Insight: Why is weight a potential stumbling block for Nico Hulkenberg’s F1 career progress?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Oct 2013   |  12:15 pm GMT  |  210 comments

Nico Hulkenberg’s standout drive at the weekend in Korea, where he finished fourth and his strong recent form have made him a candidate for a number of seats for next season. The driver market is quite fluid at the moment and there are opportunities.

But we keep hearing that driver weight is an issue and a potential stumbling block for tall, heavy drivers like Hulkenberg. We flagged this up on JA on F1 several months ago, but now that the serious talking has begun, it’s front of mind.

So here is an insight into why weight is suddenly such a high priority, with input from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan.

Background
The start point is that whatever the minimum weight limit in the regulations, running a car over that weight is an absolute no-no. You are giving away lap time unneccesarily and undermining all the hard work on development. Every additional 10kg of weight on an F1 car is worth on average 3/10ths of a second per lap over a season. This is a problem some of the teams at the back of the grid have faced as they try to get up to state of art car construction.

It is considered not very professional for established teams to be overweight. There are many reasons: one is that engineers like to run instruments and measuring equipment on the car, to study air flows and other parameters. If the car is overweight they can’t do this and miss out on the data gathering.

The weight of an F1 driver has therefore always been an issue to some extent. A car is built under the weight limit and then team place ballast (small dense pieces of material) in the floor of the car to get the weight as low as possible. A tall, heavy driver raises the centre of gravity and means less ballast.

Vettel weighs 64kg, Gutierrez is 61kg, Massa just 59kg, Button is 70kg, Di Resta 74, Webber 75, Sutil 78kg, for example.


So why is it so critical for 2014?
Driver weight has become more important since the arrival of KERS (hybrid) in F1, because it introduced a new component weighing upwards of 20kg that wasn’t there before.

With the 2014 engines there is much more powerful ERS system (hybrid) as well as other paraphernalia associated with turbos and coolers, all of which adds weight and needs to be packaged. This puts a premium on weight saving in other areas and also on cockpit space, so ideally teams would like to package it around a small light driver. The teams are up against it to get to the weight limit with a driver of around 64kg (Vettel’s weight) for next year. To put Hulkenberg in the car is to invite in another 10kg, which is a major headache. He is 13kg heavier than team mate Gutierrez, for example, which is worth 4/10ths of a second in lap time.

Hulkenberg’s expressed his view on this at the weekend, “In terms of my weight and height, there’s no point in discussing it because it’s god-given, I can’t change it. If a team wants me, they’ll have to work around it.”

So why don’t they change the regulations on weight limit for 2014?
This has been a talking point at Technical Working Group meetings for the last few years as 2014 approached. The limit has been raised several times as teams flagged up difficulties in getting a car built to the weight. But more recently teams who have achieved the minimum weight for 2014 are less willing to give up their advantage. Likewise teams with light drivers are not willing to give up their advantage. Why should they be penalised if another team wants to hire Hulkenberg?

McLaren is a possibility for Hulkenberg, but Martin Whitmarsh said at the weekend, “We have to find a solution, but I doubt we will find one in the next few weeks or months. But sadly, the way it has worked out means the heavier drivers will be less attractive. It has happened by accident.

“We have raised the minimum weight but the new powertrains are heavier than people expected and now have a situation where heavier drivers could be a disadvantage.”

So what happens to heavier drivers, like Hulkenberg?

The sport has walked into this situation, collectively and now that things are set for 2014 you are unlikely to get a consensus to make any changes. Hulkenberg will appeal because of his obvious quality, but he will appeal only to a team that knows it can get under the weight limit.

A driver who is small and light and who has a lot of experience in developing cars is attractive at the moment and that is why Massa still has some interest in the paddock.

As Jenson Button observed, “I don’t think any team will have ballast next year.

“I’ve been a kilo heavy maybe. It’s doesn’t hurt you over a lap because you can set the car up around yourself but you lose a lot of tools to adjust the car. You can’t move the weight distribution because you’re so limited.

“Next year we don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but I think it’s going to be very tricky. Every year you start the year with ballast but the car puts on weight because you add parts to it. It does hurt the heavier drivers and it’s very unfair to say lose weight because some of us can’t lose more weight.”

