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After Singapore, Williams Will Focus on 2011 Chassis

Rubens Barrichello in the Williams FW32

The Williams team have revealed that they will deploy their final upgrade to the FW32 chassis at the Singapore Grand Prix in three weeks’ time, and will thereafter focus their efforts on the development of the FW33, for 2011.  This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, as the Williams cars have been making progress up the grid in recent races, after a sluggish start to the season.  Rubens Barrichello, in particular, has been a standout.

However, it has become de rigueur for F1 teams to weigh the relative costs and benefits of allocating budget towards the current season versus the next.  Clearly, Willams have decided that, based on their current trajectory, they will likely attain a certain number of points (which translates directly into a share of the FOM commercial rights pool at the end of the season).

Of course, barring some unforseen miracle, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be in the running for podium finishes, let alone wins.  Therefore, considering that the 2011 season will once again usher in critical rules changes for the constructors, it makes perfect sense that Williams have decided to get a head start for next year, in hopes of stealing a march on their rivals.

This is a practice that Ross Brawn pioneered in his years at Ferrari, and exploited with a vengeance in the lead up to the 2009 season with Honda-Brawn-Mercedes (these being the successive nomenclatures of the Brackley based squad over the past three seasons).  Of course, this method isn’t exactly fool-proof.  Last year, once Brawn decided that Jenson Button had the title pretty well sewn up, he began to direct the team’s resources towards the 2010.  Yet, this year’s Mercedes has been a notable laggard.  Nico Rosberg has managed to find his way to the lowest step of the podium on three occasions, thus far, but the team has never been in contention for a win.

Wisely, Brawn has announced that the team is essentially using the remainder of the season as test sessions, hoping to collect points along the way, but looking ahead fully to 2011.  Williams are following suit.

And what of the changes in tech regs for 2011?  Next year, double diffusers and F-ducts will be banned.  This seems to have become a typical pattern in Formula 1.  One or more teams will introduce an innovation, exploiting some particular grey area in the rules.  The innovation proves successful, and the team seems to gain a significant advantage over their rivals.  The rivals soon follow suit, copying the innovation.  Before long, after a costly allocation of time and budget by all, the innovation becomes commonplace.  And then the FIA bans it.

Ross Brawn recently complained of the deleterious nature of this cycle to the general economy of Formula 1.  It doesn’t make much sense to pour millions of euros into the development of the latest gizmo or gadget if you know it will be rendered obsolete at the end of the season.

Put purely in remunerative terms, a team must calculate if the outlay required to develop the latest gizmo will be offset by a higher FOM payout at year’s end.  Naturally, if the team is a grid leader, they’re thinking more in terms of trophies and titles, rather than just points.  But for teams like Williams and Mercedes this year, the points question is crucial.

In addition to the rules changes for next year, the controversial KERS system is set to make a return.  Williams have announced that they will bring theirs back.  They have not decided if they will use the conventional battery system, or the flywheel system that they pioneered, and on which they hold a patent.

KERS, after its controversial debut last year, was dropped by all of the teams who used it.  However, it was never officially banned.  The teams decided, in a healthy show of unity, to exclude it from their 2010 designs.  But the FIA is anxious to start using some green window dressing again, and new president Jean Todt is all for promoting everything green, greenish and vaguely green.  Look for future regulations to restrict fuel intake for engines, thus ensuring greater fuel economy.

It’s understandable that Formula 1 is trying to remain relevant by trying to reduce its carbon imprint.  However, considering that the typical fuel economy of a current F1 engine is about 3 miles per gallon, it’s a bit difficult to take this effort seriously.

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