Valencia: Ban on engine map changes

A matter of days before the first practice at the European GP, there was surprising news that there will be a further restriction on engine mapping for this race. Ahead of the more stringent ban coming at the next round in Britain, in Valencia teams we have to start the race with the same engine map as used in qualifying. As with many of these FIA clarifications there is little information and even the teams have been hard pushed to provide full responses to my questions on the matter. With what limited information we have I will try to explain the impact of this change.

Currently teams are free to alter engine mapping settings between qualifying and the race, as these parameters are not part of the Parc Fermé regulations. Thus with the advent of hot & cold blown diffusers teams are able to run a much more aggressive map for their qualifying laps for more downforce and of course faster laptimes. Unable to run these maps through out the race, due to the fuel consumption penalty and the heat generated in the engine\exhausts, after qualifying teams plug in a laptop and revert the engine map to a softer race strategy. These qualifying maps give a considerable laptime gain, some reports suggest over 0.5-0.8s per lap. This is also one of the reasons for Red Bulls superior qualifying pace relative to their race pace, as I reported last year

Clearly Charlie Whiting is still unhappy that the engine is being used for aerodynamic advantage, he has brought in a restriction on the maps being changed after qualifying. I asked the teams what has been introduced. McLaren told me “same engine map from Q1 until the start of the race”. A fact also confirmed by Lotus and Renault. Therefore no specific engine maps are being banned, merely the teams have to make the judgement call, on whether they can run the first stint on an aggressive map or qualify on a softer map.

But this appears to only the basic principle of the rule revision, clearly there’s a lot more to it than that. It leaves the question of what can the driver change and when can he do it, as well how is this to be enforced. Again McLaren were able to explain some more “I think the intention is that you can’t alter the map – it would take too long to change it during a pitstop as you’d need to plug a laptop into the car”. So while we are used to seeing the drivers altering engine settings from the steering wheel, there is a limit to what he is able to achieve. Renault also were able to confirm “Some parameters are adjustable from the steering wheel, but not all. In Valencia, you can officially change your exhaust setting during the first pitstop, but you would need to plug a computer to the car, so it would take ages”. So it’s clear the driver is either not able or not allowed to make the changes from the Qualifying to the end of the first stint.

From what I’ve learnt, there is a difference between what we define as an engine map. There’s the settings the driver commonly makes via the steering wheel to fuel\igniting\rev settings, to either increase power or lower fuel consumption\preserve the engine. But there’s also a level above that, to which the driver has no access to via the steering wheel. The engines parameters are managed via the Standard ECU (SECU), which also includes peripheral items such as the steering wheel interface. Thus to make changes to the main map the team need to plug a laptop into the car and makes changes via the software interface.

Its been suggested the team could code a control on the steering wheel to alter the map between aggressive and soft and simply switch in the first stint, however the FIA have access to the data off the SECU which controls these parameter and could detect if this change had been made, which would be in contravention of the rule.

However its likely that the driver can still make changes to setting on the main map, during the first stint from the steering wheel, but not to the extent where it will go from full aggressive to soft. But simply to find a tactical short term boost or fuel consumption saving, as they normally would during a race.

Equally people have suggested the teams could develop a quicker method for altering the map at the first stop, rather than plugging a laptop in. I guess this is a possibility, assuming the SECU supports any alternative method. But it should be pointed out that the aim of this rule is to stop the aggressive hot blown qualifying maps, which will be restricted to the point of ineffectiveness at the next race (Silverstone), so it’s unlikely any teams would risk any literal interpretation of this rule. If indeed there isn’t already any additional info available to the teams or direction form Charlie Whiting that isn’t public that prohibits this.

If a team were able to run the first stint with an engine and fuel tank that could cope with the load from the aggressive map, the laptime gain might offset the time lost at the first pitstop. This Risk\Reward scenario might be played out in Valencia, but I’d doubt any of the top teams with these aggressive maps would take such a risk without weeks of testing and pitstop practice with the laptop. The short notice of this rule change no doubt aided the FIA in circumventing these sorts of workarounds.

Another workaround suggested has been set a lap fast lap on an aggressive strategy, pit, then change maps and run a lap on the race strategy. But the FIA are already beating this trick in two ways. Firstly the same map must be from used Q1, therefore all qualifying laps will have to be made with the same mapping as for the race start. This will further add to the deterrent of teams using aggressive maps, as this accounts for several extra laps in Q, as well as the first stint. This will be hard on the engines life and the fuel consumption. Secondly just as with tyres, it’s the set up on which the cars fastest lap is set that becomes the set up to start the race. It seems there are few workarounds to the rules.

