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.
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.
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.
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.