KERS and DRS .. Helping or Hurting F1?

By , March 28, 2011 11:17 pm

After the troubles in Bahrain led to the cancellation of its Grand Prix earlier in March, the 2011 F1 season finally kicked off with the ever popular Australian GP in Melbourne. The city did a good job of hosting the race again, but before I comment on what Austin F1 can learn from the weekend, I wanted to mull over the impact that KERS and DRS are having.

Let’s start with KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System. This is an optional feature that the F1 teams can add to their cars to recover some of the energy lost during braking and store it (via a battery, hydraulics or a flywheel) until the time that a power boost is needed. At that point, the driver will hit the KERS button on the steering wheel, and release the stored energy to provide around 80 bhp of additional power for up to 6.6 seconds, theoretically enabling easier overtaking, or providing protection from being overtaken.

All well and good, except the trade-off of additional weight (around 25 Kg) and reduced reliability seems to cancel-out much of the benefit. At the Australian GP Sebastian Vettel dominated the race WITHOUT KERS, as the team had removed his KERS system prior to the start, as they thought its marginal benefit was not worth the reliability risk!

So does KERS help F1?  My view is that when the maximum power added is increased, as will happen in future seasons, it will give the opportunity for more overtaking and that will improve the spectacle, which will reinforce the fact that F1 is as much an engineering competition as it is a motorsport – (not forgetting that regenerative braking has actually been used on certain trams and trains for decades!)

That brings me to the new DRS or Drag Reduction System, introduced for the first time this season, and I am not so sure about this one. The premise behind this idea is that cars benefit from greater rear wing downforce in corners to help push the car to the ground, but then need as little drag as possible when on a fast straight. Hence, DRS uses a section of the rear wing that can adjust to give more downforce in corners and less on straights, improving overtaking and lap times.

Where things verge on being too “artificial” for me is that the use of DRS is restricted during the race to cars that are are one second or less behind a car they want to overtake, and then only allowed on a certain section of the track. During the race, the lead car cannot defend by using DRS, but this does not apply during qualifying.  Confusing! In my opinion a DRS system is defensible, for the same reasons that KERS is, but the artificial way it is restricted goes too far. Did it help the race this weekend? .. no, I am pretty sure it did not assist in any overtaking that I saw. The good news is that the rules for its use will be reviewed again after the third race of the season.

Despite some misgivings, I feel that KERS and DRS do have an engineering basis for being in F1, which is more than can be said for the barmy idea of artificial rain that was being touted by Bernie and others a few weeks ago!

So Austin, are we ready for scenes like the ones below during and after the Australian GP this weekend?

Start of the 2011 Australian GP

Start of the 2011 Australian GP

Start / Finish Straight Following Completion of the Race

Start / Finish Straight Following Completion of the Race

There are a few conclusions we draw from the Australian GP that could help Austin:

1) Ensure we do not hold the race in March or November!– The cold weather really kept down the crowds for practise and qualifying, which will not help F1’s cause in Australia, as Melbourne’s mayor had already been compalining about the cost versus revenue equation. I am not sure how much sway Tavo has over Bernie, but avoiding potentially cold spells or burning hot August would be good!

2) Inform the more casual attendees about F1  ahead of time.– With KERS, DRS and new Pirelli tyres (OK, tires!) all affecting the race, new comers and more casual race watchers in Melbourne could have been excused for scratching their heads in confusion, and giving up to go back home to watch the footy! We must remember that many in the  Austin F1 stands will not be avid F1 fans, so we need to inform them about some of the subtleties that make F1 so compelling over time not wait to race day.

3) Accentuate Austin – As other recent comments on this blog have pointed out, Austin has a number of parallels with Melbourne and Montreal, and we need to remember that the uniqueness of the city and what it has to offer are going to be vital in the success of Austin F1.

Comment welcome!!

What Can Austin Learn from Australia’s F1 GP?

By , March 17, 2011 11:52 pm

Firstly, thanks for the comments, email and Twitter feedback. It’s good to know that there are so many people wanting to make Austin F1 a success, and that we can use this blog to discuss some of the issues. The consensus so far seems to be that the key factor that can make US F1 succeed in Austin, in a way that it has never done before in the US, is the unique character of the city itself.

