Four crucial things F1 fans must be told during races in 2009

Is he using his KERS boost? What tyre compound is he on?

Is he using his KERS boost? What tyre compound is he on?

Following Formula 1 is going to get a lot more complicated in 2009.

The nature of F1 inevitably makes it harder to cover on television than other sports such as football. But Formula One Management and the television compaines that broadcast its feed will have to be seriously on the ball this year. Here’s why.

KERS power boost

As we all know drivers running KERS-equipped cars will be able to summon a boost of up to 80bhp for up to six seconds per lap.

When will drivers use KERS? Probably when they’re trying to overtake. But surely they’ll be hitting the button once per lap wherever the longest straight is to begin with? For the viewer, knowing when and where a driver is using his KERS – whether it’s to overtake, defend or set a hot qualifing lap – is essential.

Presumably the activation of KERS is handled by the standard electronic control unit introduced last year. The FIA has access to that device, so it may have the means to let viewers know in real-time who’s got their finger on the magic ‘K’ button.

Simply knowing which drivers are in KERS-equipped cars in the first place would be a helpful start. Several teams have already indicated they won’t be using KERS in the first race.

Wing adjustments

Another innovation for 2009 is adjustable wings. Drivers can change the position of flaps in their front wings by six degrees twice per lap.

As with KERS the thinking is this will provide an opportunity for drivers to overtake – in this case by adjusting their front wing to compensate for lost downforce when following another car. But are they not just as likely to make use of their adjustments even when not in traffic, to reduce drag on a long straight or increase grip in a series of corners?

Again, exactly how the drivers will use it is interesting, but fans will only be able to follow what is going on if they can see who has changed their wing, and how, in real-time. It may be possible to tell from video of the car whether the driver has adjusted his wing flaps, but that’s not clear yet.

Otherwise, how are we to know whether a driver has adjusted his wing up or down? And, as with KERS, will we be able to see what every driver is doing with their wing angles and KERS boosts or just the drivers we’re being shown on screen? Will we have access to more detailed information on the timing screens? Here’s hoping.

Tyre compounds

How will we tell prime and option slick tyres apart?

How will we tell prime and option slick tyres apart?

The rule requiring drivers to use each of the two compounds of dry-weather tyres during the race remains in 2009 (Sporting Regulations Article 25.4d). And the regulations also state that the two different compounds must be “visibly distinguishable from one another when a car is on the track” (Article 25.1).

But exactly how that will be put into practice isn’t clear. When then two-compounds rule was introduced in 2007 Bridgestone first tried to differentiate between the compounds using white marks on the tyre sidewalls. The problem was they were near-impossible to see when the car was in motion.

That led to Bridgestone adopting the practice of painting one of the grooves white to signify the softer compound. With slick tyres returning this year that will not be possible, so what will they do instead?

It will be especially important to know as Bridgestone plans to bring tyre compounds with greater performance differences in 2009.

In Champ Car (R.I.P.) they used to paint the sidewall of the softer tyre red. The problem with that solution in image-conscious F1 is that teams whose colours do not include red would probably object. Perhaps painting the sidewall in white and stencilling the ‘Bridgestone’ lettering in black would be a better solution?

Or they could just axe the two-compounds rule, as it doesn’t really add anything to the racing and is entirely artificial.

Engines

As discussed last week, the engines situation is going to get more complicated in 2009.

Drivers have eight engines to use during the season and can use whichever they choose in third practice, qualifying and race. How will the fans watching the sessions be told which engine their driver is using? Will the teams be required to declare their choice at the start of each session?

Formula 1 has taken some bold and controversial steps to improve the quality of racing in 2009. But if it fails to keep fans up-to-date with what’s going on in each of these areas during races it will only create more confusion.

Of course we’ll do everything possible to keep track of what the drivers are doing during the sessions in the live blogs, but like everyone else we’re dependent on FOM, the FIA and the teams getting it right.

