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When some engines are more equal than others..
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When some engines are more equal than others..
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Sep 2009   |  7:26 pm GMT  |  67 comments

I’ve been thinking about another decision reached yesterday by the World Motor Sport Council, namely equalising the engines from the top downwards, rather than from the bottom up, as was done last year.

Very good, now please knock 30hp off

Very good, now please knock 30hp off


According to the FIA, the feeling is that despite the engine freeze, some engines are more powerful than others, thanks to making the most of the very limited things you are allowed to do to engines and fuels. As last year it seems that Mercedes and Ferrari have squeezed an extra bit of performance from their engines, where Toyota and Renault have not.

This was graphically demonstrated at the last two Grands Prix, where the Toyota looked the worst but even the Renault was well short of the Mercedes. I’ve heard estimates of a 20-30hp advantage for Mercedes over Toyota.

The FIA says that “should the teams wish to eliminate this performance differential, they may be allowed to do so by reducing the performance of the more powerful engines. However, no engine upgrades will be allowed.”

Last year the weakest engines were the Renault and the Honda and they were told that they could bring their power levels up to the others, which Renault did. But this year two key factors are different.

First FOTA has well and truly made its mark on F1, through the breakaway threat, and the teams were effectively allowed to come up with their own rules package, following the meeting after Silverstone at which the breakaway and the budget cap were shelved.

So the FIA is tossing this issue back to FOTA and saying that its up to them to sort it out between them. As this issue is a possible fault line between FOTA members, it provides them with a test. The twist is that the best must lower its standards, which is not the F1 way, and it is asking a lot of Mercedes and Ferrari, both of whom are keen to get back to the front of the grid in 2010 with their works teams after an embarrassing season. They owe it to their fans and their sponsors to be competitive next season and voluntarily knocking 20hp – worth 2/10ths of a second at most tracks- makes that challenge greater, especially with the cars being so close on performance. FOTA wants unity and harmony between competitors, but the engine builders will not want to show their performance figures to their rivals, so it’s going to be a thorny one to resolve.

But the other factor which has changed since this time last year is the return of Cosworth, which will power the four new teams (or at least three of them depending on what USF1 decides to do). As the Cosworth is based on a 2006 design, and the FIA originally wanted it to be allowed to run at 20,000 revs, the feeling in the paddock is that the engine will be some way off the power of the best engine.

Every little helps and knocking 20-30hp off the Mercedes will help to reduce the gap to the back of the grid teams.

Cosworth insist that their engine is at least a match for the Renault and Toyota and maybe even the Ferrari, as managing director Tim Routsis told me that computer simulations show that the results of the races in the first half of the season would have been the same if the front runners had been using Cosworths, based on the performance figures they have.

We will see in the New Year, when the new teams hit the track alongside the existing teams. But the FIA will not want the new teams to be well off the pace, so the engine downgrade is very much in their interests too.

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67 Comments
  1. Jeb says:

    Oh, no no no…this has shades of NASCAR-style restrictor plates all over it. Formula 1 is supposed to be the pinnacle. Being a winner means little if you’ve hobbled the strongest competitors. If I want to watch a spec series, I can watch Indycar.

    1. Tigerdad says:

      I completely agree, Jeb. A large amount of manufacturers’ pride is attached to producing the most powerful and most reliable engines. …I’ve once come across a comment that the internal combustion engine has reached the end of its evolutionary cycle to which I disagree. As long as they all stick to the official specs, I believe the engineers should be allowed to continue discovering and squeezing as much power, reliability and economy out of that 2.4L V8. The economy and reliability part eventually trickles down to us consumers after all.

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Spot on, and I HATE, HATE, HATE, restrictor plates. More, NASCAR has done this “balancing” between engines for years. HATE IT.

      And Indycar racing wasn’t killed only by the CART/IRL split. For years, it had fallen closer and closer to the spec series it now is. Only Roger Penske continued to build his own chassis in the waning days of CART, and even he gave up on that. The engines became homogenized (everyone had to have a Honda, then a Toyota, now Honda again). More or less as F3 is now.

      Ugh.