Hulkenberg’s most likely destination – provided they can shore up their financial problems – is Lotus, who have tracked hims for most of the year as a replacement for Raikkonen.

Team principal Eric Boullier wants to prioritise the driver and let the engineers sort out the weight of the car, “I prefer to have talent and let my engineers work on saving weight in the car,” Boullier said. “It is true that 10kg on paper is roughly three tenths of a second, but the target is to at least be on the weight limit. And then, you don’t have this issue anymore.”

That is a major challenge for engineers, but it’s also going to be a challenge for Hulkenberg. Whoever hires him is going to ask him to lose at least 3/4 kg over the winter, if possible. Perhaps he should give Sir Bradley Wiggins a call, he managed it before his 2012 Tour de France win.

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1

Chance for light Kovalainen to come back?

Experienced on a top, has tested victory, experienced at the end rows developing/testing, is in good form..

2

a lighter driver has an advantage,always has,always will,end of,no point saying otherwise,its just how it is.

3

There are drivers heavier than Hulk, so the issue other teams have with him is certainly not weight.

4

This is a complete joke. We’re already losing talent to decent but not top-grade GP2 drivers (VDG, Chilton, Gutierrez etc.) with financial backing and we now risk losing real championship-winning ability.

Surely there’s an easy solution to this. How about seat and driver combined have to be a certain kg. Build the deficit into the specific driver’s seat as ballast. This shouldn’t interfere too much with centre of gravity and should ensure the nobody gains or loses in this regard.

5

These are interesting times indeed. There is something called a “Technical Review”. It’s a very efficient way of looking deep into the project at hand (from the technology package, design, to practicality, safety, costing etc). Done properly, the benefits are amazing. The current state of F1 is amazing. Cost saving efforts vs new radical regulations. And now…another you have the Hulk seating with a situation! And you will wonder how this wasn’t picked up from the onset.

DS

6

I’m sorry but F1 is nuts for this to even be an issue.

Why don’t we just forget the driver and go with a robot… one thats obviously not too heavy or had too much personality…

J

7

I have 2 points. 1. The FIA dictated the new engines for 2014 and provided a base weight for the engine. If they and of ocurse the engine manufactueres, have not met this figure fine, but why penalise the sportsman who make a living out of driving. Increase the min weight of the car by the additional amount the engines are over the originally predicted weight. 2. How safe is this if teams will now have to cut corners to save weight. Is this not a possible safety concern?

8

Are the weights quoted for the various drivers – 74kg for Hulk for example – just for the driver themselves, or are they “race weights” including helmet, HANS device, fireproofs etc.?

9

All this talk over racing drivers being too heavy at 70+kgs makes me feel fat – I’m 78kgs, and I’m fairly fit with a slim build, and not exactly tall either! So now I’m not only too old to follow my dream of being an F1 driver, I’m too big too! 🙂

Heck, even my not-quite-teenage son is over 40kgs and he’s skinny as!

Frankly, talk of drivers being so light is scary from a health point of view, surely the teams have a duty of care to their drivers to ensure they have a sensible food intake? Would the team be liable if there was some accident and it could be proven it was caused by this?

10

If heavier drivers are at disadvantage then F1 will be missing so many great talents.

Hey why not have weight classes? Then we can debate “the best pound-for-pound driver.” haha

11

Is this not a form of discrimination? Being effectively penalised for being born with a bigger frame? This entire rule should be written regardless, it’s categorically unfair.

12

I think Massa is the guy for Lotus or Mclaren next year! He has all the requirements!

13

The story that Jensen fasts before races is ludicurious. He shouldnt do that whilst operation high performance machinary at such speeds…

14

“Hulkenberg will appeal because of his obvious quality, but he will appeal only to a team that knows it can get under the weight limit.”

The thing is, is this as much of a problem it’s being made out to be? It’s certainly an issue for the teams stuck at the back end of the grid, but the way I see this particular situation is thus:

Hulkenberg is a bloody good driver; he should be in one of the top teams.