The impact of this rule is teams will have to reign in their qualifying maps, this will cost them laptime and obviously any teams with an overly aggressive map will suffer more. The introduction at Valencia is significant as blown diffusers give the car more low speed downforce, although Valencia is not the slowest track on the calendar these maps will provide a big chunk of laptime at this circuit. Paddock rumour places Red Bull towards the top of the list of Q-Map users, so we could expect a smaller gap between them and Ferrari\McLaren, but I doubt this would account for all of the laptime difference. McLaren are also a team with a well developed Q-map, where as Ferrari are still believed to be immature in this area of development. Further down the field the other Renault engined teams and the Cosworth teams are likely to suffer less. Which should bring the tailenders a few tenths closer to the P1 time in Q1 reducing the fear exclusion on the 107% rule.

Going forwards this rule change is likely to be retained; further reducing the special qualifying set ups that the FIA have spent the last ten years restricting. It seems now there is very little the teams can do to alter the car between a qualifying and race set up.

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30 thoughts on “Valencia: Ban on engine map changes

  1. Part of the risk/reward evaluation has to take account of the possibility of a safety car during the first stint, especially on a street track such as Valencia. Would be catastrophic to lose a big advantage then have to suffer a slow pit stop.

  2. I am a maintenance engineer, and I have a thought about teams controlling exhaust temperatures… vortex tubes. We use vortex tubes for spot cooling. A vortex tube has no moving parts, and will naturally separate an air stream into hot and cold air parts, even if the incoming air is already hot. Teams could redesign their exhaust, making it a little longer to accommodate some form of a vortex tube, to separate the hot and cold air. The cooler air could then be used to blow the diffuser, and the extremely hot air could be vented wherever needed. This would allow teams to run very aggressive engine mapping without the heat penalty. Granted, you do still need enough fuel to finish the race.

    • So, I’m bored at work. I’ve been analyzing the qualification times for the year, looking for trends. I used RBR-Renault as the 100% reference. I used the quickest qualifying times for each driver, then averaged the two team drivers to get the overall average for the team for each race. If one driver had an anomaly, the driver’s time with the expected qual time was used as the team average for the race. I compared each teams qualifying average against RBR for each race.


      RBR showed a general dip in performance, compared to the rest of the field, in Malaysia, China, and Turkey. This is especially true in China. With the exception of Sauber-Ferrari, Virgin, and STR-Ferrari, the field has all improved their qualifying times in reference to RBR (i.e. the gap is closing) since the beginning of the year.

      HRT-Cosworth has seen the greatest improvement, demonstrating significant improvement (110%) from Australia through Turkey before dropping off in the last three races. The gap between HRT and RBR has closed since the beginning of the year, and HRT should be routinely topping Virgin in qualifying for the remainder of the year if their respective trends continue.

      Three Race Running Trend:
      Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Force India, and Lotus-Renault have all gained on RBR.

      I guess we will see just how big of an impact this new rule will play after Valencia qualifying.

  3. I think this is a change for the better and actually consistent with what has been done the past years. But it still begs the question, why didn’t the FIA introduce this at the start of the year?

    • Because FIA doesn’t know the meaning of the word “logic”.

      TBH It’s mighty annoying for me. All those bans and in-season changes. And how annoying it has to be for teams to see something they’ve spent millions on getting banned because FIA suddenly didn’t like it. In Renault’s case it’s something they’ve based their car design on..

      And imho they should allow full setup changes between qualifying and the race.

  4. A simple question that I’d really love Scarbs to answer. A lot of people, and even you in your last paragraph are calling this a rule change. Can anyone please refer to the specific article, sentence or even word that has changed in the rules that we started the season under?

    I always thought that a rule change required the WMSC to agree to it first.

  5. Thank you so much, I’ve been trying to get an answer on whether these ECU settings were different from the ones the drivers just adjust with their steering wheel during the race anyway, and nobody else seemed to know.

  6. “Further down the field the other Renault engined teams and the Cosworth teams are likely to suffer less.”

    Including Lotus Renault (LRGP)? (Do RenaultSport not share the same maps with them that Red Bull use?)

    And, what about Mercedes, will they lose out as badly as Mclaren?

  7. The standard way of remapping the ECU is by connecting the laptop, uploading the new map and disconnecting the laptop.

    I don’t know the rules, but is it possible to open up the ECU and change the locations of the chips and components? I assume there might be some freedom since all teams would make their own engine harnesses and different engines would come with different sensors (assuming they aren’t standardised, like the TPS, MAP, TDC, CYP, etc). I’m asking because if it’s allowed, they could easily modify the ECU in such a way as to have the map storage done on a chip which is removable via a socket.

