Fuel sensors not good enough for F1, says Horner as FIA go public to defend themselves
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Mar 2014   |  1:34 pm GMT  |  264 comments

The war of words over Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification in Australia went up a level today as Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said that the fuel flow sensors, which the FIA has specified and which were at issue in Australia, are not good enough for F1.

Horner confirmed that they and another Renault powered team had suffered a further sensor error during today’s free practice session. Asked whether he felt that the sensors were good enough for F1 he said,

“With where it’s at at the moment I would have to say no. We need to work with the FIA to find a better solution because there is so much hanging on it. At this level, it’s not good enough.”

L to R - Lom (left); Bonciani (FIA comms); Whiting

Meanwhile the FIA, clearly feeling that it’s authority is being challenged, took the step of hosting a briefing with Fabrice Lom, the former Renault F1 engineer who is now responsible for regulating the power units in F1. Fuel flow sensors are part of his remit. The FIA’s Charlie Whiting who oversees all technical matters also spoke.

Asked is he was satisfied with the performance of the sensors so far, Lom said, “I’m an unsatisfied person by definition, that is how you make progress. But with this sensor we do a better job than without, better than any other we know about.”

Lom pointed out that the accuracy of these Gill sensors which weigh 300g and are smaller than a mobile telephone is remarkable compared to large bench-top machines which do the same job in a static environment.

The nub of the problem, Whiting observed, is that the rules state that if there is a problem with a sensor teams have to use a back up solution which has been calibrated against a known sensor. Red Bull did not do this, whatever the accuracy they may claim for their own system, it had not been calibrated against a known sensor in a controlled environment. This will be central to the FIA’s case at appeal.

Horner said that the fuel rail, which they used to measure the flow in the race, had been sealed after the race, taken back to Renault’s base in Paris and tested with observers present and had given the same reading as in the race in Melbourne. This will form the nub of their case at the appeal; that they did not break the rules of 100kg/hour at any time in the race.

Experts and engineers here in Kuala Lumpur can see both sides of the argument. Red Bull may turn out to be right, their measurements may turn out to be accurate, but they didn’t follow due process, according to the FIA.

As the FIA is responsible for sporting fairness, “Our role is fair regulation” as Lom put it, it seeks to create and enforce rules which can apply fairly to all 11 teams, not individual exceptions, they feel that they have a strong case and the other teams hope that the FIA prevails otherwise rule enforcement could get like the Wild West.

FIA briefing notes, from Fabrice Lom

Why is there a fuel flow limit?
Because with a turbo engine you have to limit the power otherwise you would have drivers using over 1,000hp at times, while others were fuel saving, the speed differential would be enormous and dangerous. Additionally the message from the new hybrid F1 rules is efficiency, 35% more performance from a drop of fuel than the old V8s. It’s not about monster power for short bursts.

How are the sensors calibrated?
The FIA takes steps to ensure that the sensors are accurate and the same for all teams. Team X gives its sensors and a sample of it’s fuel to the FIA and they contract a company called Calibra to calibrate the sensors to the fuel, by placing them in series and checking each against a known reference sensor. This is carried out in various conditions and at five different temperatures.

During the race weekend the teams tell the FIA which sensor they are using. Each sensor is bought and owned by the team, at a cost of £4,500 each and is regulated by the FIA.

Where does the fuel flow sensor sit?
Inside the fuel cell, in the low pressure area.

What is the limit the FIA will accept for a car going over the 100kg/hour limit before they act against the team?
If a car goes 1% over the 100kg/limit for 10 seconds in any given lap, they are warned by the FIA and asked to make an offset or switch to a back up. This adds up to 3 grammes of fuel per lap above the limit, which is the cut off for intervention (NB The FIA contends that the Red Bull sensor was not faulty and had not broken on Ricciardo’s car in Australia)

What happens if a car hits that limit?
If the FIA feels that a sensor is drifting in its reading (which it contends is very obvious) it reverts to the back up, which has been planned for and the back up has been calibrated against an official sensor. They cannot accept an alternative system for measurement because it has not been calibrated against a known sensor.

Article 5.10 of the technical regulations says that the fuel can only be measured by a homologated sensor and there is only one sensor, which is made by Gill Sensors.

How long do sensors last?
They need to be recalibrated after 100 hours and their life is 400 hours. It should be theoretically possible to do the F1 season on two sensors.

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