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Vehicles of change
Most of the cars on the grid this season will have a stranger or funnier look to them, depending on how you look at the new Platypus nose - a forced design change due to a technical rule change. The pre-2012 regulations allowed the nose of the car to be as high as 62. 5 centimetres above ground. But this year, the maximum height has been lowered to 55 centimetres (22 in), 150mm ahead of the front bulkhead. Engineers went on an overdrive to find out a design which literally measured up with the new regulation while at the same time didn't compromise the car's aerodynamics and speed. As a result, cars were launched with a 'platypus' nose with a visible change in height along the front section.
Last year teams were running "off-throttle blown diffusers", which used a system for channeling exhaust gases onto the diffusers when the driver takes the foot off the pedal. This created more downforce but it also created a few controversies in 2011. The governing body first went with a ban of the concept in incremental phases, increasingly restricting teams on what they can and cannot do before a complete ban from the British Grand Prix last year. However, the incremental ban created controversy as several teams applied and received permission to circumvent the total ban. So the FIA delayed the full ban till 2012. This year, strict regulations will govern the design and positioning of the exhaust pipe. In 2012, the exhaust will exit the bodywork much higher than in 2011, and more importantly, no longer close to the diffuser. The FIA is clear this year that no exhaust gases will be allowed to be released or blown near the engine components and diffuser.
That loud noise at pitstops will be a little less as there is a ban on the use of helium in air guns used to change tyres. Helium increased the rotation speed of the guns by 30 percent, contributing to faster pitstops. But the expenses involved were huge compared to the actual competitive gain from its use.
HEIGHT OF INNOVATION
Another under-the-hood change is the ban of use of "reactive rideheight", a system which uses hydraulic cylinders located in the brake calipers and suspension push-rods to make minute adjustments to the ride height of the car. It is used to keep the ride height at an optimal level throughout the race and it provides stability during braking. But actually, stability was a happy byproduct of the system with its main aim being aerodynamic gains for more cornering speeds. Earlier in the year, the FIA approved the device as being legal before banning it a week later. Apparently, the reactive ride-height systems violated Article 3. 15 of the technical regulations, which states that "any aerodynamic effect created by the suspension should be incidental to its primary function".
CRASHING THE PARTY
All cars are required to pass the mandatory FIA crash test before getting on track for even the pre-season trials. The test this year was rigourous than previous years and the delay in clearing it meant the back of the grid teams like HRT and Marussia F1 couldn't make it onto the track for the pre-season runs. Both the teams did a basic shakedown and flew to Melbourne
In-season testing will return in 2012 after a gap of three years, with plans for a test at Mugello on May 1, just before the European leg of the 2012 season. As teams will only be permitted to do fifteen days of testing over the course of the season, the pre-season winter testing schedule was cut back to accommodate the Mugello test.
FIRMER GRIP ON THINGS
Pirelli softer compound tyres were slowing down the cars considerably in 2011. The tyre supplier, into its second year in F1, revised its compounds for the 2012 season in an effort to encourage teams to use each of the compounds supplied for individual races. Pirelli predicts the changes would translate into a mere 0. 7 seconds' difference per lap between the harder and softer compounds, a significant change from 1. 5 seconds per lap in 2011.
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