    So at the pitstop, all the team has to do is unplug the old storage chip and plug in the new one which would be securely located inside the cockpit, say, behind the steering wheel. The ECU would get the new map and the exhaust settings would be changed. A regular pitstop takes 4 seconds. Doing a chip-swap wouldn’t take more than 8 seconds assuming the socket is designed to be a quick release type. I guess it’s all irrelevant since the loophole would only be present for one race, but heck, someone like Mercedes has nothing to lose and a lot of points to gain.

    • Well since the cars are connected to the pits via wireless why not just change the map via that.
      I wonder if they would have to switch the engine off in order to change engine maps which would be a disaster in a pit stop.

      Also with the ban on hot blown diffusers what about an f-duct on the diffuser so the pipe could start at the drivers feet in the cockpit and route around the engine and blow the diffuser and it would be operated via the drivers left foot on the straights.

      • They can’t upload it wirelessly, as per the rules.

        The ECUs are sophisticated enough to not require the engine switching off to change the map. I can do it on a factory Honda ECU when we go track racing, and an F1 engine and ECU is more advanced than that by order of a few magnitudes. Luckily, we can remap wirelessly, along with datalogging while sitting in the pitlane. The driver can just demand changes via radio (change in fuelling mix, timing, etc) and we can just upload the map wirelessly while he’s on the pit straight.

        So any idea if they can do this Craig?

    • Hmm I think that the whole ECU is standardised. So they can’t change anything within it.

      Your idea is interesting, but keep in mind that it’s a new component that can fail and immobilise the car. Reliability wise it could be quite bad.

      Plus the FIA would ban it anyway. “Rules clarification”, that’s what they call it.

      • I’m pretty sure certain things would be allowed, under the guise of utility and safety. You could have a Brawn or a Newey saying that the location of the ECU within the car is creating EMI (electro-magnetic interference) and destroying certain parts of the ECU but they can’t relocate the whole ECU because it would change the weight-distribution. Saying that with a straight face would be half the battle. The FIA half-wits would let it pass for a single race before the rest of the pitlane goes up in an uproar.

        And considering the fact that they could play around with things like throttle input while braking, to create the antilag effect, suggests that there is quite a bit that can be worked on. I highly doubt McLaren distributed these ECUs while keeping in mind this ability to have a hot-blown diffuser. Apparently Red-Bull were the first one to do this (correct me if I’m wrong), so they should most definitely have some kind of modifications to the ECU.

        Or imagine a different scenario. They could design a small circuitboard that would communicate with the ECU, and would store nothing on its local storage at any point of time, but have the ability to do so. Have it connected to the ECU so the ECU’s storage can be written to, and have a communications port exposed on the car somewhere that’s easily accessible. During a pitstop, a mechanic can connect a small flash drive, which would be read by this custom PCB and uploaded to the ECU automatically.

        I know I’m just grasping at straws here but a racecar is always built with one eye on design and one eye on the rulebook. It is the reason why you have the Red Bull, or the BrawnGP taking a different interpretation of the rules when compared to everyone else on the grid.

    • An engine control unit is more than “maps”.

      Any digital engine control unit is based on a microprocessor (possibly with a co-processor), which has memory for storing the software, a working memory, I/O units and a bus driver that allows the unit to communicate with other units. In the last 20 years or so the memory for storing the software has mostly been flash based as opposed to the past when read only memories or possible erasable programmable read only memories where used to store the software. This allows new software to be uploaded to the ECU by simply communicating with it, for instance using a CAN bus. Making hardware modifications of the control unit is strictly forbidden I assume.

      The software running on an ECU can be divided into two parts, the platform software which covers the hardware aspects of the microcontroller and the application software which contains the functions the ECU should perform. Part of the application software are a set of parameters, also known as “maps”, that the ECU functions uses to control the engine.

      These days ECU’s tend to use a torque demand structure. When the driver presses the gas pedal the pedal position is measured by the ECU through one of its I/O units. The ECU then uses a map to look up pedal position against engine speed, and the output is a torque request. For instance “full throttle” at 4000 rpm could mean a request of 400 Nm. Additional adjustments of this torque request can be made and then the value is moved to the next step which is to convert the torque request to airmass/combustion or fuelmass/combustion in the case of a diesel engine. Requested air/c is used as the basis for operating the electronic throttle valve and in the case of a turbocharged engine the boost pressure. The ECU compare the requested air/c with the actual air/c calculated from the engine sensors and make corrections if required.

      The actual air/c is divided by 14.7 and used as the starting point for the fuel calculations. After compensations (for instance load enrichment) calculated fuel/c is used to calculate injector duty cycle based on the known flowrate of the injectors. Corrections are made based on battery voltage as injector are slower to open with a low voltage. Based on fuel/c the fuel flow rate and the fuel level in the tank can also be calculated. Normal ignition is based on a map that use air/c and engine speed as input. Corrections are made and the calculated value is used to trigger the ignition system at the correct crankangle.

