some of the midfield have also closed up on Ferrari while retaining the same gap to Mercedes. That suggests Ferrari has lost a reasonable amount not only relative to Mercedes, but to the rest as well.
Up until just before the August break, it was close between Ferrari and Mercedes. Then Ferrari had the edge and the fastest car, albeit not always a race-winning one because there's more to that than just pace - but since then there's been a drop off. That can easily be blamed on the engine rather than the car itself.
Come the race the relative performance isn't as bad, but the problem with quantifying Mercedes' pace is that when its cars are running at the front, it seldom shows its true hand. Mercedes aims to win, not dominate.
The numbers show Ferrari has lost more than Mercedes has gained on performance. That points to something involving the engine.
I thought it was interesting that Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel had quite different things going on with harvesting (or not) just before their clash at Suzuka. It surprised me that Max was harvesting when Sebastian was "boosting", I would have thought that most drivers have a fairly similar pattern to the regeneration or use of that extra power around each lap. Do the drivers select the harvest mode when they want to - i.e. it's not automatic?
Ash Green, via email
It is controlled by the various maps set up by the team, but the driver does have an opportunity to alter it depending on the situation. The standard map would be for optimum lap time in qualifying, so you'd use the electrical power accelerating off the corner to get up to speed, then you wouldn't use so much of that power at the end of the straight.
For the race, you would have multiple maps. One would be to keep the opposition behind you and allow for electrical energy late in the straight when needed in case you had someone attacking with DRS. You wouldn't use that if you weren't under pressure. The driver can override it, and you hear them being told to use the 'overtake button' for extra power.
The rules allow you to use the 160bhp boost for roughly 30 seconds, which might be a third of a lap or perhaps a bit more. But you have to charge the battery and we know Renault doesn't have the same performance as the Ferrari power unit.
The first sector at Suzuka, through the fast esses, doesn't involve a huge amount of hard braking so there isn't so much chance to harvest electrical energy via the MGU-K and you'll have to do much of it with the MGU-H.
But when Verstappen got to Spoon Curve, he thought Vettel would not attack so it derated as it would normally. That allowed Vettel to take him by surprise. But given the move wasn't quite on, Verstappen was probably right about that.
Is there a way the cars could still achieve ground effect without disrupting the air behind the car too much, so they could follow more closely?
Kristian Haigh, via Facebook
Having a more powerful diffuser and underfloor would work. At the moment, the floor is flat to a point just ahead of the rear tyre, then the angled diffuser starts. The diffuser is probably only 10% of the size you'd want it, so you could create a huge amount more downforce under the car with only slight alterations to the geometry of the underfloor.
It would need to be carefully analysed and policed to ensure the downforce levels and car speeds didn't get out of control, but it's definitely a workable direction.
The downforce created under the car isn't so critical to turbulence because it's basically working as a venturi. The airflow is asked to expand and that effectively sucks the air in through the leasing edge of the floor at higher speed. The faster the airflow, the more downforce you get.
A wing surface has to be so much more refined because it's not working against the ground. Turbulence affects it - the way an aeroplane reacts in turbulence is what's happening all the time in a racing car. To us watching it's hard to see, but to the driver it feels like they're in that plane, bouncing around like you won't believe.
Which tests does the FIA perform on the car during scrutineering? How many in total?
chandramohansatpute, via Instagram
The regulations demand that you have to present your car in legal form, so pre-weekend most of the checks are done by the teams themselves.
The FIA has its own weighbridge we used to call the 'bridge of doom'. In the same garage there's a full set of templates for various dimensional aspects of the car - front wings, rear wing heights, etc, and the teams can go there before the weekend to check their cars comply with the regulations.
The scales might read differently to the ones you have at your factory but that doesn't matter: it has to be legal by the FIA scales since that will be used to judge the car.
The FIA conducts random checks throughout the weekend. During FP1 and FP2 you can run aero rakes and the like, provided there are no safety concerns.
More importantly, the FIA does check during and after the sessions the software to ensure the electronics are legal. As a team, you supply the FIA with your software before the event, so if there are changes you have to resupply that. You'll also see cars having bodywork flexibility tests, which are laid out in the regulations.
Everything is monitored quite well but the staff the FIA would need to check everything itself would be enormous, so the teams have a big responsibility.
