Monthly Archive: June 2015

The F1 engine token system and why it is not working

When the F1 rule-makers were formulating the current hybrid engine formula, the usual negotiation and horse-trading took place between the potential (mostly then-current) engine manufacturers. Renault, perhaps worried that a spending competition would leave it with an inferior power unit, was one of the proponents of what became known as the token system. The power unit was divided into a number of sub-assemblies, and changes to each sub-assembly were given values expressed as a number of tokens. The number of tokens allowed for development would be fixed after homologation, development would not be allowed in-season, and the number of tokens for off-season development would reduce over several seasons. The idea being that massive engine component development would be curtailed, and as engine manufacturers refined their powerplants, everybody would converge on more or less the same performance.

This looked like a good idea, and all of the engine manufacturers signed up to it. Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes all built power units for the 2014 season. But…by the second day of pre-season testing, it was clear that, relative to Rernault and Ferrari, Mercedes had built a par more powerful unit. The difference was so large as to be embarrassing. Hampered by the rule against in-season development, Mercedes powered cars enjoyed a significant horsepower advantage through 2014. Ferrari and Renault were limited to reliability changes, and improvements obtained by changes to fuel and engine electronics. That helped them some, and Renault scored 3 victories, but all came when Mercedes powered cars hit problems.

At the end of 2014, two teams, Manor/Marussia, powered by Ferrari, and Caterham, powered by Renault, ceased operations. In addition, Lotus moved from being powered by Renault to being powered by Mercedes. Renault therefore lost 2 out of 4 teams running its power units, with a commensurate loss in revenue and mileage for data collection. Ferrari lost 1 of its teams.

Honda’s entry to F1 in 2015 complicated matters. When the engine manufacturers got together to discuss how many tokens should be available for development, it became clear that the rules had not been written tightly enough to preclude in-season development from 2015 onwards. So design and construction improvements to the power units were possible in the 2015 season. After yet more negotiation, the engine manufacturers determined how many tokens were available for development in 2015, and Honda was awarded the average of the other 3 engine suppliers’ token number, since their engine, homologated in March 2015, would otherwise have been frozen.

In 2015, it has become clear that while Ferrari is a lot more competitive with its power unit, Renault is less competitive and less reliable. The more restrictive rules on power unit life have already led to Renault-powered cars accumulating grid penalties after they ran over their allocation of power unit components due to reliability issues. The Mercedes powered-cars are enjoying almost bullet-proof reliability from a more powerful power unit. The non-Mercedes powered cars, with the exception of Ferrari, are struggling to stay on the same lap in races.

By common consent, Renault needs a completely re-designed power unit to have any hope of approaching Mercedes. The challenges are (a) lack of money to develop new components, due to loss of 2 teams (who were, if reports are correct, paying around $40m per team for engine supply in 2014), and (b) lack of enough tokens to support a complete re-design.

Renault is now hamstrung by the very system that it proposed back in 2012 when the new engine formula was being finalized. They are unlikely to be able to create a competitive power unit within the current token system, and the shift to in-season development has further moved the engine development process away from their original vision, which was focussed on out of season development based on defined limits to the number of changes. Honda is also hamstrung not only by the token system, but also by the onerous engine life rules, which are also resulting in Honda-powered McLaren cars collecting massive grid penalties.

There is a real risk that Renault will leave F1 soon, especially given the appalling relationship that they currently have with Red Bull Racing (and, by extension, Toro Rosso). When a team with which you won 4 drivers and constructors championships as recently as 2013 is publicly excoriating you weekly, it is difficult to see any positive upside to remaining in F1.

No privately-funded engine development company can afford to enter F1 under the current rules. Although it is difficult to determine how much money Mercedes has spent on its F1 program, numbers upwards of $300m seem to be a starting point. Only a large-volume manufacturer could afford that size of outlay on an engine design and build process. The high cost of the power units is also distorting the power balance in F1, with the “grandee” teams now threatening to swallow up the smaller teams. To be fair, part of that is due to the teams now controlling the rules via the Strategy Group, another crazy adventure of the “fox given keys to hen house” variety.

The token system might have worked if all of the engine builders had produced power units of relatively similar performance. Then a smaller number of tokens would have been used for incremental improvements.. That is not what happened. Mercedes produced a far superior power unit, and the rivals are now unable to easily catch up due to the engine reliability rules, token limits, and, in the case of Renault, lack of money.

If F1 wants to continue with multiple competing engine suppliers under the current formula, some way has to be found of giving Renault and Honda a better chance of catching up with their power unit designs. The easiest way would be a combination of a scrapping of the token system and a relaxation of engine reliability rules. Mercedes is bound to vote against such a move (why would they vote for it? They have the best powerplant by a large margin) and their customer teams will vote the way that they are told, so it is unlikely to pass the Strategy Group.