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62 comments on Four crucial things F1 fans must be told during races in 2009

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  1. David said on 22nd January 2009, 12:12

    How great it was when they started and…just let’s see.
    I think we are really going too far.

    Anyway i don’t believe we really need all those information regarding cars current configuration. I remember during turbo era there was the chance to boost the engine, and sometimes you could recognize that by fires and flames fllowing the rupture…anyway it really didn’t add anything to know if the driver had boosted the engine or not. So the same is with KERS or wings. Do we really need to know?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd January 2009, 12:28

      Yes. Taking the tyres as an example, in a situation where one tyre is very quick and the other isn’t, you’ll never understand what’s going on if you don’t know what drivers are using which tyres. Like when Sato passed Alonso at Montreal in 2007.

    • No. Tyres aside we don’t really need to know. With regard to wings it’s a similar situation to say brake balance or engine mapping. In recent seasons from on-board cameras we’ve seen drivers twisting nobs or pressing buttons and not really known what they’re doing, it hasn’t affected the general appreciation of the sport significantly. The only thing you really need to know about the engines is if a driver has gone over their quota. Sure if a driver has blown up all but one of his engines and is forced to use a less than perfect one it’ll be of some interest but generally I don’t think it’s that important to know. As for KERS it may be obvious or as Raikkonen points out “The KERS gives you more power but it’s for such a short time that I don’t think it will change things much”.

  2. schumi the greatest said on 22nd January 2009, 12:16

    Some good points keith, something i hadnt really thought about either.

    i think the kers situation wont be too much of a problem because withe standard ecu the fia will be able to see whos doing what etc. I Think the adjustable wings will be very hard to implement during tv viewing.

    also if your watchin the race on tv, what if 10 of the cars on the track are using kers at the same time, there’s going to be alot of information on the screen all at once

  3. schumi the greatest said on 22nd January 2009, 12:27

    to answer your question david i think most people will want to know.

    imagine the following scenario:

    Alonso suddenly overtakes massa well before the 1st round of pit stops, your not going to know whether he got past because of kers because he was light on fuel or if he’s just quicker. I think unless the fia provide this info during the races no-one will ever be able to follow exactly whats happening. And they need to do it in a subtle way, pop ups and flashing lights in the corner of the screen will just look bad

    • blake said on 22nd January 2009, 13:34

      Thanks SO much for bringing this up.

      As it stands, what are peoples current recommendations for web sites that are the most detail orientated in regards to live timing?

  4. Robert McKay said on 22nd January 2009, 12:57

    I thought with KERS that it was possible, rather than using the button for a short boost of maximal power, to instead use a much smaller boost of power for a much longer time – and indeed had been shown by a team (can’t remember who) that that was in race conditions more likely to be done, as it worked out faster.

    If it was a simple case of “you’ve got X shots of Y length for Z horsepower” like A1GP, that would be straightforward enough to do on-screen graphics-wise, but if it’s not (and I’ll admit so many people have said so many different things about KERS it’s hard to know what’s true), and it’s more variable than that, that could be harder to indicate.

    Hopefully the KERS boost and wing modifications can be added to the sort of HUD-screens they have for revs etc., and also the acceleration/brake comparisons they do between two drivers.

    Definitely agree about the engine situation – that’s more complicated than last year, and hopefully we’ll get pre-race graphics indicating that sort of thing.

    I’d actually not that bothered knowing about the tyre compounds, even if the performance difference is a bit larger than last year. Would maintain a bit of suspense and introduce a (small) tactical element, although I suppose from the point of view of having to run both it is neccessary to see that that has indeed happened.

    I do like that we’re getting all these extra layers of complexity, but for it to really work I think it has to be fairly visible to the viewers. I think we might see some stuff on-screen but don’t hold your hopes out for anything extra interesting on live timing.

  5. Robert McKay said on 22nd January 2009, 13:03

    And just to add that it’s important to know these things if we ARE going to see more overtaking – we’ll want to know how it was done. Did the driver hit KERS and change the wing angle at the same time to get the pass done, did they do only one of those, did they do none, and what was the driver being passed doing to defend?

