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The Australian Grand Prix was indeed clouded with controversy as Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified over a fuel-flow rate the FIA determined to be beyond the 100kgs per hour mandate.

Red Bull has vowed to appeal the decision and has until mid-day Thursday to do so. Team boss Christian Horner brought the issue into the light of day by claiming the fuel-flow sensors were showing signs of significant discrepancy:

“We could see a significant discrepancy with what the sensor was reading and what our fuel flow was stated as – that’s where there’s a difference of opinion,”

This may be the case however FIA’s Charlie Whiting had said on March 13th that any deviation from the prescribed sensor or a corrective fuel-flow rate model the FIA gives a team in the case of variants in the sensor would be met with zero tolerance.

The debate continued into this week with such vigor that the sensor manufacturer felt compelled to defend its product by releasing a statement that read:

“Following the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, the FIA have provided Gill Sensors with positive feedback on the performance of the Fuel Flow Meter, confirming their confidence in the development and stating the meters meet the FIA’s accuracy specification.

The meter development included an extensive testing programme, which involved liaising with many of the F1 teams for their valuable feedback on meter design and functionality. Meter calibration is handled by the FIA’s third party calibration company.

The meters utilise ultrasonic technology which was selected for its resilience in extreme operating conditions. The FIA chose Gill Sensors for this complex development because of Gill’s 29 years of proven experience in Ultrasonics.”

While the manufacturer, Gill Sensors, seems to have the FIA’s full support, it does bring in to question as to if there is an alternative way to measure the flow rate at the injector level that would please the FIA. The equipment designed for fuel injection is very sophisticated and accurate but it would leave room for teams to play with the rate that would be unseen by the FIA.

Is there a way the FIA could be privy, in real time, to those flow rates at the injector in order to remove the debate over a third-party sensor that has show some variances and creates concern for teams such as Red Bull? This issue could envelope other teams as well but time will tell.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Lopek

    You’d have to be mad to be a supplier to F1 with Red Bull involved. They’ll throw anyone under the bus to deflect blame from themselves. Last year it was Pirelli, this year it’s Gill Sensors. Wonder who’s next.

    Can’t see how they can win the appeal. My gut feel it is that it won’t be lodged. Red Bull have stirred up the media enough that the FIA will look into the issue.

  • jeff

    At the injector rail, I don’t think so. Being Direct Injection motors, one can’t simply place a sensor on the intake for measurement before the cylinder head runners. The injector rails on a DI engine directly feed the combustion chamber; any proturbance there not specifically designed for in the engine will screw up combustion efficiency, and potentially harm DI’s main advantage of being able to run very lean. It also brings to question either running 6 rather than 1 flow meter for each engine, or testing a single cylinder, giving room for the teams to manipulate figures during cylinder cutoff or piston stroke events.

    I’m not well-versed on these infrasonic flow meters, so someone more technically astute should chime in here with alternatives. I just believe that since the current pieces are supposedly mounted near the fuel cell, measuring mass fuel load before entering the lines and being divided up, that the only way to increase precision is to build a better mousetrap measuring the same way. How to do that? No idea.

  • jeff

    Okay, did some reading via Racecar Engineering (link to PDF article detailing the meters below). Wow, these meters are pretty neat. Dumbed down, they’re essentially tubes w/ ultrasonic (not infrasonic as I wrote before) transceivers at each end. The fuel passes from the fuel cell through the fuel lines. In this line, the fuel flow meter sits as part of the pathway. As the fuel goes through the meter, ultrasonic signals are sent back and forth between the meter’s ends; as the length of the meter is known, the time the signals travel back and forth between 1 sensor to the next, slowed down by the fuel’s viscosity, is how the fuel mass is measured. The measurements are apparently taken at 2000 times per second.

    Really neat stuff, particularly considering how the sensor must recognize each team/manufacturer’s particular fuel blend (different viscosities/densities). That the sensors function this way while being solid state (no flapping valves) and without significant impact on flow via the fuel pump is astounding.

    Doesn’t help me in figuring out an alternative, save for upping the cyclic rate, but cool, nonetheless.

    Article here:

    http://www.racecar-engineering.com/technology-explained/how-formula-1-fuel-flow-meters-work/

  • Tom

    You’d need to be an expert in the measurement of liquids in order to come up with another way of doing things, which I’m obviously not. But we can define some parameters:
    1) The fuel meter needs to be able to take many measures per second.
    2) It needs to be able to deal with different fuel compositions.
    3) It needs to be passive and not obstruct fuel flow in any way.
    4) It needs to be the same fore everyone.
    5) It needs to be relatively easy to install.
    6) It needs to be installed at such a point that it really measures the true fuel flow.
    7) It needs to work reliably throughout a weekend.
    8) It needs to provide very accurate data within a very small margin of error.
    9) It needs to be secure from tampering by the teams.

