Tech Talk: We explain why Ricciardo was disqualified as Flowgate becomes F1’s latest saga

Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 16 March 2014

The 2014 edition of Formula 1 will probably best be remembered as the season that introduced one of the largest regulation shake ups in the history of the sport. This has came to bite Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo particularly hard in Melbourne and with it ‘Flowgate’ becomes the sport’s latest high profile controversy.

Having pushed aside the doubters who made the most noise during the pre-season, Daniel proceeded to put his RB10 between the two pace setting Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Qualifying. Although he wasn’t able to chase and challenge Rosberg during the race he did hold station and the advances of rookie Kevin Magnussen from behind were also thwarted.

That being said the body language of Red Bull was that of a team who had been caught on the back foot, still adjusting to the new era after four glorious, dominant years.

Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 16 March 2014

On the day in Melbourne Daniel’s elation was short lived with his podium finish unceremoniously stripped from his grasp hours later, as the stewards highlighted discrepancies in his fuel usage throughout the race. The new rules require a maximum of 100 kg/h of fuel to be delivered during the race, which Daniel’s RB10 had been exceeding.

As always with these matters however the team and the FIA were at loggerheads, with Red Bull complaining that the sensor that gives the FIA this information was faulty.

The FIA’s release however reveals their transparency in the matter and reveals Red Bull’s deceit, during Free Practice 1 the sensor gave eronious readings in their fourth run when compared with the previous three, although the same readings were present from run four throughout Free Practice 2.

Daniel+Ricciardo+Australian+F1+Grand+Prix+_vXj7SWfXAYx

With the agreement of the FIA the sensor was changed for FP3 and Qualifying but was not producing readouts deemed satisfactory by the team or the FIA. The FIA therefore asked for the sensor to be changed, with the original sensor being restored to use.

This sensor provided the same readouts as it did during run 4 of FP1 and all of FP2, this is an important factor as it’s correlation gives a definitive baseline reading. Once the sensor had been replaced post Qualifying the technical representative instructed the team to apply an offset to their fuel flow such that it would be legal (something done up and down the grid).

The team stated that based on the difference that they observed between the two readings in FP1, they considered the fuel flow sensor to be unreliable. Therefore, for the start of the race they chose to use their internal fuel flow model, rather than the values provided by the sensor, with the FIA’s prescribed offset.

Jo Bauer letter Ricciardo disqualified Melbourne

The FIA’s technical representative noted during the race that the fuel flow was too high and contacted the team, giving them the opportunity to follow his previous instructions of creating an offset from the fuel flow sensor’s readings. Having been given the opportunity during the race to comply, the team chose not to make any corrections.

Red Bull have clearly shown contempt for the rule makers in their actions and operated outside of the regulations. The inference to both articles:

  • 5.1.4 Fuel mass flow must not exceed 100 kg/h.
  • 5.1.5 Below 10,500 rpm the fuel mass flow must not exceed Q (kg/h) = 0.009 N(rpm)+ 5.5.

Means the team were not only exceeding the fuel flow limit toward the upper end of the scale but also below 10,500rpm. The upshot of this is an increase in performance – with more fuel being supplied, inevitably the ICE will produce more power.

Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 16 March 2014

The differential in terms of fuel flow from the baseline has not been revealed and so to infer how much of an advantage was gained by Red Bull would be impossible but suffice to say there was a performance advantage there.

The crux of Red Bull’s decision probably lies firmly in simulations that the team would have run back at Milton Keynes, with both their own fuel flow model and that of the FIA’s with the necessary offset.

These simulations would have given the team a clear indication as to the performance differential between both models and the likely upshot in performance.

In terms of the team making an appeal against the FIA’s decision, they have nothing to lose but the evidence at hand suggests that, unless a widesweeping change is made to the way in which fuel flow is monitored Red Bull operated outside of both the Sporting and Technical regulations. (Analysis by Matthew Somerfield)

Subbed by AJN.