Those are the very teams that are most likely to be able to build a car sufficiently under the weight limit to be able to accommodate him. It’s certainly true that his additional weight will reduce the flexibility the team will have with ballast compared with a lighter driver, but I’d imagine that the top teams that might be wanting to hire a new driver (i.e. Lotus or McLaren) are more than capable of accommodating his additional size.

While we’re at it, why don’t we introduce F1 to the notion of Success Ballast? That would even things out right smart…

15

Going to be a light christmas dinner at the Hulk household then. Bet Webber will enjoy himself since he will be free of all the hassle.

16

My wife found this story very interesting, as it was about men feeling under pressure about their weight and this is something that really only women have faced to date. It is quite discriminatory really, especially if the Hulk fails to land a drive.

17

It wont be due to weight if that happens. But James rightly so chooses the topics for his discussions, to please the masses in their ignorance 🙂

18

OMG, can’t believe the stuff reading here…

Before end of the century (that is 95-00), the min weight was for car only. That mean, any KG extra a driver had was a penalty…

Nobody complained then! (at least not like this… the internet is wonderful 😛 ;)).

Btw, from what i see there is as much pressure to care about weight both for women and men, both for health and attractiveness reasons (and this is coming from someone who cares very little about looks :P).

Now, just imagine that in fact one the engine manufacturers is in fact overweight (that is, over the 145kg limit for power unit). Why should the eng manufacturers who developed a power unit inside the weight limit be penalized??

Maybe that is due to an optimistic engineering decision/prevision, and they might have advantages (eg, greater reliability and/or more power), so you need to be careful changing it so close to the deadline.

If you think about it this way, it is at least as much unfair to increase the limit than not to increase it.

Truth is, in F1 weight always ruled… and it was the creed of Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman:

“Add lightness”

Have fun

19

So Formula1 is at same point as ski jumping was? People had to starve to gain the optimum weight/ski_surface ratio?

Why not do the same solution: Each pound more the driver has than the VETTEL-REFERENCE-WEIGHT the DRS wing hole can be 1millimetre more opened. So if the heavier driver is this good that he can do curves as good as a more lightweighted one he gains the advantage for an easy overtaking which he really diserves.

Loosing weight: Do we really want to see drivers at 320km/h who can’t concentrate because of too low reserves in the starved down body?

20

Surely a simple solution would be that driver and seat combined must weigh 80kg and the car without driver and seat must weigh x kg.

21

Sounds pretty damn sensible to me. Simple, elegant and (so far as I can think it through) it would create a pretty much even playing field and wouldn’t be horrendously costly to implement. Which, of course, means it’s an idea that F1 is unlikely to adopt, with the way things seem to be going.

22

Yeah I agree.

Wasn’t there talk a few years back about introducing a minimum driver +seat weight?

23

James –

This is complete madness.

I cannot believe there is even a debate. It’s 2013, you can’t force people to be unhealthily thin so they can stay employed. There are some amazing law suits in the offing, never mind the ethics of it all.

So of course the minimum weight needs to be increased.

The teams with lighter drivers can choose where they put their ballast – hey presto – there’s (some of) your advantage back.

I thought these were smart, reasonable people in F1. This debate is a terrible advert for the sport and needs to be nipped in the bud.

24

Jeez, short-track ice skaters tend to be quite small and have to stay thin too, for it’s physics.

F1 discriminates against two things – speed & weight. As slow drivers will have issues stay employed, a heavier driver is disadvantaged. Money, of course, is the third thing

Don’t get me wrong, I like NH a lot (Kubica even more)

25

Ronnie,

Yes, ice skaters tend to be small. Jockeys need to be small too, loads of people need to be small in order to be a success in their sport. Others need to be big. That’s fine.

The difference is, they all aren’t sat in man-made machines that weigh ten times their own weight that can be regulated so as to remove any bias of nature and create a more even playing field.

I am shocked that there are even 3 people that have replied to my post disagreeing. This is obvious stuff guys!

Say we have someone that is another Senna but he weighs 12 stone (hardly a big guy, right?), so never gets a drive in F1 and we all miss out on that talent because of this, would that be ok?

Let me put this in context. Obviously, big guys are already disadvantaged because they have to get through karts etc. we all know that. The problem here is that we’re talking about a guy who is ALREADY small, right? 11.5 stone / 160 lbs / 73 kilos is not big.