    Quite clearly, the injector rail cannot be used as it violates at the very least #4, #5 and #9. The fact that the FIA in conjunction with the teams and the engine constructors ended up settling with devices using ultrasonic sound tells me that they probably had very good reasons to do so.
    The fact that an independent firm yet again is responsible for final calibration and testing speaks for how serious the FIA takes this.
    The tight tolerances make the whole process extremely fair across the board.

    At the end of the day, all we have as evidence for doubt is Red Bull’s claim that their readings were different from the FIA’s readings and their assertion that their readings were more accurate. Which even if true would be beside the point as the only thing that is important in order to guarantee fairness is that all the FIA sensors in all the different cars give the same readings (within tight tolerances), which as far as we know was the case. The Technical Directive 016­14 clearly says that the 100kg/h limit means that the limit is 100kg/h ACCORDING TO the FIA sensor, no matter what other sensors say.
    What undermines Red Bulls case even further is the fact that the specifications of the fuel flow meter are such that when it comes to inaccuracy, they may only err by 1% and only ever in favor of the teams.

    Now I could come up with ways to square both sides. For example, I could imagine that Red Bull’s fuel pump sucks up more fuel than the injectors actually need, making it look to the flow monitor as if more fuel is being used for a short period of time. Or maybe Red Bull’s engine mapping works in a way so that there are brief intervals where they use more than the allowed 100kg/h, followed by brief intervals where they use less in order to equal things out, but that these intervals are long enough to be registered by the FIA sensor.
    And I guess there are other possible explanations. But the point is, that this is all irrelevant. The FIA sensor is the yardstick that is the same for everyone. A line in the sand needs to be drawn somewhere and the fuel flow meter is it. Everybody had to work with it, it is the best the FIA could come up with and 10 teams out of 11 had no problems with it. Only Red Bull thought it was above the law, outright ignoring the various technical regulations and directives, pretending that they were above the governing body of F1.

    • Brian

      If it errs by up to 1% in favor of the teams, the corollary is that some teams may have that extra 1%, while others may not. So you don’t actually have the same yardstick for everyone. You have a faulty yardstick, that may err in favor of some teams.

      In a sport where millions are spent on gaining tenths of a second, I could see why a team with as much to lose as RBR might be upset if they have data clearly showing the sensor was in error.

      • jeff

        Actually 1% tracking variance is quite good with a fluidic medium.

        In any case, what should the variance be then? What’s the threshold that a team should consider acceptable? The easy answer of 0% is not realistic; even a neutating laser won’t measure that accurately according to research docs, and that’s not taking into account differing fuel compounds by the teams and the wide temperature variances each team’s fuel undergoes.

        I don’t know if the +1% is sufficient for F1; I guess we’ll see if alternate manufacturers can do better while fitting parameters of minimal weight/neutral flow impact/cost efficiency/repeatability/adaptability to multiple platforms and medium compositions.

      • Tom

        It’s the nature of the sport to have not 100% equal preconditions. 1% is very good in that regard. Are all tires equal for example? Or are there sets that are just this bit stickier or more durable? Of course there are, we hear drivers complaining about bad sets of tires all the time. Does that mean we should throw the concept of standard tires out of the window?
        Over the course of a season these things even out.

        Secondly, no matter how good Red Bull’s own sensors are, I’m pretty sure they cannot measure the fuel flow in their competitors cars. So this argument doesn’t fly to begin with, because as long as their fuel meter is within the tolerance levels, their fuel flow is as high as it can be, possibly even slightly higher and there’s no way for them to know how much the others use. It would be preposterous to to argue that others “might” have a fuel flow that is 1% above the limit without them knowing, because their fuel meter isn’t perfectly calibrated, therefore we ramp up our fuel flow against the rules, just in case.

        Either they’re unhappy with the fuel meter possibly showing 1% less flow than there really is (which so far they haven’t said), or they’re unhappy because they believe that their fuel meter’s data showed too high a fuel flow (which they did say).

        But then their fuel flow meter was within the 0.25% variance and within the 0 to -1% error bar, so there is no grounds for them claiming that either. Even if the fuel flow that the FIA sensors measure is slightly on the high side, then it’s that way for everyone. Since the FIA fuel flow meter is the one and only standard, that’s what you go with. Everybody did, only Red Bull had the arrogance not to.

  • I found this comment from Gary Anderson quite interesting. Was just looking around for alternative ways of handling this issue and this popped up:

    “So how did that happen? Red Bull, and I believe a few other teams in the pitlane, were struggling to get the FIA-supplied fuel-flow meter to match the very sophisticated onboard electronics that control the amount of fuel that’s fed through the injectors.

    Years and years of research has gone into injector control for all forms of engines, and this has made a significant impact on improving the fuel economy for both racing and road-car engines.

    I would have to say that using this as the fuel-flow and fuel-limit control would make more sense as huge resources have been put into its development over many years.