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  • Robin Ducker

    Yep, I am in 100% agreement of this account by Matt. RBR needs to understand that although this technology is perhaps immature it is more reliable than 11 different teams version of the same thing which is only accurate when a rival team uses it.
    They have placed themselves above the FIA: do they honestly believe that this is disadvantaging them more than other teams? There is evidence to prove that this is rubbish. Do they believe that any other team trusts them? – No response needed. Do they honestly think they can do what they like? Well it sees that they do -they lied in writing about putting on the offset as requested by the FIA on the basis that i their superior opinion their measurements were more accurate, completely missing the point that other teams were trusting the FIA even though they had doubts. They should have the book throw at them.

  • Tamburello1994

    No conspiracy, No favoritism. Red Bull was caught red handed (no pun intended) and pays the price. Seems pretty cut and dry – the system works. Why they thought they could get away with it is just a simple case of hubris, they absolutely deserve the DQ to be put back in their place.

  • Jerry Holloway

    I think the better question is this fuel flow restriction even necessary? The teams are already limited to 100 kg of fuel. Why can’t they use it however they want to?

  • McLarenfan

    Once you read the facts they are guilty as charged Mercedes had to put an offset on theirs for similar reasons they complied and won with no worries. Red Bull took a gamble and lost.

  • Robin Ducker

    In theory of course they can, there are however a number of issues. Without going into these, the real point is that this is not the FIA telling the teams what to do. The teams signed up to the fuel rate as well as the quantity. Nobody protested. Everybody else stuck with it. Except now RBR isn’t winning so it doesn’t like it. They seem to expect everybody to fall at their feet….they seem to remind me of an infamous Austrian.

  • JustCoz

    I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned the more reasonable explanation for Red Bull ignoring the FIA sensor. All their engine maps are going to be based on x fuel pressure at y rpm. If the FIA sensor is giving bad readings, then the engine is going to be running lean, pinging, and possibly failing.

    The FIA accepts that the sensor’s reading changed during FP1, but expects RBR to compensate for the change and trust it blindly. They don’t seem to understand that the change may not be linear, or that it might change again. They don’t grasp that engines that don’t get enough fuel tend to have more problems then just a lack of power, or that ECUs, especially when they’re already having software problems, may not be smart enough to know that the fuel pressure sensor isn’t reading correctly and compensate for it before the engine blows up.

  • RBC

    To limit the maximum power of the engine, to limit the cost of engine development. Just like the rpm limit.

  • Jerry Holloway

    Well, one thing I have learned about F1 is that the FIA won’t use a simple method of doing something if there is a complicated/expensive/electronically flashy way of doing it. I get that the teams agreed to it but I’m guessing they figured they would be provided with sensors that actually work. It came out during testing that they were potentially defective. The FIA’s solution: apply an offset. Which is really just a band-aid. Seems to me Red Bull has a legitimate gripe but have gone about things wrong.

  • Jerry Holloway

    Ok, then why the max fuel capacity? Something is redundant here. My opinion is the flow restriction, I could be wrong. Alsoooo…aren’t all these things antithetical to the ethos of racing? Like, the main point should be to go fast. Going ‘green’ should be the bonus goal. Maybe we’ve got them mixed up. I like the new formula but it has its warts.

  • Jerry Holloway

    I don’t think the sensor in question is an active part of the engine management system. From what I can gather, it is a passive sensor whose only purpose is to tattle to Charlie when a team goes over the 100kg/hr limit.

  • Nowhereman

    It’s just a passive device.
    RB knew they could not run within the specifications with their powerplant set up.
    They CHEATED plain and simple.
    Everyone else complied except RB.
    They would not have placed where they did if they did not cheat.

  • Severn

    “Analysis by Matthew Somerfield”

    What “analysis”? There was NO “analysis” at all.. Somerfield simply accepts at face value Whitings claims about the fuel flow rate in DR’s car.

    “This sensor provided the same readouts as it did during run 4 of FP1 and all of FP2, this is an important factor”

    Readings which were deemed – by the FIA itself – to be so far out of kilter that the sensor needed to be replaced! But appearnatly THAT is not an ‘important factor”?

    The fuel flow rates provided by the teams own sensors are widely acknowledged to be a lot more accurate that those provided by the FIA sensors. In fact this was acknowledged in another story on this site just yesterday.