I see some parallels between Austin and the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, where the vibe and character of the city have defined an event that has become a favourite for both drivers and fans. In fact, virtually everyone seems to love the  Melbourne’s GP except for the city’s Lord Mayor, but that’s another story!

Australian GP

Early Corner Excitement at the Australian GP

So what aspects of the Australian can Austin learn from, and even improve upon, that will help make it a success?

1) Create a Multi-Faceted “Fun” Event
Now obviously the main point of a Grand Prix weekend is the race itself. However, if that is all that there is taking place then it will only draw F1 devotees. By increasing the appeal of the event, with live music, parties, fairs, and related entertainment it will greatly broaden its appeal to the potential fans who are yet to fully engage with the sport, but who are looking for an entertaining time centred around, but not limited  to, the race. Melbourne does this very well, with events in and around the venue in Albert Park throughout the race weeknd appealing to families as well as race fans. Take a look at the off-track events on their web site:  http://www.grandprix.com.au/event/off-track

2) Leverage the Benefits of the City
Even the great majority avid F1 fans only attend one or two races a year. When deciding on which race they will spend their money and vacation time on, they will tend to compare the whole experience of various GPs before making their choice. This will be especially important for fans that will attend with their parnter and/or children, who may less entusiatic about watching a race. It is pretty obvious that host cities that embrace F1 and the visiting fans annd families, and that are appealing places to visit, will be choosen over less appealing venues. 

Melbourne does this pretty well, although it is not up there with F1 mecca of Monaco. This is where Austin can really score with its “Live Music Capital of the World” mantra (sorry Nashville!); its experience in holding highly succesful music and film and multimedia festivals such as SxSW; and its acknowledged position as one of the Top 3 cities  to live in the US.

So we have the ingredients, and the support of some key figues in the city, so the challenge over the next year will be to buy-in the mainstream of Austin’s music, arts, entertainment, bar and restaurant owners to create an citywide F1 experience that will keep vistors coming back year after year.

3) Make it EASY
It is so frustrating and annoying to be full of anticipation to attend major sporting or music event, only to have the experience overshadowed by difficulties getting to, from and around the venue. Only a few years ago, many of the fans trying to attend the Silverstone British GP were thwarted by huge traffic jams and inadequate parking, meaning that large numbers did not arrive in time to watch the race.

If Austin is to ensure that it does not fall into the same trap, planners MUST ensure that road-links, public and shuttle transport and parking are more than adequate. They must look at the experiences of other similar venues, and have the infrastructure in place for that peak traffic period two or so hours before the race.

With the postponement (cancellation?) of the Bahrain GP, the Australian race will launch the 2011 F1 season on a March 27th. For those of us in Austin, let’s look at the race and infrastructure with a student’s eye, and try and learn other ways we can help make Austin F1 a winner.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts and comments .. and “no” I did not manage to get a tickets for the Senna movie at SxSW tonight, and so I am hoping for a national release, maybe in June.

Can Austin Succeed Where Other US F1 Venues Have Failed ?

By , March 13, 2011 1:44 am

Aside from keeping you updated with progress on Austin’s F1 track, I intend this blog to explore, and hopefully influence, the dynamics of Austin’s challenge to get  Formula 1 into the mainstream of sporting events in the US. This is not going to be easy!  If Indianapolis could not sustain a permanent place on the F1 calendar, then what chance does Austin have of putting F1 up there with NASCAR® and Indycar® as part of US motorsport fans’ DNA?

While the F1 US race may be sustainable through international interest, the only way to make it truly meaningful as a permanent cornerstone of F1 is for the US motor racing community to become passionate about the race. Only then will the intangible, but vital, ingredient of venues such as Monaco, Silverstone and San Marino come into play to move the US GP from the pack of “other” races on the calendar into a Grand Prix that every driver has in their short- list of races that they most want to win, and every fan has on their list of races they most want to watch in person.

There is a long way to go to get there, and the US’ track record in F1  has not been good so far. There has yet to be real buy-in from US or international motor racing fans, or drivers, for any US GP, and without it the US races become centred on corporate P&L objectives first, and motor racing second. A recipe that, I am sure that Tavo and Bernie would agree, leads to beige races that quickly become stale, ending in their inevitable demise.