  2. Adrian says:

    Dear Brawn GP

    Congratulations on building a Championship winning car in the BGP001. However we feel that your extra speed is not fair to the other teams who have not built such good cars. As such we would like to you limit the top speed of your cars so as to increase your lap time to the same as the other cars.

    Kindest regards

    U. R. Joking
    FiA Dept Of Stupid Ideas

    1. Rory H says:

      hahaha, clever.

  3. Paul says:

    The Fia are playing games again, trying to split or cause problems in FOTA. The fia should admit the engine freeze didn’t work and remove it. Of course this wouldn’t go to well with their policy of forcing new teams to use Cosworth. The fans and manufactures don’t want equalised engines(unless there engine is the one under performing), so as long as they commit to supplying other teams cheaply why not let them on with it.

    1. Clinton says:

      ” … so as long as they commit to supplying other teams cheaply why not let them on with it.”

      This is actually a very good point. I have always wondered why the FIA doesn’t make the engine supply rules similar to that of the tire supply rules back in the day of the tire wars.

      Why not have engine suppliers who are able to supply engines to a team, but must commit to supply those engines to at least 80% (figure negotiable) of the grid at a fixed cost (5 or 6 million, in line with the current FOTA undertakings).

      This would allow the FIA to unfreeze the engines and let the manufacturers truly develop their engines, in the knowledge that if a manufacturer gets it spot on and has a leading engine the customers would switch engine choices.

      Which engine manufacturer would not want to be acknowledged as the builder of the best racing engine, and supply their engines to the rest of the grid?

      This could bring racing back to being more in line with the racing of old. It wouldn’t pay for a manufacturer to run a works team, because if their engine is good enough the grid would be filled of them.

      Having a grid full of your engines is surly worth more in publicity and advertising then having your works team run around in third/fourth place? Is this the thinking of Mercedes Benz?

      1. Dave says:

        “…Having a grid full of your engines is surly worth more in publicity and advertising then having your works team run around in third/fourth place?…”

        No, in the same way that noone cares about Honda engines that power IRL/CART. If there is no competition, it might as well be an unmarked engine. Ferrari will not make money on their A1GP deal beyond the cost teams pay to buy them. In that situation, Ferrari only has to design and maintain a single engine spec, so they don’t have the development/upkeep costs to account for.

  4. Phil Waddell says:

    James,
    Is there not a batch of half-decent ex-Honda engines gathering dust in a shed somewhere that could be re-badged and used next year?

    1. James Allen says:

      Maybe but they weren’t great last year..

      1. Steve Evans says:

        Yes, they’re in my shed. Free to a good home!

      2. Nicollers says:

        When they cranked the BMW engine up a few revs at Monza, both cars blew up! Granted Monza is an extreme flat out test of any engine, but still, it highlights the fact that the majority of teams can’t crank their engines to full volume for fear of not finishing the race. Those that can, should be able to do so and get a pat on the back for it.

        That said, F1 is all about different constructors. It can’t be like A1GP where all the engines are the same. Whilst this would sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of who’s the best driver, teams wouldn’t be teams anymore….

  5. Silverstoned says:

    We’ve had nought but changes at breakneck speed for goodness knows how long now. How are we expected to keep up? I won’t be seeing 30 again you know and it’s just not easy..
    Is there any chance of a moratorium on structural changes to F1 once this new grid has settled down, even if it’s just for a short while?

    1. rpaco says:

      30?? Done that twice!
      Us old gits need excitement and change just to keep us alive.
      No way do you want the form (construction/shape) or any other rules frozen. F1 is meant to be the pinnacle of engineering excellence. More latitude is needed for KERS and fully mobile flaps/wings, air brakes etc. There were originally to be advances next year in both KERS and the front movable flaps but the FOTA agreement has pretty much frozen the rules to those of this year.– Shame.

  6. rpaco says:

    “The FIA says that “should the teams wish to eliminate this performance differential, they may be allowed to do so by reducing the performance of the more powerful engines. However, no engine upgrades will be allowed.””

    This is just a way of lessening the penalty of having the Max imposed, currently unproven, new Cosworth engine, which presumably the new Lotus team will use. Although if no other new teams join and use them, it will be totally uneconomic for Cosworth to build F1 engines and I would expect them to bow out.

