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Thursday, December 7, 2023

How did Mercedes and Ferrari fall foul of F1’s plank guidelines?

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The truth is, there have been remarkably few occasions in F1’s historical past that planks have been discovered to have worn down an excessive amount of – with probably the most well-known nonetheless being Michael Schumacher’s disqualification from the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. 

This makes it much more intriguing that, in an space of the automobile that groups are very aware of there being no room for error, two of the highest squads tripped up on the identical race weekend. 

The reasons as to how the rule breaches occurred appear to be clear, which is why each groups needed to merely settle for their destiny with the stewards as soon as the planks have been discovered to be worn away an excessive amount of. 

As Mercedes boss Toto Wolff stated: “There isn’t any wiggle room within the guidelines. We have to take it on the chin, do the educational, and are available again stronger.” 

What the plank guidelines say 

The tolerance between success and failure over plank legality is tiny, given there might be not more than 1mm of damage between a freshly fitted plank and one which’s gone by all of the rigours of a race. 

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To verify compliance with the foundations, the FIA is ready to measure put on on the plank at 4 50mm diameter holes drilled into the floor at particular areas designated inside the technical laws.  

Within the occasion of Leclerc and Hamilton, it was the rearmost gap that failed the take a look at. This gap have to be positioned on the automobile’s centreline between 825mm and 1025mm forward of the rear axle line.  

As might be seen from the primary picture, this in itself presents some variability as to how put on can happen on completely different vehicles, given that there’s not a selected level for the drill gap, in contrast to the three holes on the entrance of the plank. 

The drill holes made within the plank (which is not manufactured from wooden, somewhat it’s a composite materials) are surrounded by flush mounted titanium skids.  

These provide additional safety from put on and are additionally tightly regulated of their design. That is an space that the FIA has been carefully monitoring with this new era of vehicles, and it has served a number of technical directives as a response to inconsistencies of their design already. 

Photograph by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Max Verstappen, Pink Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

One attention-grabbing dialogue level after the disqualifications was that the FIA didn’t verify the planks on all of the vehicles. 

That is normal process as it will be unattainable for the governing physique to verify compliance on each facet of each automobile after each qualifying and race. It’s why it selects random components every time from random vehicles in a bid to verify compliance. 

On this event, Max Verstappen’s RB19, Leclerc’s SF-23, Hamilton’s W14 and Lando Norris’ MCL60 have been all chosen to have their planks checked. 

The Pink Bull and McLaren got the all-clear, whereas the Ferrari and Mercedes weren’t. 

The set off factors 

The technical motive for why the planks have been worn an excessive amount of is straightforward to elucidate. The vehicles have been working too low to the bottom, and this scuffed them away over the Austin weekend.

The reason for this revolves across the selection of rear experience top, one thing that groups mess around with every weekend. But it surely will also be influenced by gasoline hundreds and even DRS use – because the aero load comes on and off the automobile.

Groups usually have loads of time on a grand prix weekend to get their experience top right into a candy spot the place the plank is just not at hazard of being worn away – however the automobile is low sufficient to ship most efficiency.

Nonetheless, this steadiness has proved more durable to handle at dash races with groups having only one follow session – somewhat than the three of a standard F1 weekend – to lock settings in earlier than qualifying. 

As a consequence of the extra condensed timetable, there’s an incapacity to cowl the qualifying and long term programmes which are usually finished. 

Any experience top calculations being made throughout this FP1 session should account for the extra aggressive working that’s added into the weekend’s schedule, as there are further aggressive classes going down as soon as automobile settings are locked in.

McLaren MCL36 plank

Photograph by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren MCL36 plank

Moreover, groups should not in a position to verify the plank put on as freely as they usually are as soon as the vehicles are in parc ferme, so there’s a sure factor of guesswork happening. 

We have now already seen occasions this yr, like with Alpine in Baku, the place groups have realised after the dash that the experience heights have been too low and there was a danger of the plank being worn an excessive amount of in the primary race. Vehicles have been pulled out of parc ferme to make experience top modifications, and began from the pitlane. 

Ferrari revealed after the race that it had hung out throughout FP1 elevating the experience top of its vehicles in an effort to discover an optimum vary for the race weekend as soon as it grew to become clear how the bumps have been impacting issues. 

But it surely clearly didn’t elevate the automobile sufficient although. Intriguingly, it additionally advised that the climate might have performed a think about how issues performed out. A stronger wind depth than was initially forecast, together with a change in course, maybe meant the automobile was being pressured down additional in areas of the observe than it had in follow – pushing the plank on to the bottom. 

The scenario at Austin was additionally made extra difficult by the bumpy nature of the circuit, which was described by Verstappen as not being as much as F1 normal. 

One other potential issue would even be associated to tyres, because it might not be a coincidence that the 2 vehicles that fell foul of the plank points have been those who ran prolonged opening stints.  

We all know that, because the tyres put on, there’s much less tread left, which not solely reduces grip however means extra temperature is ready to escape. This can lead to decrease pressures as tyres get in direction of the tip of their life, and that has the consequence of a decrease experience top.  

In each Hamilton and Leclerc’s case they ran longer first stints on the medium tyre in an effort to create a strategic offset to Verstappen and Norris – with Leclerc opting to make a one-stop technique work towards his rivals on two-stoppers.  

This might have opened the door for further plank put on on this interval of the race, when the automobile nonetheless fairly heavy with gasoline. 

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, in Parc Ferme

Photograph by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, in Parc Ferme

Classes realized 

All these above components got here collectively to push the Mercedes and Ferrari exterior of the tolerated window. 

As Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin defined: “Sadly, it is likely one of the pitfalls of the dash format the place we’ve got a solitary hour of working earlier than parc ferme.  

“With out working at a race gasoline load in FP1, mixed with a circuit as bumpy as this and the components of the observe the place the drivers need to put the automobile in the course of the grand prix, have contributed to the upper than anticipated put on ranges. We’ll go away and study from this.” 

Will probably be attention-grabbing to see if at bumpy dash venues – with Interlagos developing – groups now change their programmes in FP1 to make sure that they get not less than one run on heavy gasoline to raised perceive experience top implications. 

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Moreover, the disqualifications of Hamilton and Leclerc will possible immediate some recent debate about whether or not or not the parc ferme guidelines are a superb match for the dash weekends when it comes to locking groups into set-ups so early. 

Amid discuss of a dash race format rejig, the parc ferme guidelines may effectively be modified to assist keep away from a repeat of what occurred at Austin.

Whereas Ferrari and Mercedes might really feel barely arduous finished by, they are going to maybe be barely relieved that their different drivers didn’t undergo the identical destiny, seeing as post-race checks weren’t carried out on each automobile.

The query everyone seems to be asking now’s simply what number of different vehicles would have failed the plank checks if the FIA had checked out all opponents?

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