    This “analysis” is worthless garbage. No wonder AJN picked it up.

  • Severn

    “During the race car number 03 has exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100 kg/h”.

    That is the ONLY sentence in all of this which matters. If it is true, Red Bull should be punished more harshly than they were. If it is false there should have been no punishment at all. Determining whether it is true or false should not be a difficult task.

  • luis gonzy

    Because they want to turn F1 to a Nascar crap ” racing ” ? thing .

  • fools

    CAUGHT RED HANDED! SMH

  • JustCoz

    The sensor is supposed to be used by the ECU software to control the fuel pump and maintain the 100kg/hr flow rate, one of the main issues here is that RBR set up Daniel’s car to ignore that sensor and used their own fuel flow model, which they’re only supposed to do with the FIA’s blessing. I’m assuming the pump is a PWM-controlled electric pump (edit: upon reading the rules better, I found out they’re mechanical pumps, not electric), so their model would just be frequencies that produce the correct pressure at a given rev range, or maybe they have their own fuel pressure sensor that they do trust.

  • JustCoz

    Then why only do it on Daniel’s car? Everyone knows Vettel is the team higher-up’s golden boy. And how much effort did they have to go to to make one of the FIA sensors fail in a very specific way, and a second one give odd readings, just so they could have an excuse?

  • JustCoz

    More harshly then losing a 2nd place finish? For what amounts to ignoring a bum sensor?

    If you were driving down the highway, and your car’s spedometer all of a sudden went from 65mph to 38mph, what would you do? Would you speed up so that it now says 65mph again? Would you add 27mph to it’s reading and trust it to be 100% accurate? This is basically what the FIA asked RBR to do. What the rest of us would do is either keep pace with traffic, or drive at a speed that seems about right, ignoring the speedo until we can get it fixed (or else use a smartphone app). This is pretty much what RBR did.

  • Robin Ducker

    Your last sentence is the gist of the matter. They went about it in the wrong way when everyone else that had legitmate gripe but were willing to be patient. By taking control they put the FIA offside and gained an advantage over other teams that had applied an offset.

  • Dave Bates

    I like & agree with your opinion, If F1 is so determined to go this route of ” Efficiency ” then why are the teams not supplying info on the amount of fuel used for the Aussie GP ? In this world of efficiency surely us fans would like the comparisons between engine manufactures. Ie. it would be important info if Mercedes completed the race with a 10 ltrs spare ! or if Williams finished with a splutter, or if Red Bull finished with 5 ltrs. This would be good info on true performance, ie if teams got their math right, or was they carrying unwanted weight ? This flow crap is not important to anyone apart from teams succesfully getting their cars to the flag, FIA should concentrate their efforts on getting each car the measured amount prior to the race. This shouldn,t prove too technical i hope ! Measure fuel in at start
    Measure fuel out at finish
    reach for calculator.
    Publish results for each car

  • Amos James

    Whi says they didn’t? I doubt seb’s car ever had the chance to run well enough to exceed the 100kg/h fuel flow.

  • Nowhereman

    No not at all.
    They wanted to see if they got caught and did not want to have golden finger embarrassed.
    The new guy was the perfect fall guy.
    If he got away with it, then you could be your life Vettel would have it on his rig.

  • Paul Freer

    A Renault technician was reported as saying the Renault power units are producing 75-100 BHP less than the Mercedes power unit.
    If Red Bull increased the amount of fuel going through the injectors into the engine, they can then increase the boost pressure from the turbo, resulting in a power increase.
    I think they intended to get as close to the maximum allowed amount of fuel as possible in order to get the maximum power, but got a little greedy and hoped that using their argument regarding sensor inaccuracies would get them through.
    That’s my little opinion anyway!

  • Jerry Holloway

    Can you explain what this offset thing is all about? I get that it amounts to a band-aid. Is it just a calculation to correct a faulty reading or is it a physical device?

  • Jerry Holloway

    If they were really going for efficiency, they’d reduce the amount of fuel used by the myriad support vehicles used to haul the cars and equipment to the race. But this is really just window dressing and an attempt to challenge the teams in terms of strategy. As far as the sensor thing goes, it reminds me of last year’s tire debacle. The teams are provided a faulty item to work with and get around that by using it “wrong”.