My short summary: with the current Strategy Group process, any engine supplier not named Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines is, to a varying level, screwed.

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McKinney pool incident – control of the narrative

Some quick observations about the aftermath of what i will call The McKinney Pool Incident.

1. Partisans on both ends of the narrative spectrum are currently engaging in an attempt to control and distort the narrative to fit their pre-conceptions. I am starting to see people on Facebook, Twitter etc. posting, totally uncritically, articles posted on echo chamber websites that seek to impose a glib, judgmental narrative on the events. Be smart, folks. Don’t just promulgate this guff without asking fundamental questions about the credibility of the source, and the way in which the article is written. Also pay attention to the use of coded language in narratives written by partisans. As an example. when I read an article on an authoritarian website asserting that the party organizers “appear to be from Chicago”, I know exactly what that claim is really saying. (Translation:  Chicago – evil den of political corruption controlled by people of the wrong party, you know that one that the POTUS belongs to, hint hint). If you want to understand more, read some of the books by George Lakoff.

2. The city of McKinney has already done one thing right by suspending the officer whose conduct was captured on video. But bear in mind that a lot of the incidents were not captured on video. The evidence for those happenings is anecdotal, and it will take a while to sort out the truth from the guff and misinformation. There is a process called investigation, a skill called critical thinking, and a third important principle called Due Process. They should be allowed to happen.

3. If your community is squarely in a media firestorm, it is not a good idea to create posters that reflexively and uncritically support one side or the other in the dispute. This shows a shocking lack of self-awareness, and if the investigation shows that the people you are claiming to support erred, you are going to look mighty stupid. Also bear in mind that if you have a well-paid job in corporate America, suddenly finding your name perjoratively splashed across social media is not what your employer wants to see. One constant of corporations is that they like publicity but they hate controversy. Since Texas is a “right to work:” state, you can be fired for no reason at all. (Of course there is always a reason, but they don’t have to tell you, and they would be fools to do so).

4. Any person who begins an explanation for their position with a protestation of “I’m not being XXXX, but…” is, most of the time, being XXXX. It is a well-understood reality that people who are telling the truth never claim that they are – they instinctively expect to be believed. It is identical to the “you can trust me” meme. We know this. We know it so well that it is ingrained in humour. Think of all of the jokes based on lines such as “trust me, I’m a doctor/dentist/consultant etc. etc.”. Be wary of these kinds of exculpatory protestations.

 

 

 

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F1 – customer cars…maybe?

The four “big” teams (Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren) met prior to the Canadian Grand Prix to discuss design and regulation changes for 2017. Included in discussions was the issue of how to allow for customer cars.

Most of the regulation changes being floated about (including refuelling and a move to 13 inch rims) appear to be unpopular with the teams due to a combination of cost and workload. So it seems like the only major agreements were to “turn up the wick” on the existing power units to make them more powerful, and to look at wider tyres. There was lots of talk about making the cars look “sexier”, but form follows function, and right now, with aerodynamics being the most important factor, the car looks are not going to change.

It appears that there was little discussion of what is really needed – a total binning of the current aero rules in favour of limited front and rear wings, and a return to a level of underbody downforce generation. That, plus wider tyres, would make it easier for cars to run nose to tail, and would increase the importance of mechanical grip in car set-up at slow circuits..

The two major agreements that they reached on the topic of customer cars appear to be:

1. An entire package of cars and engines will be offered to a team for EUR 50m.

2. Each major constructor can only supply one other team with a customer car package.

As this article from James Allen makes clear, the EUR 50m figure is only a starting point. It does not include spare parts for example.

(2) is essential, as without it, Mercedes would probably supply at least 4 teams with chassis and engines in 2017, and the other major constructors would not have any customers since their power units are currently uncompetitive.

Right now, the big teams are seemingly in the driving seat. However, that unity is tenuous. Red Bull keeps making noises about leaving. Renault is not a lock to continue (yes, they are supposed to be buying a team but they still have an unreliable and poorly developed power unit, and they seem to be trying to do F1 on a budget, which is not how Mercedes approached it).

Bernie Ecclestone keeps reminding people of his alternative plan to provide smaller teams with 2013 Red Bull chassis equipped with Renault V8 engines serviced by Mecachrome, which might only cost teams around $30m a season for chassis and engines. That plan, however, would never pass a Strategy Group vote, which explains why it does not have any traction in 2017 discussions at present.

The unknown in all of this is whether F1 will find itself the subject of a complaint to the EU over the governance of the sport. If a complaint is lodged, it is unlikely that the current structure of F1 can continue. The sport’s current broken governance system will almost certainly be declared in violation of EU competition rules.