So what we’re entertaining here, and what you guys are agreeing with, is the idea that you have to be TINY to remain competitive in F1, so tiny that a great driver might not get a drive because he weighs 11.5 stone. We have a World Champion on the grid who’s career might not have happened given these rules.

Do you guys that have replied genuinely not see that this is a stupid, undesirable situation that is easily remedied by going: ‘OK, so minimum weight up by 20kilos’? (That just took me 0.233 seconds to fix and I am a simpleton compared to the minds in F1)

If you can’t see that, I am dumb-founded.

26

Madness? This is a competitive sport. Extending your thinking, there should be a mandatory gender participation ratio imposed on the teams??? It’s 2013, after all!

27

Yes, it’s madness.

Why do you think there’s a minimum weight in the first place? To prevent precisely this situation.

That’s my point, it’s all been thought-out already, there’s just been a miscalculation that needs to be fixed.

What has gender got to do with anything I’ve written? You are extending my thinking somewhere completely irrelevant. I’m not some PC nut job, banging an equality drum.

This is simple stuff, no?

Great driver, who is there on merit, being told his career is in jeopardy because some guys with a massive conflict of interest won’t sanction a few kilo increase in minimum weight?

It’s OBVIOUS to anyone with any intelligence, isn’t it?

28

Smart, yes, very…

Reasonable… what!?!? you sure you been following F1?

😉 😛

29

If the rules made the driver weight irrelevant by ballasting the cars of lighter drivers, there would still be a slight penalty because the light drivers would have ballast carried lower in the chassis. There must be a way for the rule-makers to come up with a car weight plus driver weight plus ballast weight formula which will come to the same number for everyone.

30

the real problem for the taller drivers [ not tall …in this day and age 6ft is hardly more than average ] is in the centre of gravity is higher even if they can get their weight down enough ; so why not take that away by determining a minimum eye level for drivers ….it often seems to me that the small drivers are too low in the car for a sensible level of visibility ; if that were done the objections to raising the minimum weight would probably disappear

31

The teams blocking the min weight increase seem rather shortsighted… It might be an advantage for them now, but it won’t be when the pool of available quality drivers has shrunk because the tall/big drivers all drop out before they get to F1. It’s in the teams’ long term interest to have as many good drivers available as possible, which keeps salaries down so they can spend money on car development.

Worth remembering also that humans in most cultures are getting bigger/taller.

On the other hand, it might open up opportunities for more women, as they tend to be lighter/shorter than men.

32

so according to this vettel gains 3/10s on webber. who has the time/resource to find out how many times vettel out-qualified webber by less than 3/10s? maybe vettel’s qualifying won’t look as brilliant as it does.

33

This keeps getting repeated and it is not correct.

Adding 10KG overall to total car weight increases lap time by 3/10ths.

All cars are built under the minimum limit and heavier drivers have less ballast available to move around the car.

From a 2010 article on Schumacher’s weight:

http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/14861.html

“Seven kilograms makes only about a tenth difference”

Applying this to Webber, 10 / 7 * 0.1 = 0.143 seconds.

In 2010 this would have had him out qualifying Vettel if there was seat ballast to nullify driver weight advantages in the following races:

Australia – Vettel by 0.116

Europe – Vettel by 0.075

Great Britain – Vettel by 0.143 (tied, first to set

lap would have pole)

Japan – Vettel by 0.068

Korea – Vettel by 0.074

Brazil – Vettel by 0.118

Car weight increases since 2010 and the fixed weight distribution + no other driver giving up information about weight/lap time make using this information for other years inaccurate.

34

No, you completely mis-read the article. It says nothing of the sort.

35

The Red Bull team in 2010 said it costs Webber around 1-2 tenths a lap but that’s it.

36

It does not cost Webber anything, as his car+driver weighs exactly the same as Vettels.

37

How did Mansell do in the 80s?

38

Or Gerhard Berger

39

Or Wurz

40

Any talk to changing the minimum weight requirements for individual car components (engine, etc)? Seems to me that this is part of the issue that results in high caliber drivers like Hulk that may not get (or have a hard time) a particular drive because of weight.

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