Germany found Red Bull in hot water for pushing the boundaries of engine management, again. This time, the debate is centered around a form of traction control that Red Bull has developed in conjunction with Renault. Traction control was obviously banned some years ago, however, using engine mapping was a new approach and the FIA did not immediately catch on.
First things first, lets define some things so you can get an idea of what everything is.
Engine mapping refers to a complex computer program that determines fuel delivery to the engine. It is one of many programs that runs within the car’s ECU and it is perfectly legal for teams to modify these maps on a race by race basis. Teams can control fuel flow on a cylinder by cylinder basis and it was these maps that were at the heart of the “off throttle exhaust blown diffuser” tussles last year.
As we now know, Red Bull and other teams were manipulating engine mapping to fire the engine and stimulate exhaust gas flow for aerodynamic effect, even when the throttle was not depressed at all. This gave the cars massive rear end stability by increasing downforce at the expense of fuel consumption. The FIA bans the technology on the basis that the engine is a movable aerodynamic part, a big no no. The FIA did not initiate this rule in relation to traction control. When the FIA bans this technology, they do it as follows: the amount of torque delivered by the engine must be linear and the engine may not deliver any torque if the throttle is completely released.
Fast forward to Hockenheim this year. The FIA measures the amount of torque being delivered by the engine and finds something odd. At partial throttle, the Red Bull engine is delivering less torque, in identical conditions, than it was at Silverstone. Clearly, Red Bull had manipulated the engine management software so that the relationship between torque delivery and throttle position was no longer linear, in contravention of the rules.
Unlike 2011, however, when Red Bull was using engine mapping in relation to exhaust gas flow, the 2012 development is designed to limit engine power output as the car drives out of corners at lower rpm. Less engine power means it is easier for the driver to apply the throttle, get a better launch out of the corner, and more importantly, not induce wheel spin, something that overheats the tires very rapidly.
In effect, Red Bull has traction control in that they restrict engine power to improve traction.
The FIA are scrambling to rectify the situation through some sort of clarification. Having already declared the system legal, however, should the FIA not get the clarification done in time for the GP in Hungary in five day’s time, the Red Bull system stays.
Should the FIA not get the clarification done before Hungary, the system will most likely be banned during the summer recess. Either way, it will be very interesting to see how much this system has been helping Red Bull, particularly in the case of rear tire wear.
UPDATE: Autosport reports here that the Red Bull exhaust maps have now been banned through a clarification to the relevant technical regulation. Basically, teams have to take an engine map that they used in one of the first four races of the season and use that as a reference. They may modify that reference +/- 2% at any race and more than that in “extreme atmospheric conditions.”