      In total the ECU contain a large number of “parameters” (maps) which the ECU functions uses to control the engine. Press the “sport” button in a roadcar and the ECU can switch to a different more aggressive torque request map, and possibly also increase the maximum torque request. The buttons on the steering wheel on F1 car probably work the same way; single parameters or even full maps can be replaced with anothers. Given that there is enough space in the ECU memory you can in theory use as many different maps as you want.

      In the case of the “q-map” replacing the maps isn’t probably enough, but the whole application software may have to be changed, changing not only what parameters the ECU uses to control the engine but also the functions that are used to control the engine. Limited memory space could be a reason why the software have to be changed rather than included in the “race software”, but I don’t know the specifics of the SECU. I assume the teams are allowed to make their own application software, McLaren Electronic Systems state that the application software for the TAG-310B control unit is autocoded using their own graphical development environment from Matlab/Simulink control modules.

  8. I thought that different engine maps were selected on the steering wheel by a dial with several position settings, so what is to prevent a team form setting position 1 as “Quali max” Pos 2 as “quali normal” Pos 3 as “Race max” pos 4 as “Race normal ” pos 5 as “race safe” etc?

    Whatever the change it doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the Qualifying in Valencia.

  9. I have always wanted to ask, what is the speed of the gases from the blown exhaust?

    I assume that as the engine revs higher, this speed will increase, so does this mean that as the car accelerates, the non blown air flow will be accelerating at the same speed as the car (or maybe incrementally increased by the underflow aerodynamics) and the the exhaust airflow will be at a higher speed, what could/would the differential in speeds of the two air flows be?

    In all of my reading about this topic, I have yet to see any published data to illustrate the velocity of the exhaust gasses.

    Thank you

      • Good article in Issue 036 (Feb 2009) of Race Engine Technology dedicated to exhausts. Written by Jack Kane, and if I understand it correctly, they are talking about velocities of 661 m/s in the primary tubes

      • I haven’t checked up the the article in RCE issue 036 but the velocity of 661 m/s could possibly be the speed of sound in the exhaust manifold and not the actual flow velocity.

        The speed of sound, C, in a gas is

        C = sqrt((k*p)/rho)

        k = ratio of specific heats
        p = pressure
        rho = gas density

        where the gas density is

        rho = p/(R*T)

        T = temperature
        R = gas constant

        If we assume that the exhaust is air (which will be fairly accurate as air and exhaust is mostly nitrogen) at 1200K and 100 kPa the density will be

        rho = p/(R*T) = 100000/(287*1200) = 0.29 kg/m3

        which gives us the speed of sound in the gas

        C = sqrt((k*p)/rho) = sqrt((1.4*100000)/0.29) = 695 m/s

        I would suspect that a F1 engine at full power consume around 0.5 kg air per second (fuel consumption is neglible compared to the air consumption). I don’t know how large the exhausts are, but two 90 mm diameter pipes shouldn’t be too unrealistic. With a density of 0.29 kg/m3 0.5 kg/s means about 1.7 m3/s though the exhaust, or 0.85 m3/s per 90 mm pipe. A 90 mm pipe have an area of 6.36 *10^-3 m3 which gives us an average exhaust velocity of 134 m/s though the pipe.

  10. Yes it is! And that’s why F1 engines are so damn loud the noise is from the supersonic shockwaves generated by the exhaust gases. I don’t know by how much they slow down before exiting the tail pipe, which is the bit that applies to the blown diffuser.

    That figure was given by the late Prof Gordon Blair, who wrote some simulation software for 4-stroke engines – you could install it and design your own engines and exhausts!

  11. Having just rewatched the latest qualifying, didn’t anyone else think it unusual that Vettel did a second, though aborted, run in Q3? The official team statement was that “they were concerned his time could be beaten”, even though he was 0.4sec ahead of anyone and had just posted the fastest lap of the whole weekend? Am I being too devious in thinking that he ran his qualifying engine map in the first run, came back in, loaded the race map and then did a quick out and in lap, therefore finishing qualifying with his race engine map already loaded??

    • I see your reasoning, but the map switching ban, starts from the beginning of qualifying. Thus the map used in Q1 when all 24 cars are out there, is the same for the final pole laps in Q3 and again for the start of the race…

  12. Why can’t the drivers drive round the new reg by just keeping the throttle pedal – slightly – down all the time (& left foot braking)? And why can’t the teams set up the pedal so that the old “off throttle” map gets triggered when you do that? Has the FIA mandated an entirely mechanical, linear throttle linkage?

  13. Pingback: An Exhausting Affair | LiteralF1

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