New regulations challenge F1 drivers
VALENCIA, Spain -- Formula One drivers were busy grappling with new technical innovations like an adjustable rear wing and new steering wheel as the season's first test session continued Wednesday.
Governing body FIA has banned aerodynamic boosts like last season's innovative F-duct and 2009's double-diffuser while returning the hybrid KERS power boost system after a one-season absence. F1 is hoping to encourage more passing, but that means drivers have a whole lot of more options to grapple with while reaching speeds of up to 220 mph.
"Sure there are a lot of new buttons, but if it means a better show then we can accept that," two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said. "The drivers that train more or are more clever on this can have an advantage."
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher called the new rules the most "substantial" changes he's seen in a career that has spanned 20 years.
The adjustable rear wing is set by the push of a button from inside the cockpit, which lowers a flap and increases straight-line speed. Transponders placed around the circuit let the FIA decide when and where a driver can use the technology, which is activated when he is within one second of the car in front. A light will come on to know the option is available.
"You think, 'Jeez, what if it hasn't gone back to its original position?' Because if it doesn't, you are off in a big way," Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg said. "It's going to take some adjusting. Because it moves we don't know how quick it resets itself once you release the button again. It could be too late and it's not properly attached, so it's still a bit of a concern."
The rear wing cannot be used over the first two laps for safety reasons, but KERS will be able to provide a boost in that instance.
"Things could get a lot more interesting, especially on the first lap when everybody is within a second of one another," Rosberg said. "It's going to be all over the place."
McLaren and Ferrari already have an advantage over Red Bull and Mercedes with incorporating KERS because the pair used the technology during the 2009 season. Early favorites Red Bull and Mercedes -- which was then Brawn GP -- are using it for the first time.
"It has been a learning experience for us all to use KERS for the first time and inevitably we faced some teething problems with the system, which should be ironed out quickly enough with further testing," Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said Wednesday.
Schumacher believed the new thinking was "a step in the right direction."
"Last year, overtaking was not possible, so the new rules should be helpful," the 42-year-old German driver said. "That doesn't mean we will clearly overtake -- but it should at least bring us into position which, with these current cars, was not the case."
Teams are also grappling with the change of tire provider, from Bridgestone to Pirelli.
So far, Lotus Renault's exhaust system appears to be the most radical design inside the pit lane at Valencia's Cheste Circuit. To replace the diffuser effect -- which created more downforce since the air flow passed through a longer area of underfloor -- the team created an exhaust that exits at the sidepods. This is expected to increase the flow under the floor.
"The entire concept differs considerably -- not just from last year's car -- but from any car this team has ever produced," technical director James Allison said. "Those changes represent our attempt to extract the absolute maximum aerodynamic performance from the regulations."
The first glance at the new field of cars -- of the front-runners, only McLaren has not unveiled its car -- hadn't yet provided any controversy over rules interpretations, but major updates and changes are expected by the third test in Barcelona or at the last in Bahrain.
"I can guarantee all my engineers will be pouring over the photographs as we speak -- as will every engineer in Formula One," Brawn said. "I don't see anything dramatic at the moment, any major controversy. But there's bound to be questions on various cars."
The season opens with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 13.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press