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.


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.