On Friday in Barcelona, FIA race director Charlie Whiting held a rare press briefing in which he spoke on a variety of highly topical issues, including the legality of the latest blown diffusers, the use of DRS in Monaco, the decision to have two DRS zones in Canada and more. Below
Q: Why does the FIA believe that the use of blown diffuser technology may be illegal when used with certain engine maps?
Charlie Whiting: It became apparent to us, through examination of data, that what we thought was a fairly benign feature was turning into something that was being used, in our opinion, illegally. An exhaust system is there for the purpose of exhausting gasses from the engine and when youíre off-throttle, it isnít doing that any more. Therefore itís being used to influence the aerodynamic characteristics of the car. We think arguably, this infringes Article 3.15 of the technical regulations.
Q: Why has this issue been raised now, rather than last season, over the winter period, or earlier this year?
CW: Simply because these things start off little, appearing to be quite benign. They then get worse and worse. Now we are faced with the possibility of even more extreme systems coming along. We felt it was time to do something about it.
Q: Why has the FIA revised its intention to ban the devices immediately?
CW: In light of what weíve learned since sending the first note to the teams, we felt it needed more discussion. Having already discussed it with a few of the engine manufacturers, we felt it was not right to rush something through. We are always open to constructive debate.
We are going to discuss it on June 16th at the next Technical Working Group meeting. Weíll come up with an introduction plan after that. Weíve made it clear in a follow-up note that we still maintain these systems arguably contravene the regulations. We are not backing off on the principle, we are just backing off slightly on the planned introduction.
Q: Why are the current diffusers not illegal per se?
CW: We accept the fact exhaust gasses have to come out somewhere, and teams are going to do the best they can to get a benefit from that. We have never had a problem with exhaust positions. This latest phenomenon is what we have a problem with.
Q: Could there be a protest by teams not using a blown diffuser?
CW: Iíve told the teams we have decided to postpone this introduction but this [a protest] could happen.
Itís always a possibility, and Iíve made that clear to the teams that it could happen. We would take it to the stewards in the normal way. We always maintain, in all of our technical directives that we have sent for many years now, that this is merely the opinion of a technical department, and anyone is free to challenge it in front of the stewards. It doesnít happen very often, but has happened in the past.
Iíd like to think that probably wouldnít happen, but one never knows. Itís not beyond the realms of possibility. A protest is open to anybody. It would go before the stewards.
Q: What has been discussed with the drivers in recent weeks regarding the use of DRS in Monaco?
CW: We were made aware of driversí concerns about using [DRS in Monaco], and Iíve spoken to the drivers a few times about it, and it was quite clear the majority of them would prefer to not use it in Monaco.
Q: Why has the FIA not banned the use of the DRS at Monaco?
CW: There is no evidence to support the theory it [DRS] is going to be dangerous. It was introduced as an overtaking aid, it would be somewhat perverse to not allow it in the place where you need overtaking [assistance] the most. As far as weíre concerned itís a device thatís open to anyone to use legally at any race. Thatís what itís there for.
Q: Might the FIA disable DRS, should empirical evidence suggest it is dangerous?
CW: If we think thereís a problem we can stop its use. There is a clear Ďdangerous constructioní rule that we have, which is a blanket regulation. If there was something that we felt was dangerous, then we will stop it. We can do that with any part of the car.
Q: Has DRS has had the desired effect or has made overtaking too easy?
CW: Our view has always been that we shouldnít make it [overtaking] easy; we should make it possible. In Melbourne clearly it wasnít possibleÖ we didnít have quite enough length on the longest straight. It worked perfectly in Malaysia and China.Anyone thinking overtaking was too easy in Turkey should look at the speed delta between the cars at the beginning of the sectorÖ [the following] cars had a massive speed advantage. I think the degradation of the tyres has a major part to play in thisÖ I donít think anyone is under any illusion that itís [solely] the DRS thatís allowing the overtaking. I think tyres have a bigger part to play in this at the moment. I donít think weíve gone over the top with the DRS and we certainly donít want to.
Q: Why is the use of DRS allowed without any restriction during practise and qualifying?
CW: The only reason we allow it at all in practice and qualifying is to make sure that the cars are fitted with the right gear ratios. If [teams] are not allowed to use it, there will be a temptation - this is what all the teams say - not to use DRS at all. We donít want that. They might want to optimise for qualifying and, so would not be able to use the DRS [effectively] in the race because they would not be able to use the revs.
There are differences of opinion, as to whether, if we allowed DRS in only one place [the specified zone] in practice and qualifying, it may or may not be a thing that they want to use in the race. Some engineers tell me it would be, other engineers say they wouldnít use DRS at all in the race, if it was only allowed in practice [and qualifying] on the straight. We are pursuing the idea of allowing DRS in more than one place during the race. In that case we could go closer, perhaps, to allowing it only in those places in practice and qualifying. Thatís what weíre working towards.
Q: Why the decision to have a two-zone DRS in Canada?
CW: In Melbourne we didnít have quite enough length on the longest straight. A driver could get closer to the car in front, going into Turn One; closer than he would have been. It would have been good to allow him to use it again between turns two and three. Thatís the principle behind it. If we think we have enough distance [on one straight] we may not use it at all.
We had the software [to use DRS on consecutive straights] available in Turkey. I thought it was too new at that point. We do not think there is anywhere suitable here [in Barcelona, or in Monaco]. It needs to be consecutive straights [when using one detection point] because it becomes more complicated. The further apart [the zones] are, the more likelihood there is of a change of conditions between the drivers. So, the first realistic opportunity, we felt, was MontrealÖ on the back straight and the pit straight. And in Valencia, as currently planned, it will be between Turns 10 and 12 and then again between 14 and 17.
Q: What are your thoughts on the legality of current front wings?
CW: The flexibility limits are clearly stated. Itís very simple. Under the test load [wings] are allowed to move 20mm.
The only thing we could discuss in the Technical Working Group is whether those limits are too high - but everyone has the same limits, theyíre all tested in the same way.
There was often an argument that the cars see more load on the wings, on the track, than they do under our test. But we often double that load to make sure that the deflection remains the same up to the increased load. We test everyone like that. We test with the nose off the car, on the car. We think we have been very thorough. The teams, I think, are satisfied. I havenít heard any complaints of late. I think the situation is under control.
Q: What can you tell us about your recent visit to Interlagos to inspect the Curva do Cafe in light of a recent fatality there?
CW: I spent some time there last Friday, having a look at what might be possible in order to make some improvements. Iím still discussing those. Iím not at liberty to say yet what might be done, but I believe there is the willingness of the city to do something. We have got some very good ideas which came out of that meeting, and itís just a matter now of discussing with the engineers to see whatís feasible.