Many doubt usefulness of Formula One's ongoing spy games
Although the eye-popping sanctions against McLaren Mercedes in the F1 spy scandal seem to put the team's actions in the most serious light, many around the paddock wonder whether spying has much value, writes Dan Knutson.
- SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- After a year's hiatus, Formula One has returned to one of the most challenging, stunning and historic road circuits in the world -- Spa-Francorchamps -- for the Belgian Grand Prix.On Friday morning, when the 22 V-8 engines started to scream at 19,000 rpm around the track that sweeps and plunges through the hills and trees of the Ardennes Forest, they drowned out, at least for a moment, the cacophony surrounding the McLaren/Ferrari spy scandal. But that didn't last long, especially not when the FIA, F1's ruling body, released new evidence implicating two of McLaren's drivers in the scandal.In Paris the day before, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council had fined the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team the incredible sum of $100 million.
McLaren pays $100 million; Ferrari gets redemption. But in the high-finance world of F-1, all that really matters is next week's race. Mark Kreidler"When you are designing a car, particularly when you are looking at your competitors, one of those things that you want to know is where is the other person's advantage," said Geoff Willis, who has worked for Williams and Honda and is now the technical director at Red Bull Racing."So, in some ways, knowing that information or some of it helps you to focus a bit more on where you develop your car. And in the absence of that information, all the teams are doing a lot of competitor comparison analysis to try to focus on exactly where their shortcomings are."Pat Symonds, Renault's director of engineering, is a key member of the team that fielded championship-winning cars for Michael Schumacher and Alonso. Symonds said that the engineers and designers in all the teams know the basics of what make a car go fast and that the main focus at the moment is on aerodynamics."We all understand where we should be spending our money and putting our effort in, and in what proportion," Symonds said. "And we are trying to do that as much as we can in the budgets that we have and the personnel that we have. So, information from another team doesn't really help you in that respect, and equally neither does detail."What's important in a team are the people and the way people approach things. To have even a complete set of drawings of a car, if you don't understand the concept of how it works, then it is not terribly interesting."Willis said that sometimes having detailed information about somebody else's car could be a huge advantage. But on the other hand, it would only allow you to produce what that team already has produced."Therefore you would always be playing catch-up," Willis said. "However good your manufacturing and design and operations loop is, it is going to take you four to six weeks to get those sort of components on your car."Fundamentally, what you want is an understanding of why you have come up with those engineering solutions and not what those solutions are."BMW Sauber's technical director Willy Rampf said that suddenly getting some random information isn't really going to help because you can't just integrate it into the design of your current car."It is not one thing that makes a car go quicker," he said, "but a huge amount of small details and all the philosophy that has developed in a team over years."Ferrari's technical director Mario Almondo sees things differently. He said he believes being able to analyze another team's confidential data is a major benefit even if you don't see the full picture of another team's design."It is not a matter of single details that you would like or not of the other car, or of trying to imitate what the other team did," Almondo explained. "It is a matter of knowing references."If I know the weight distribution of another car, the efficiency, how powerful the engine is and so on, then I know my references, and I know exactly where to put our resources."I have a higher possibility of arriving at the same result if I am behind, or even a better result if I am quicker, and with less energy spent, less money and in a quicker time. So for sure it is an advantage to just know things and how the other [team] works because it is a sort of technical gift in this respect."When it comes to spying, much of F1's espionage takes place out in the open.During the 25 or so minutes that the cars are lined up in the grid before the start of the race, it is a common sight to see the technical directors and engineers of rival teams standing just a few feet away from a car and intently studying it.The cars are not allowed to be covered up with blankets on the grid. And the screens the teams used to put up at the front of their open pit garage doors have long been banned, as well. This was done for safety reasons because a fire could break out and go undetected.All the teams employ photographers, some of them dressed as race fans, to take detailed photos of other teams' cars.Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesTechnical data on the Ferrari F2007 is at the center of F1's spying scandal.
What's important in a team are the people and the way people approach things. To have even a complete set of drawings of a car, if you don't understand the concept of how it works, then it is not terribly interesting.
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