    So McLaren will be “allowed” to turn their engine down, this seems ridiculous at first sight, but it will improve reliability even further, while those competitor’s engines which are then on the same level as the reduced McLaren will still be running at full chat. So this is not going to solve the Renault engine blowup problems. By now Renault should have found the cause and traced it to a single component, that is if they have been following proper design and production control procedures. However the FIA sealing used but unblown engines after the race will prevent the interim testing of vital components which could have discovered a potential failure mode. (breakage)

    There is then the issue of power vs torque, total power may be reduced by lowering the max revs, however this will probably leave the max torque untouched.

    1. Dave says:

      I agree. As long as the reference checks are made on fresh engines running full noise for, say 30 minutes, even the Renault will survive. Turning down the Merc doesn’t make the Renault more reliable. Good point rpaco.

  7. Martin P says:

    James, is it true that Williams plan to go against a FOTA agreement and use KERS next year? Won’t that give them more than 30 bhp advantage?

    If so, surely Ferrari and McLaren would have to follow suit? Especially if the equilisation plan goes ahead.

  8. Craig says:

    Spec cars with spec engines, spec fuel, spec tires…

    Pretty soon the only creativity allowed in F1 is going to be that of the chefs in the motorhomes.

  9. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    They need to get rid of this asinine engine development freeze. Yes, engines cost more than anything to develop, but if there’s a cost that’s actually worth it to the manufacturers because of the benefit of transferring technology to the road, it’s the engine cost.

    I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that since the engine development freeze has been in place, F1 has lost two of the world’s most prominent auto manufacturers, both of which just happen to have built their historic reputation in F1 on the back of the engines they made.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    I think if an engine manufacturer has managed to extract an extra 20-30 hp and not bend the rules it’s fair game. Up to the others to catch up!

  11. Paul Sivyer says:

    Hmmmmm! Seems like the FIA are not content in ridding themselves of their main FOTA protagonist! Do they want more blood letting this season, just for the sake of it? Seems like it to me – roll on the elections!!

  12. Giuseppe F1 says:

    James,

    Can you confirm exactly what you meant by the following please:

    [i]“Cosworth, which will power the four new teams (or at least three of them depending on what USF1 decides to do)”[/i]

    Is this to do with the rumours that USF1 may infact be interested in a Toyota engine for 2010 for US marketing reasons?

  13. Chris says:

    The FIA like doing this. Take a look at WTCC which is a load of nonsense because as soon as one car has an advantage they are stripped from it. I don’t want F1 to become the same. It’s bad enough that there is an engine freeze, but if the teams with a good engine have to suffer for making (or paying for) a good engine, it is a sad state of affairs.

    Red Bull can’t just blame the engine as Alonso got a 5th place at Monza with the ‘rubbish engine’. The Renault engine clearly isn’t as good as the Mercedes, but they have already had one go at equalising them. It failed.

  14. ian says:

    Mr Horner: ‘Help us FIA, we can’t keep up with some of the teams’
    FIA: ‘OK Christian, we’ll slow them down for you – as we dont listen to what real motorsports fans say, we can do what we want to Formula One, as long as you’re happy’
    Mr Horner: ‘Cool, thanks FIA – can we have a 20 pt lead next season?’

    hmmm – this decision could just put the final nail in the coffin of a sport i have loved and followed my entire life, the joke decision in Paris over Renault’s ‘cheating’ (comparable breach?? so they can break as many little rules as they like???) and this huge backwards step makes it pointless to even try to be the quickest, as youll only be penalised for it later – now it’ll be better to be a mid-grid team and just wait for the quick cars to be brought down to your level!
    maybe the engine freeze was a bad decision, and instead of punishing teams for coping within its strictures, they should just admit they were wrong and let the teams develop their engines – hell, let them have turbos and 6 wheels if they want, at least then we’ll have some free and interesting racing!

    one very dissapointed and jaded F1 fan

  15. Michael Grievson says:

    Part of the problem with the lack of over taking is the engine freeze. Remove it and allow the manufacturers to showcase their engineers talents.

    Bring back the old days of the engine wars

  16. kristian says:

    With Williams planning to use KERS next year FOTA might have another issue to debate internally. Head’s argument that the big development money has been spent already is completely true for Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. What about Toyota and Cosworth?