  6. chaostheory said on 22nd January 2009, 13:18

    the other example is “infamous” Glock vs Hamilton in Brasil. I think those who claimed that Timo let Lewis pass him to make him world champion just didnt knew whats was going on: that the Toyota driver was on dry tires in wet weather and Mclaren one – on wets. I personaly – and i believe lots of you – dont need such information displayed for example on tv screen cause i follow every race very closely and -more or less- know whats going on, but if F1 wants to attract more viewers no one can be sure that they will understand what is clear to us. With Kers its easy – just add some kind of indicator, flashing K or whatever to that on screen display which we see sometimes in tv (the one which shows speed, gear, throttle and so on) and show this view more often. But with tires – why its not possible anymore to just paint a white line on soft ones?
    Other thing is every F1 fan need to learn a little about the rules to enjoy the race more; for example i dont get american football at all so i cant watch it and enjoy it, i need to learn the rules first. And F1 basic rules are very clear and easy to understand but there need to be a will to know them.

    • Watch the Superbowl next weekend. You’ll see that you don’t need to understand the rules to enjoy it. You find you pick up the basics very quickly. That’s how I got into American Football 4 years ago (and I’ve had one sleepless night every year since).

    • Terry Fabulous said on 22nd January 2009, 21:38

      Yeah Mate, Just think of it as Rugby League but with as many tackles as you want provided you go further then 10 yards every 4 attempts.
      Plus you can forward pass.
      And the big fellas can block.
      And there is 45 seconds between tackles.

      And you will have it!

  7. Apart from the tyres I hadn’t really thought about the points raised in your article Keith. I agree they have to come up with an effective way to display the information during races.
    As someone who has only ever watched races via the UK terrestrial broadcast, could someone tell me what extra information you can currently get on other channels and on the internet, such as timing data etc.

  8. The_Pope said on 22nd January 2009, 13:38

    I think as everyone has recognised, broadcasters face a real challenge in displaying this raft of new information. Indeed, the commentators are going to have fun keeping up also.

    For me, as long as the information is available online, I will continue to “top-up” my F1 experience using a laptop and Formula1.com; that already goes some way to compensate for the lack of detailed timing information displayed on my TV.

    Horses for courses: geeks can play with all the numbers, while Average Joe can make do with being spoon-fed by the director / commentary team

  9. keepF1technical said on 22nd January 2009, 13:43

    surely like all performance enhancing devices its a balance between gain and reliability.

    it wouldn’t surprise me if the teams just calculate when best to use kers / wing throughout the lap and stick to it each lap. Although it could be telling of the engine characteristics when each manufacturer would choose to use it in this instance – a function of the power curve, gear, etc hence which bend being exited for max advantage.

    Alternatively, given the 8 engine rule, the kers could be used to protect the engine a little, being used at the most stressed moment throughout the lap.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd January 2009, 13:59

    The best site for live timing data is the official one – http://www.f1.com.

    Those of you who weren’t with us during last season won’t have sampled the delights of the F1 Fanatic live blog. Here’s the one from the Brazilian Grand Prix last year:

    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2008/11/02/brazilian-grand-prix-live-blog/

    (If you’ve not read the live blog from the final few laps in that race, make sure you do!)

    Basically we all watch the race together and share all the live information we have access to from a variety of sources, whether it’s sites like Autosport or different TV feeds around the world like Speed, RAI and, in 2009, the BBC.

    We will of course be doing all that again this year and there will be new features on the system which I’ll fill you all in on later.

    • blake said on 22nd January 2009, 23:41

      Thanks Keith!

      I wasn’t in the “know” about your live blog last season. I’m a relatively new F1 fan, and am excited to follow along during upcoming races.

  11. ajokay said on 22nd January 2009, 13:59

    I personally don’t care if I don’t know these things.

    If I see a car pass another car, I’ll just be happy that I’ve seen an overtake. Whether it was because of the KERS boost, a lower wing angle, or combination of the two, it doesn’t matter, I’ll have a go at working it out in my own head if I’m that worried.