I remain skeptical that the franchise car system will ever be implemented. Right now, F1 is in such a mess strategically that anything could happen in the next 18 months, and I am sure that what everybody is publicly saying is likely to happen is nothing like what will actually happen.

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McKinney incident

In case you had not yet found out…the city of McKinney is currently in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
There are a few obvious things about how to handle this kind of crisis that i learned when reading the classroom materials from a class that a work colleague attended in 1997 called “how to deal with the media”. There are several simple (and rather obvious) rules:

1. If you screwed up, admit it
This is the most obvious, and the most ignored. The reason for the old saying “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is that humans have a far higher forgiveness threshold for people and organizations who admit to error than they do for people and organizations who obfuscate, bullshit or lie in an attempt to deflect accountability. (Obvious note – with video in existence of at least part of the incident, it is not a good idea for the law enforcement bodies to try to impose a false narrative. Arguing against what people can see or interpret from a video is a Really Really Bad Tactic).
2. Make Good on recompense
The case study for this is Intel, who discovered an obscure (and rarely used) math processing error in their Pentium chip. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet, they admitted to its existence (tick Rule 1). But then they did something far far smarter. They announced that anybody who felt that they no longer had confidence in their Pentium CPU could send it in and get a replacement AT NO COST TO THEM. The gesture removed just about all remaining negative impact from the initial announcement. Intel had stood behind their product and their reputation, and backed it up with action. Their long term reputation was unaffected, and possibly even enhanced.
3. Hold the Right people accountable and show how you held them accountable
This is more tricky. The temptation in large organizations is to circle the wagons and diffuse accountability, via a number of rhetorical devices (prominent among them is the use of the passive “mistakes were made”, which de-personalizes and diffuses accountability). The aim is to ride out the storm. Those tactics communicate that you are not really interested in changing for the better, you just want the noise to go away. The challenge is that it erodes your credibility and trust with the public.

McKinney has a window of opportunity to Do The Right Things. Some of them may be unpalatable in the short term. However, failure to do them will result in Google searches of McKinney returning hits that are a lot more negative than positive in the months to come. (Obvious parallel – google Ferguson).
Ultimately, it is all about credibility. Failure to respond correctly will reduce and possibly eliminate the credibility of the city of McKinney.

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Custom iPods for now and the future

In order to have enough sound sources for our parties, and to accomodate my music collection, we are adhering to the cliche that Size Matters.

Since Apple stopped selling the iPod Classic last Fall, prices have been rising, so I snapped into action a few months ago and procured 2 special iPods from a custom iPod creator on Enay. They are modified customized limited edition iPod classics, part of the U2 Limited Edition series. However, the disk drive has been replaced by a 240gb flash memory array. The flash memory gives faster playback speed, but some load and organization activities are slower. The iPods are also significantly lighter, since disk drives are dense devices.

The iPods comfortably hold my 18000 tune music collection with lots of space left for additional music. I am set for life…

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“If you don’t like it, leave” and “If this happens, I’m leaving”

“If you don’t like this country, then leave”

“If X happens, I’m going to leave”

I read these statements all of the time. In fact, I have had the first one used against me in Facebook and blog comments.

My first response is usually some variant of “is this all you have”? It’s not an argument. It’s an attempt to shut off the conversation. It is, like many rhetorical tricks used by people who are not into reasoned debate, intellectually risible, unserious nonsense. It reads like childish petulance, the sort of thing you would not tolerate from one of your own children.

It is hardly surprising that these kinds of invitations are usually written by authoritarians. One thing I notice about authoritarians is that many of them have a binary worldview. When they think they are in the ascendant, they suggest or demand that anybody who does not agree with them leave the country. When they fear they are not in the ascendant, they decide that they themselves are going to leave the country.

My response to “If you don’t like it leave” is usually “no, I am a citizen, I am not leaving. Now, do you have an argument?”

 

 

What I always think after reading the meme “I’m going to leave the country” is “so where the hell are you going to go?”. The challenge  is that when they say “I am going to leave this country”, that is not all that they are saying. Unspoken is the addition “I am going to go somewhere else and set up a place where We Are In Charge”. That unspoken pre-condition tends to limit where they can go.

Not Europe, that is a socialist hellhole. India is hot and full of people of the wrong color. China is communist and therefore scary. Russia is too cold. Latin America is strange and mostly socialist. The Middle East is full of terrorists…The list goes on.

I can really only think of a handful of countries that authoritarians might decide match their worldview. The snag is that they are all failed states occupied by corrupt venal and dictatorial regimes. And they are in dangerous parts of the world. In short, they would be a long way down any sensible person’s list of places to visit, never mind places to go live. The other thing that they are also overlooking is that they are never going to be In Charge in any countries run by authoritarians, and if they annoy somebody in the government, they will probably start to disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

As I said, these kinds of petulant foot-stomping comments are unserious.

 

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