  17. arale says:

    It’s really a shame of FIA thinking of such equalizing… It’s definitely impossible, or all the engine manufacturers would have to match the GREATEST COSWORTH!

  18. Jameson says:

    All of these restrictions are going to turn Formula One into Formula One Half.

  19. Brace says:

    A bit off the topic, but now that we are talking about nonsense rules, I must say I think it won’t feel right until we have this stupid rule which requires drivers to use two types of tires at every race. It’s just stupid. Why not simply let every team choose which tire it wants for which race and then have Bridgestone bring them that compound. We could still end up with teams using different compounds to each other.

    All this with engines and tires and similar stuff has some artificial feel to it. It doesn’t feel as straight a competition as it actually has a potential to be.

  20. Giuseppe F1 says:

    James,

    Can you please just confirm what you meant by the following exactly:

    “Cosworth, which will power the four new teams (or at least three of them depending on what USF1 decides to do).”

    …Is this the rumour that USF1 in interested in running a Toyota engine in 2010 in part for US marketing reasons?

    Thanks in advance

    1. James Allen says:

      Cosworth needs a minimum of three teams to make an F1 programme viable. It had three already, but with Lotus that makes four, USF1 want to run either Toyota or Ferrari. They’ve got a contract to honour, but now at least Cosworth’s programme is viable without them. Watch this space

      1. Paul says:

        So in future if Cosworth lost contracts they could just pull the plug? And leave 1 or 2 teams looking for a new engine.

  21. jeremy says:

    Max is pushing everything before the new president takes a seat. hopefully we will see things settle down in the coming years.

  22. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    This is ridiculous. Why not also ask teams who have better aerodynamics to take away downforce?

  23. Curro says:

    Why not a limited engine budget per year, for each manufacturer to spend on whatever parts they think best? Some will go for power, some for fuel efficiency, etc. There has to be a difference, all cars look the same and have the same power. I’m all for close racing but personally I prefer close racing between different cars.

    1. Dave says:

      Because the manufactures can hide their development in their car companies. Who is to say how much that technology is worth if, say, Toyota CO. sells that advancement to ToyotaF1.

  24. RoadHazard says:

    That’s not F1. That’s not even racing.

    Hobbling the faster cars so the slower ones can keep up? That sounds like a feel-good kindergarten class, not motor racing.

    I’m sorry, in any race there has to be losers.

  25. philipb says:

    I’m with Silverstoned, my brain is beginning to hurt.

  26. John says:

    “…should the teams wish to eliminate this performance differential, they may be allowed to do so by reducing the performance of the more powerful engines.”

    LOL. Really, that’s the best the FIA–the regulatory body of F1–can come up with?

    What engine manufacturer in their right mind will reduce the performance of their engine?

    Is there a penalty for not reducing performance?

    This just strikes me as ridiculous.

  27. Arya says:

    Now if my Physics is right then power output of a power plant doesn’t depend solely on horse power. It depends on rotational speed as well as on torque along with horse power. Rotation speed can be ruled out as it is defined by FIA. But do you think mercedes powered cars are having any advantage in terms of torque on other cars? If not, how much of difference does it make in terms of ultimate power gain with greater horse power?

    1. Martin says:

      Arya,

      Your physics is a bit out. Power is a derived quantity – it doesn’t exist and hence cannot be measured directly (this is probably surprising to you).

      The combustion of the fuel generates pressure on the piston, which is a force. The crankshaft turns this into a rotation force, i.e. torque. To calculate the power from the torque value you just need the angular velocity in radians per second.

      Being in Australia I work in metric, so I’ll use it as an example. If we assume that an F1 engine produces a maximum torque of 300 Nm then to calculate the power you multiply 300 by the rpm, divide by 60 to convert to seconds rather than minutes and then multiply by 2 x Pi to get radians. Therefore if maximum torque is at 16000 rpm then the power at 16000 rpm is 502 kW (674 hp). To get 750 hp at 18000 rpm the engine needs to produce 297 Nm at 18000 rpm.

      Power is important in terms of overcoming aerodynamic drag. To double a car’s top speed you’d need eight times the power. The benefit of KERS, if only used for top speed (which it isn’t) would give a 3.5 per cent increase in top speed.

