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Page last updated at 19:01 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

F1 ready for racing revolution

By Caroline Cheese

Formula One can no longer be accused of being predictable.

This year, the sport has undergone its biggest shake-up for a quarter of a century, with the aim of increasing overtaking, cutting costs and making the driver's role more important than ever.

Even the experts can't agree on how the season will pan out.

So what are these radical changes, and what impact will they have on the sport?


From this year, teams have the option of using a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers).

The device gives drivers a power boost button on their steering wheel, conjuring up tantalising images of KITT in the iconic 1980s TV series Knightrider.

It works by recovering the kinetic energy (from the Greek word kinesis meaning "motion") which is normally wasted under braking and converting it into power.

The driver can use that burst of power in one boost (when overtaking, for example) or at key points around the circuit to reduce lap time.

Most teams have plumped for an electrical system, which stores the energy in a battery and releases it to the wheels when required.

Only Williams are so far trying out a mechanical system, which uses the energy to turn a small flywheel that turns at up to 100,000rpm and connects to the wheels when a boost in power is needed.

The added 80 horsepower is available to the driver for 6.7 seconds per lap.

So far, so good... but it has its drawbacks.

The weight of the device (around 35kg) means teams will have less ballast available to improve the balance of the car within the maximum weight limit.

The risk of electrical fires or electrocution is - understandably - a major concern, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel was spotted performing a two-footed leap out of the cockpit during testing.

Williams, Red Bull and Toyota have already ruled out using the new system at the season-opener in Australia (27-29 March) and only McLaren say they are likely to deploy it in Melbourne.


Grooved tyres (left) are out, slicks (right) are back in 2009
Grooved dry tyres are out (left), slicks are in (right)

Untreaded dry tyres, known as slicks, are back after 11 years on the scrap heap.

Grooved tyres were brought in in 1998 to reduce speeds from what were considered dangerous levels.

However, with other new regulations acting to slow up the cars in 2009, slicks are back in town.

It is the rubber in the tyre that provides the grip, so the more of it that is in contact with the track, the better the grip and the faster the car can go.

Or as Vettel succinctly puts it: "It's more fun."


Even the casual F1 fan will probably notice changes in the appearance of the cars in 2009.

In very simple terms, the new regulations should mean: overtaking easier, staying on the track harder.

The 2008 Red Bull (left) compared to the 2009 model
The 2009 Red Bull (right) looks significantly different to the 2008 model

Downforce, which literally presses the car onto the track, is reduced by the outlawing of all those extra items that stuck out of the cars (barge boards, winglets, chimneys, cooling fins and turning vanes).

While being very useful aerodynamically, those extraneous components created a turbulent wake which made it awfully difficult for the driver behind.

So while the new cars may not look all that pretty, it should hopefully lead to more wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking.

In addition, the front wing , now lower and as wide as the car, has driver adjustable-flaps, which can be raised to generate more downforce and lowered to create more straight-line speed. They can only be used twice per lap.

The rear wing is taller and narrower while the diffuser - which creates downforce through air flow - has been moved back and up, reducing grip but lessening the wake behind.

There may be a down side though.

BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica has expressed a fear that the wider front wing could cause some serious crashes - and therefore might actually discourage drivers from wheel-to-wheel combat.

"We have to be really careful not only at the first corner but especially when you think you have overtaken the guy and you close the line," said the Pole, who finished fourth in the drivers' championship last year.

"Now you can easily take off his wing and this wing is quite huge and it will go under the car."


Watch Red Bull's video explaining the rule changes


It is estimated that last season teams spent a collective £2bn, a figure F1 boss Max Mosley eventually wants to cut by an astonishing 80%.

Hitting that target will certainly take time, and may ultimately prove impossible, but this season's new measures should see a 30% reduction in costs.


The only testing allowed will be during scheduled practice on race weekends.

Each driver is allowed eight engines for the entire season. If they have to use an extra one, they will incur a 10-place grid penalty.

The engines themselves have been cut from 19,000 to 18,000 rpm in order to boost reliability.

In a further bid to assist the smaller teams, wind tunnel testing has been limited and factories have to be closed for six weeks a year.

Information on tyres and fuel must be shared between the teams so that so-called "spotters" - who effectively spy on rival teams' strategies - are no longer required.


In 2007, a new rule was introduced which meant the pit lane closed as soon as the safety car was deployed until such time as all the competitors had lined up behind the safety car.

The idea was to stop drivers going through an accident zone at speed to get back to the pits and refuel while the safety car was out.

But several races were seriously affected by the rule as drivers who happened to be running low on fuel when the safety car came out were forced to pit and incur the resulting stop-go penalty.

In 2009, the pit lane will remain open, but software will calculate a minimum time for each driver to return to the pits.

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see also
Williams opt against new system
18 Feb 09 |  Formula 1
Hamilton expects tough F1 battle
17 Feb 09 |  Formula 1
F1 to scrap 'bad' pit lane rule
27 Jan 09 |  Formula 1
New rules prompt Ferrari concern
20 Jan 09 |  Formula 1
Formula 1 teams unveil 2009 cars
09 Feb 09 |  Formula 1
Force India happy with F1 changes
16 Dec 08 |  Formula 1
The battle to save Formula One
12 Dec 08 |  Formula 1
F1 unveils cost-cutting blueprint
12 Dec 08 |  Formula 1
Cost-cutting plan agreed for F1
10 Dec 08 |  Formula 1
F1 on the BBC in 2009
24 Feb 09 |  Formula 1

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