In my opinion, we need to focus on three things to ensure the long-term success of Austin F1:

1) Appeal to the NASCAR and Indycar® fans. They love motorsport, but feel disenfranchised from F1. We must buy them in.

2) Persuade US Racing Drivers and Teams to Participate in F1.  Of course,  if  drivers such as Alex Rossi and Danica Patrick, or teams such as Cypher F1 or Peter Windsor’s US F1, were ever to become part of the F1 grid the effect would be huge. Even if this is not possible by 2012, if  US motorsport icons would put their weight behind the race, and take every opportunity to promote it, then the momentum would begin to build.

3) Create a Personality for the US GP.  The US GP must create a unique personality that appeals to motorsport fans if it is to succeed.  In this regard, I think Austin can really score, by overlaying its personality of  “Number 1 Live Music Venue in the US” alongside its “Keep Austin Weird” mantra to make it a very compelling venue for fans to watch the race and enjoy the city. I know that F1 aficionados  in the UK, Germany, Scandanavia and Australia would fit right in to the Austin vibe.

I will explore each of these elements in detail in this blog over over the next few weeks, and I will include as much thought and comment from key players that I can elicit. So please add your comments here, and help me to push the debate forward.

Before I finish, I also want to mention two things that interested me this week. Firstly, one of the events on Austin’s SXSW festival’s calendar this week was the screening of a moving film depicting the life of F1 driver Ayrton Senna. As a Nigel Mansell fan I relished his battles with Senna, and the memories of Senna’s head slumping forward after his fatal in San Marino still haunt me. There is another chance to see the film on Thursday, and I intend to be there. If you cannot make it, this compelling review from the Austin Statesman is worth a read:

http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/racing/entries/2011/03/12/the_senna_film_the_fragility_o.html

F1 Magazine had a great article on Austin’s F GP, including an artist’s illustration of the 130′ climb from the start/finish straight to the first left-hander. If this is even close to what it looks like once the track is complete, then it will become a signature for the track, and one of the most exciting starts in F1. See the full article at:

http://www.formula1unitedstates.com/F1RacingArticle030711.pdf

Aston Martin Returns to F1?

By , March 7, 2011 10:37 pm

I visited the Austin F1 track site again yesterday, and I am pleased to say that things are continuing to proceed nicely. The hedgerows have been cleared, meaning the track is now much more visible from the road (FM 812). The downside is that a new fence makes access for photography a little more challenging! The main work this week seems to have been on creating the gradients, with the vertical topography becoming more visible.

The following two photos show the progress on the site leveling and grading .. and it was great to have some Austin blue sky rather than gray in the pictures for the first time!

Leveled Site

Ground Fully Cleared and Level at Front of Site

Gradient Creation

Site Topography Work in Progress, with Gradients Being Created

So what’s with the title of this post? Well there were rumours circulating in 2009 that Aston Martin would make a comeback to Formula 1 for the first time since 1959/60, when Carroll Shelby drove for the team. Aston Martin chairman Dave Richards, who used to be team principle for BAR and Benneton F1, indicated that Prodrive would enter F1 and that the team could be branded as Aston Martin.

Unfortunately, things seem to have gone a bit quiet on this idea in recent months, as Aston Martin focuses on sportscar racing. However, I could not resist the temptation to get Aston Martin and F1 together again, albeit my Vantage and the Austin F1 construction sign during my last visit to the site … well, its a start ! ….

Aston Martin Vantage at Austin's F1 Track

Aston Martin's Long Awaited Return to F1 .. sort of

Some Positive Publicity for the Austin F1 GP

By , March 6, 2011 2:06 am

The thing that the Austin F1 community fears the most is that the race may never really capture the imagination of US motor racing fans, nor the broader F1 audience. This lack of interest has been one of the prime reasons, along with the lack of US F1 drivers and teams, that previous attempts to put a permanent US race on the F1 calendar have failed. Hence, I have been encouraged this week by two things that should help.

Firstly, US driver Alexander Rossi has visited the F1 construction site at the invitation of Bruce Knox, President and CEO of F1 USA, and Tavo Hellmund. Alexander, who will be driving for Fortec Motorsports in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series this season, is currently the only American with a valid F1 superlicense.

