- The Inside Line
More fuel me...Kate Walker March 29, 2014
A personal highlight of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend thus far was a special media briefing convened by Fabrice Lom (the FIA's head of powertrain) and Charlie Whiting (no introduction needed). The session was put together so that the technical experts could explain just what a fuel flow sensor was and how it works to the assembled clunkheads.
During my schooldays, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we all wore suits of armour, science lessons were something to be endured, not enjoyed. And returning to form, I found myself sitting in the back row with a group of fellow reprobates, giggling away.
But where in the past the laughs would have been at the teacher's expense, this time we were all laughing along with Lom, a man with a natural affinity for teaching. Despite being in possession of what is obviously a ferocious technical brain, he was able to dumb his explanations down to our level without being even remotely patronising, which is a vastly underrated skill.
So we sat and diligently copied diagrams of ultrasonic fuel flow sensors, graphs of flow rates, and explanations of calibration techniques and tolerance. It was an informative session, and one which - hopefully - will ensure the accuracy of technical reporting by non-technical journalists on what is sure to be the hot-button issue of the season.
The information given to us centred solely on the hows and whys of the fuel flow sensor (does anyone else chortle at the FFS abbreviation, or is it just me?) and its place in the regulation. Any attempt to turn the discussion to the forthcoming Red Bull appeal was deftly dismissed - this was a technical session, and not a means of influencing press coverage in the run-up to the 14 April hearing.
In other articles I've asked why we needed to measure the rate of fuel flow when the message of efficiency would have been just as effective - and simpler for the world at large to understand - had the teams simply been restricted in the amount of fuel they were allowed to use. Turns out, I'm an idiot.
The introduction of the turbocharger changes the way fuel is used, and because there is no air flow limitation in the 2014 regulations, the rate of fuel flow had to be limited in order to limit the overall boost and ensure efficiency of consumption.
But it also safeguards the power units themselves, taking on the role of limiting boost pressure by restricting fuel in order to ensure that the 'engine' components are working inside the operating range that keeps the units from getting overheated or overstressed. Given that drivers are restricted to five power units each this season, keeping components within their operating window helps maintain their shelf-life.
The FIA was also concerned that by allowing teams to select their own flow rate - say 150kg/h at the beginning of the race, and 50kg/h at the end of the race, for an average of 100kg/h - there would be an increased risk of cars running at dramatically different speeds on the straights and into the corners thanks to the variance in flow rate and - as a consequence - engine power. And that makes it a safety issue, or at the very least a potential safety issue.
The more you learn, the less you know…