  • Dave Bates

    Very true ! I don,t enjoy these methods of control myself, just doesn,t mix with loud & fast. I just hope for the sake of F1 these flow sensors prove to be 100% accurate compared with the team software. I wonder if this year will be a bumper sales year for Gill, or will they be laying off ! I, m thinking they will be the new kicking stick to replace Michelin. ” GET RID OF THE FLOW SENSORS ” before F1 turns into a laughing stock.

  • RBC

    They wanted to promote fuel efficiency so that the engines would have relevance to the real world, so that more engine manufacturers would enter the sport.

  • RBC

    A calculation to correct a slightly faulty device.

  • JustCoz

    Another article said they didn’t have any problems with the sensor on Vettel’s car (just problems with everything else!).

  • JustCoz

    The guy who qualified 2nd is the perfect fall guy? How does that make sense? And if that were the case, why didn’t they just switch back to using the sensor when Charlie was hounding them about it and they realized Vettel was out and Daniel had a good chance at a podium? Given how poorly testing and Vettel’s car have gone, RBR can’t afford to just throw away points.

    BTW, I’m not a Red Bull fan, I’m one of those weird people who want to see Sauber out front. I just race myself and have trouble with people making a bit of poor quality hardware mandatory, not accepting that it has failed, and then blaming the team because they were put between a rock and a hard place.

  • Nowhereman

    By that time it was too late.
    Riccardo had qualified with the RB flow restrictor and it did allow substantially more fuel than everyone else’s.
    FIA knew this and warned in advance.
    RB can put any spin on it they wish but they were not going to use the unit everyone else was using. Why?
    Because it made their car slower…
    The rookie was the perfect fall guy.
    I heard a rumor that Vettel’s car also had the RB unit but, he broke and made the point mute.
    The FIA is focused this year on keeping RB in check with their “creative” work done on their car.
    Read between the lines corey.

  • Severn

    “By taking control they put the FIA offside and gained an advantage over other teams that had applied an offset.”

    That’s pure speculation on your part.

  • F Andrews

    I have a question on a point of principle. If the date for the hearing of the appeal is not until sometime after the Chinese Grand Prix then will RBR continue to go their own way at Malaysia, Bahrain and China in relation to the fuel flow settings and therefore get disqualified at each of these events to really make a statement that they believe they are 100% correct? The alternative is for them to adjust to the so called ‘incorrect’ settings at these races and thereby admit that they should have complied with the directive from Charlie in Australia. Either way they could have egg on their faces,Thoughts!
    On a lighter note I have heard the FIA are considering bringing in a “Tyre Degradation Compliance Meter” meaning there will need to be an offset adjustment made to the cornering speed of the cars during their tyre stints!!! Also a “Wind Effect Meter” which will require teams to apply an offset to prevent any perceived assistance if there is a tailwind!!!!

  • JustCoz

    What should happen now is that the sensor Ricciardo used during the race should be sent back out for calibration. When they discover how far off it really is, then Red Bull should be judged based on that, not on the FIA’s interpretation of the readings of a known-bad sensor.

    I know how to read between the lines. The only thing I see is a team between a rock and a hard place, the FIA trying to cover their asses after they supplied poor-quality equipment, and a whole lot of people in tinfoil hats ready to believe anything against Red Bull.

  • JustCoz

    The FIA also thinks teams can just “turn up” their engine volume. The FIA is full of ignorant morons who have no idea how these cars actually work. Why don’t we wait until the sensor from Ricciardo’s car is sent for recalibration, and then they can determine if the calibration values did actually change, at which point I’m sure one side or the other will tell us if Daniel’s fuel flow was actually compliant with the regs.

  • Robin Ducker

    Severn, no it is not. RBR gained around possibly as much as 5/10ths a lap, maybe less maybe more.
    Mercedes, according to Toto Wolf, applied the offset requested and admitted it cost them 5/10ths. If one team is forced to slow down while a competitive team with the same issue is not, then its clearly an advantage. All the other teams were willing to accept the FIA’s authority and were thereby disadvantaged.