Alexander’s comments about his visit may have been scripted, but are still worth repeating: ” My visit to Austin affirmed the belief that this is the right location to host a Formula 1 return to the States. There is a buzz and energy that resonates within everyone I came in contact with in Austin. Everyone is aware that a major race and big event is coming to town.  I’ll be working hard to earn the opportunity to represent America, lining up on the F1 grid for 2012.”

Alexander Rossi

Alex Rossi, the only US Driver with an F1 Superlicence, at Austin's F1 Site

Then there is the intriguing possibility of Lewis Hamilton, former F1 World Champion and one of the leading contenders for the 2011 title, and NASCAR’s double title winner Tony Stewart, swapping cars later in the year as part of a promotional event for a mutual sponsor. This could be a first step in sparking interest in the US GP with NASCAR fans, which seems vital if it is to reach its potential.

The idea is still taking shape, but Hamilton did tell Reuters: “It’s an event that potentially we will be doing.”  If it does happen then the most likely venue will be Watkins Glen during the summer.

Finally, the team working on the F1 Austin track maybe need to consider installing  a mega sprinkler system before laying the track base. Why? Well, there has been a lot of talk this week from Bernie Eccleston and other prominent F1 figures about the possibility of creating artificial rain during each race to make things more challenging. The idea got support from Austin’s Tavo Hellmund, who apparently called Ecclestone’s idea “brilliant”.

I must admit to siding with F1 driver Mark Webber on this issue, who was rather less than enthusiastic about the possibility. When asked by BBC Sport whether F1 needs artificial measures to liven it up and if he was in favour of the idea, Webber pointedly replied: ‘No and No.’ He went on to add that past Formula 1 legends Ayrton Senna and Jim Clark would be ‘turning in their graves if they thought we would have sprinklers and hoses lined up around the track’.

I have a feeling the idea will be left to disappear quietly!

Significant Progress on Austin’s F1 Track – Photos

By , February 28, 2011 12:37 am

I visited the Austin F1 track site this morning, and was pleasantly surprised at the progress that has been made in the past couple of weeks. With the required permits apparently now in-place, a significant amount of work has been done on clearing and grading the site.

The following photos show progress to date. Please feel free to use the images, with accreditation to Ian Weightman. If you need high resolution or additional images please contact me through this blog or via Twitter @F1_AustinTX.

Sign at Entrance to Austin's F1 Racetrack

Sign at Entrance to Austin's F1 Racetrack on FM 812

 

Works Entrance

Works Entrance to Austin's F1 Racetrack

Site Clearance

Site for Austin's F1 Track Being Cleared

Heavy Equipment

Some of the Heavy Equipment Being Used to Clear and Grade the Track Site

 

Layout and Grading Markers

Markers for Layout and Grading on Cleared Site

 

Inclined Section

Work Also Underway on Inclined Sections of Site

Austin F1 Track Location & Design

By , February 27, 2011 12:18 am

This map shows the location of the new F1 Track in Austin. It is very close to the Austin’s Bergstrom airport, East of SH130:

Austin F1 Track Location

Austin's F1 track is located East of SH130, very close to the airport

The track itself is being designed and engineered by Tilke, a German company which has been responsible for most of the new F1 tracks that have been built in recent years, including the tracks in Bahrain, China, Korea and Malaysia. Its draft design and elevation for the Austin track have been released and these are reproduced below:

Austin F1 Track Draft Layout

The Austin F1 draft track layout shows a circuit of 3.4 miles, expected to allow speeds of 200 mph

Work should now be commencing on grading the site, which will be developed according to the following draft:

Austin F1 Track Draft Elevation

I intend to visit the site tomorrow morning, and post pictures of work to date.

Welcome to the F1 Austin Blog!

By , February 25, 2011 1:21 am

Hello, my name is Ian Weightman, and I have set-up this blog and Twitter account  @F1_AustinTX  with the objective of providing a forum for those who are, or want to become, involved with the Formula 1 Grand Prix coming to Austin, Texas in 2012. I have lived in Austin for the last 10 years, and have been an avid F1 fan for most of my life.

I intend to keep the scope of the discussion around the Austin GP, and how it can best be promoted to the local community and the wider American audience. I also want to take the opportunity to explore means by which we can bring benefits to Austin and Texas through the exposure this will give to a massive international audience.

I very much welcome any comments, help and suggestions that help in the objective to make the inaugral Austin Grand Prix a success both for Texas and F1.

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