What is the most innovative piece of technology (engine or otherwise) you have seen since 2014 regulation changes?
geezer_pete, via Instagram
There's constant aerodynamic development ongoing in F1 and teams are always manipulating that airflow to get the best out of it. But that is just development and understanding, so I don't see anything revolutionary there.
When it was introduced as part of the 2014 V6 turbo hybrid regulations, the MGU-H was something I wasn't convinced by because I didn't entirely understand it. Driven by the hot side of the turbo, it allows you to charge the battery from the exhaust gases - and with the limit for electrical energy defined as energy from the battery to the MGU-K, you can in effect get free energy by taking it directly from the H to the K.
The normal way of managing a turbo is with a wastegate, which would open if the exhaust pressure got too high. By definition, a wastegate is wasting that energy. That still exists for fast reaction, but the H will hold the turbo back and not allow it to overspeed.
It's a very clever piece of kit and is an advantage to road cars. Whether it should be called an MGU-H or not is debatable. But this is a concept I was critical of to begin with because of the use of the word 'heat', but it does work very well.
Should F1 introduce a success ballast to close the field up?
ludsonline, via Instagram
I don't know why you should get penalised for being good at doing something. Should Usain Bolt have to carry lead lining in his shoes when he was running just because he was good at it? What I am a fan of is making it more difficult to do such a good job.
If you had ballast, you'd always have people saying 'x' would have beaten 'y' without the extra 20kg, and it would be very obviously artificial. F1 needs to keep itself as pure as possible: the winner is the winner and has the same opportunity as someone else.
Yes the guy winning has the biggest budget, the best facilities, the best team. But at the moment Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel are all good drivers and deserve to be up there doing what they are doing. You don't want to hold them back.
What I would consider, as I've written before, is changing the weekend format so you don't just start at the front and lead all the way. That way you would have to be a more complete driver and team to be successful - that's preferable to something like success ballast.
What areas of the formula that are relatively cheap could be opened up to teams?
Joe Graham, via Twitter
You can create an A and B championship, for example different rules for teams that aren't works teams, then you are creating a two-tier formula.
But if you're opening things up for everybody, that is a possibility. The regulations already do limit the areas that you work in but there is room for creativity. The Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all have some very different directions in the areas where you can develop - just look at the bargeboards - and some areas do have more potential for development than others.
If you could pull things back a bit financially, you would end up with F1 being in a better situation. You can use your massive team of people to keep making bits that will all gain you something, but rather than gaining 1% performance you gain 0.1%, and the big teams can afford to do that. In my day we would measure cost effectiveness and you'd put a price on a performance gain. For the big teams, that price is orders of magnitude higher.
The teams push the regulations to the limit, so what's most important is to write the regulations to force the teams to design cars that can run in traffic. You could do that by changing the weekend format, and maybe even change the blue-flag regulations so instead of having to let the leaders past within three corners, make it three laps - so the leaders have to spend more time in dirty air, even at the front.
Could a new F1 team ever 'do a Jordan' again?
Michael Jones, via email
It was an impressive year, finishing fifth in the constructors' championship in 1991, but it's all relative. There was the big four at the time - Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton - so it was nice to finish fifth. But we had a minimal amount of points compared with them.
McLaren had 139 points, Williams 125, Ferrari 55.5 and Benetton 38.5 - then we had just 13. So we had less than 10% of the winner. The current fifth-placed team, Haas, has 15.6% of what Mercedes has.
Back then, the rest of the teams were all small privateer-type outfits like Jordan. If you look behind Jordan in 1991, it was Tyrrell, Minardi, Scuderia Italia, Lotus, etc. Today the teams are so big, so professional and spending so much money. So to come in on the scale of a Jordan and do what we did is impossible.
Just look at Haas. It gets a percentage of the car from Ferrari, plus it has the services of Dallara, so even that team is much bigger than it looks. Haas has done a good job, but the Manors, the Caterhams and the HRTs came in without the same commitment.
I look back at the Jordan days with a smile on my face. It was fun, it was just like stepping up from Formula 3000 into F1. Now you can't do that, it requires a massive organisation and I don't see how anybody could imagine they can step in. Really you need to be a Porsche or an Audi.
The days of an Eddie Jordan with a few bob in his pocket are long gone.
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