      So to get back to your question about the advantage the Mercedes-Benz engine has, to have more power it must produce more torque at the point of maximum power. The torque across the working range of the engine is what determines the acceleration for a fixed weight, gearing, aerodynamic drag and tyre rolling resistance.

      According to Autocourse a couple of years ago, a key problem with the Renault compared to the best engines was that it lacked lower-rpm torque. The maximum power was okay so the top speed was reasonable, but the acceleration was always behind.

      Power gets quoted because people think they understand it when, in most cases, largely they don’t. A Sydney newspaper like calling torque ‘pulling power’.

      A final thing on engines: for a fixed engine capacity, long stroke designs do not help the production of torque, despite what is commonly stated in magazines by journalists. The piston area and the stroke multiply together to give the engine capacity and these cancel each other out in the production of torque. Long-stroke designs inhibit power as the internal friction limits the maximum rpm. Therefore the engines with long strokes are often tuned to produce more torque.

      Hope this helps your understanding of engines.

      Cheers,

      Martin

  28. davidturnedge says:

    Surely it would be easier, and no doubt more acceptable to manufacturers, to mandate a spec chassis and then allow manufacturers to contribute innovation through brakes, cooling, transmissions, ECUs and actual engines.

    There’s little point to the sport in restricting engine development if you then have a situation where some engines are more powerful and therefore have an advantage through a season, not allowing other engine manufacturers to catch up.

  29. CJ says:

    If engine outputs are equalised the teams may as well all use the same engine from the same manufacturer, manufacturing different engines with the same output would be pointlessly expensive. The logical extension of this idea is a very expensive version of Formula Ford, which I’m not knocking but it’s not F1. The attraction of the highest formula used to be the multifaceted nature of competition, driver, chassis, engine, tyres and even fuel if I remember rightly. Much of that has gone in the name of cost or safety so the F1 of today is an emasculated version of its previous incarnation. If engine outputs are equalised what would be the attraction of the sport to car manufacturers, we may as well race lawnmowers – with suitably restricted air intakes of course, heaven forbid that we should actually explore their true potential.

  30. Robert K says:

    So Merc and maybe Ferrari will have to detune their engines. How will they police that. Surely they would not be allowed to use that to their advantage in a way that they become more fuel efficient having to run on race distance fuel next year?

  31. Rusty0256 says:

    I smelled a rat as soon as I saw this FIA release; dumbing down the very best engines is one thing but what happens if there is a significant performance gap between the likes of Renault / Toyota and the new, old kid on the block Cosworth?

    The boys at Cossie can be doing whatever simulations they want; when it all boils down they have an 8 year old engine spruced up by 2nd tier engineers (all their best guys left years ago) and there WILL be a performance gap, probably a significant one.
    The FIA (Max) realising this, does not want reflected egg on his face so the dumb-down plan gives him the leverage to bring the best back down to the worst.
    Not sure if FOTA can veto this but unless we want to end up with open-wheel NASCAR’s something will need to happen.

  32. Werewolf says:

    As a non-engineer, I don’t see how you can go backwards on the performance of the top engines; but, my ignorance aside, F1 is and should be a meritocracy. Any engine equivalency iniative has to be about bringing the lesser units up to scratch.

    If one is to go down the conspiracy route, this could be a problem for Cosworth, who may not be able to afford rapid development of a three-year old engine. I am assuming their engine will have to be included in any discussions about equalisation.

    What next? Bricks bolted to the front of aerodynamically superior chassis? Faster drivers forced to take mild sedatives before racing? We all want close on-track action but if it is to be falsified by regulations that effectively punish success, then second cars may as well be allowed to strategically crash or, all the motor racing gods forbid, touring car style success ballast should be added for the audacity of winning.

  33. Colster says:

    so what next? Penalising the fastest drivers do that the slower ones have a chance to catch up?

  34. Colm says:

    I don’t get it. Stuff like this is throttling F1, the supposed pinnacle of motorsport.
    Now they want Mercedes to un-engineer / detune their better engine, because cars running with it are getting too far ahead, all the time, and winning races. It’s obtuse. I watch F1; I want to see a demonstration of Power, Grunt, Formidable Engineering Skills clashing, not scalextrics.
    F1 is becoming so, well, formulated.