    Tyre compounds… I still don’t get the ‘use both in the race’ rule. Just hulk a load of different tyres to each race and let the team choose which they want to run with all weekend. But even so, just paint the wall of the tyre. If teams are worried about colours, just have Bridgestone paint the walls with a different colour for each team to match their livery. The tyres are already pre-designated to each of the teams anyway.

    As far as the engines go, once again, it matters not to me which of their 8 engines they’re using, AS LONG AS I’m told when a driver is onto his 9th.

    So it may not be equal. A driver overtakes another whilst using KERS, and viewers may choose to see that as down to the technology rather than the driver. But then, in F1, all things are not equal, and I believe that is the point of F1.

    If you have F1 with everything being equal, leaving the only difference down to the driver, then you have a spec series. And from what I’ve seen here over the past 6 months, nobody wants that.

    Let the lights go out at the start, lets have some great, close racing, and not worry about the buttons and boosts and wing adjustments, and end up with the drivers crossing the finish line within tenths of a second of each other, and let the top 3 stand on the podium at the end.

    With medals around their necks. Maybe.

    • Why are the teams having to use two tyre compounds at all? Surely there ought to be enough overtaking with the return of slicks, the absence of aerodynamics and KERS? The two compounds were only introduced to ensure the cars had to pit every so often, but if the tyres are not as good as Bridgestone say they are, the cars will be in the pits quite often anyway!
      If we continue with the daft two compound rule, then I think the choosing of the colours should be down to the teams, although I am also sure a gizmo could be fitted or a button pressed by the pit crew which shows the difference electronically too. There is even the option of a tear off strip similar to that used in Touring Cars.
      I don’t want to see a screen cluttered with information all the time – perhaps something like the NASCAR screen could be used, with arrows highlighting the cars status, especially during overtaking moves…

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd January 2009, 14:23

        The two compounds were only introduced to ensure the cars had to pit every so often

        Actually I think it was because Bridgestone wanted it because they realised that after the end of the tyre war there was no reason for anyone to discuss their products.

        • That too of course And why should anybody be discussing their products? We don’t talk about the steering wheels or the seats do we?

  12. Amarjit Singh said on 22nd January 2009, 14:12

    On balance the two compound rule doesn’t add that much. Occasionally it may introduce some action (Sato overtaking Alonso, Candada 2007) but it’s just another complexity for the average F1 fan.

  13. Juhhi said on 22nd January 2009, 14:14

    Sorry this message is not straight to point but:

    Too much changes for a way too short time. KERS no needed at all. Allmost every team has said that it has nothing to do with civil cars.
    Wondering even how much it takes money to develop that thing?…gives grey hairs for all the areas from factory to viewers.
    Sometimes it feels like principals of this sports forgot the basics.
    Keep it simple…
    I predict there will be somekind of problems atleast couple of times next season when drivers are using KERS and sametime try to get maximal out of their frontwing and there´s tree cars side by side on straight or corner. They are still only humans and unfotunately our brains can´t do suchs a decission on that speed and time.
    But anyway…very good points from Keith AGAIN, thanks…really enjoying this site..

  14. Robert McKay said on 22nd January 2009, 14:27

    On balance the two compound rule doesn’t add that much. Occasionally it may introduce some action (Sato overtaking Alonso, Candada 2007) but it’s just another complexity for the average F1 fan.

    The two-compound rule is there for one reason and one reason only – to keep Bridgestone happy. They wanted to have their cake and eat it. With a sole supplier the only reason anyone’s going to talk about tyres is when they fail or if there’s some daft gimmick like this.

    They didn’t want to be involved in a tyre war, but they didn’t want everyone to stop talking about the tyres, so we get this.

  15. Arthur 954 said on 22nd January 2009, 14:27

    Maybe the cars will have to look like police vehicles, flashing these big red, blue, or green lights depending on what they have activated at the moment !
    just joking ….. but it´s good that the issue has been raised

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