  35. A different James says:

    All this just proves that virtually every idea Max Mosley inflicted (yes, inflicted) on F-1 has been less than worthless. Every time an “unfreeze” (thaw?) is approved, it only reinforces the fact that this idea is pure stupidity.

    Go away, Max, please!

  36. Opposite Lock (Ken) says:

    the best computer simulations in the world, the best dyno tests possible always fall hugely short of in car qualifying and race conditions. Cosworth is going to be hopelessly behind the other engines.

    James, will the Cosworth engine be frozen with no additional development allowed once it runs next year?

    1. James Allen says:

      It will operate to the same rules as the others

  37. Kedar says:

    Looks like FIA has gotten back to its old ways. This is as laughable as the suggestion that Michael Schumacher during his steam rolling years needed to carry a ballast weight just so that he is on equal terms with the other teams.
    FIA is hell bent on making F1 a F1.5 or a F1.99

  38. Harveyeight says:

    I thought the Concord Agreement ensured that Mosley would have no effect on matters which don’t concernt the FIA.

    The battle for control continues.

  39. Spyros says:

    OK so how will it be done, exactly? I assume restrictors, etc will not be specified – so what will happen, will Mercedes just re-programm their Bhp/torque output curves a little? Don’t they already have the ability to change between engine mapping programs, like everyone else?

    Mind you, with no refuelling next year, this might give them better fuel consumption, which should count for something…

  40. So next year when the teams have to carry a whole race’s fuel a more powerful engine will either be more efficient or carry a more noticeable weight penalty. I’ve no idea what the actual weights are, but for simple numbers, if 20HP more power means using 20KG more fuel over a race of 3 stops that’s 5KG per stint a 2.5KG average. If you put all 20KG in at the start that’s 10Kg over a race.
    So *IF* Mercedes have just get more fuel through the engine the weight penalty will compensate. On the other hand their engine is more efficient, then coming down to the same output as the others will give their teams a weight advantage.

  41. " for sure " says:

    If all the engines have to produce the same power it begs the question why not all use the same one. Nonsense!

  42. paul moss says:

    I can’t get my head around the drive to equalise performance. Finding performance is the DNA of F1.
    Yes, some cost-saving ideas are worthy, engine/g’box longevity is a decent concept, but this latest twist is nothing to do with cost cutting.

  43. Paul Kirk says:

    Is this Formula 1, or is it Formula Ford? For the last 50 years that I’ve been following GP racing they seemed to get on ok without this engine b*s ! I reckon they should allow a certain amount of fuel per race, to be supplied at the circuit by 1 supplier, & a certain size air intake to the airbox, & a certain rpm limit, A certain engine capacity, & compression ratio, & number of cylinders, & let them go for it!
    P.K.

    1. Martin says:

      Paul,

      How about just fixing the amount of fuel the cars can use and then fixing the price of customer engines over a season.

      The airbox exists to achieve what is known as volumetric efficiency, it is not about getting higher pressure air into the cylinders as some motorbikes do.

  44. Paul Kirk says:

    How come they say Merc & Farrari has more power? Remember McL & Fari use Kers, so if we disregard them Reno & williams (Toyota) would be up there so there would only be two mercs towards the front and other mercs down the field & wot about the other Fari users, theyre not up front! There’s more to iut than just engine power! And in my opinion they should ban Kers so it’s an even playing field. Bring on Ari Vatinen!
    Regards,
    P.K.

    1. James Allen says:

      Renault had KERS in Monza too. It’s all measured using acoustics

  45. Brace says:

    Mosley can’t leave too soon.

  46. Paul Kirk says:

    Giday Martin, If you limit the volume of fuel, & the amount of air that can be injested by the engine—-on second thoughts, you wouldn’t have to govern the air because you can only operate within a narrow air/fuel ratio anyway—–then inovative engine builders and tuners would be searching for maximum economy/eficiency! With more lieniency on engine design other than what I suggested above, it would interesting to see what eventuated! But this conversation is pointless untill things change in a couple of year’s time. I’ll throw another cat amongst the pigeons by recomending they use methanol/ethanol instead of petrol!! Oh yeah, bring on Ari Vatinen!!!
    Regards’
    P.K.

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