    Yes, it’s an engine parameter and it would be possible for some form of skullduggery to go on, but if the penalty for cheating is big enough then I doubt if any engine manufacturer would risk it.” AUTOSPORT

    • Tom

      The problem with this approach is two-fold: For one every engine manufacturer has his own development, different materials, different placements, different methods, etc., so the numbers aren’t necessarily comparable. Secondly, even if we could somehow get around that, there’s no way the FIA could trust anything that comes from these sensors as they could be easily tampered with, whereas finding out about it would be virtually impossible. Even if the penalty was severe, the benefit of cheating would still be pretty big whereas the chances of being found out are slim to nonexistent. According to Toto, Mercedes lost half a second per lap due to reducing their fuel flow, so that’s the bare minimum that could be gained by cheating, probably much more. That is just too sweet to ignore. History shows that even big punishments aren’t sufficient deterrents…spygate anyone? So we really shouldn’t incentivize cheating and turn F1 into the next Tour de France where the best cheater wins.

      Let’s look at the problem again: One team wasn’t able or willing to match the numbers from the fuel flow meter to their own electronics. Other teams might had problems as well, but they were ultimately able to cope. This sounds like a comparably minor issue to me, one that the teams should be able to get a hold of rather easily. To throw the current system out and replace it with one where we have much bigger problems wouldn’t be wise IMHO, it would mean to throw the baby out with the water.

  • joe

    Formula one is an absolute joke. They lost 99% of the Australian audience on the weekend but they don’t care, Australians arnt wanted or welcome in the very british / European formula one just like Americans arnt welcome. Striping someone of a podium because of a sensor… it’s discusting. There’s plenty of better and more exciting racing series out there two watch than this once fantastic now boring and over ruled excuse for racing.. I mean, idiot rules, ugly cars, crap sound, restriction on fuel that slows them down, changing race results with a pen, lots of boring tracks, pay drivers and the whole going green thing etc..

    • Tom

      Joe, I feel your anger. I know that it is frustrating when your guy, or indeed the guy representing an entire nation gets the shaft. Believe me, I’ve been there when Schumacher got ridiculous punishments in 1994 all over the place.

      Having said that, I think you have jumped the gun here. Of course F1 welcomes Australians, why do you think there’s still a race there? Bernie could have gotten rid of it years ago and replaced it with more lucrative contracts. But he didn’t, because he knows that Australia is an important core market. And the same is true for America BTW, although there it’s not as much a core market but one that F1 hopes will be one eventually.

      Similarly, amidst your anger, you need to be careful not to be played, which indeed I think you are, as was the Australian press from what I could see. It’s in Red Bull’s interest to agitate the Australian public after all. Take a deep breath, take a step back and look at the big picture.

      Ricciardo wasn’t disqualified “because of a sensor”, he was disqualified because Red Bull set up his engine in such a way that he had a significant power advantage over his competition, which clearly is illegal, just as it would have been illegal to fit a 3l engine inside the car. The sensor being merely the technical detail, the part that exposed Red Bull.

  • Redbullshit have been cheating and bending the rules for years so it’s good to see tha the FIA have finally grown a pair and decided to stand up to them at last after years of giving in every time they threw the toys out of the pram and had a hissy fit. The only reason their complaining so much now is because they’ve been caught cheating red handed and their not winning so they will try anything to draw attention away from the fact that they are cheating scumbags.

  • jeff

    Mr. Anderson isn’t promoting a specific technological solution here, simply assuming the engine manufacturers or teams have a more precise way of measuring fuel flow. His comments are odd; injectors aren’t metering or measuring tools; their purpose is to vaporize fuel in a specific spray pattern to promote clean combustion; all metering and measuring is done by some form of ECU

    He’s likely right, the teams probably have the best capability to accurately measure their specific engine’s consumption, but it’s the how that’s an issue. There are 3 choices:

    1. exhaust path the via extrapolation from air/fuel ratio (too inaccurate)
    2. knowledge of injector capacities, duty cycles, and atomization patterns combined w/ intimate knowledge of the ECU tuning regarding cylinder deactivation and firing order
    3.)Measurement near the source point prior to transport and division

    #2, as can be assumed from the technical mumbo jumbo I’ve mentioned, measuring at the injector so comprehensive and difficult because it’s the actual metering into the engine, dependent upon engine mode, temperature, and swirl pattern/A/F efficiency of that particular engine, combined w/ flow meter placement. How FIA could accomplish that accurately, w/ reasonable assurance teams aren’t hiding something, and on budget, boggles the mind.

    This is the solution the teams likely have, injector behavior combined w/ engine combustion cycles and fuel composition/behavior. This also means teams have intimate knowledge on how to manipulate data if they’re giving it to FIA. If for example they superheat the fuel after the measuring point but before it goes into the engine, they the teams could be allowing more fuel into the engine than a team-specific sensor reads.

    #3 is the only way to measure accurately for a group of disparate fuels and engines; using a standardized sensor just after the fuel tank, coming out via demand from the ECU to feed from the fuel lines to the fuel system/combustion chambers. This is a very complex problem FIA have that, in my opinion, they’ve found a most elegant solution for.

    Short of laser rather than ultrasonic-based fuel sensors (that is a cool read from EAS) or upping the cyclic readings, I just don’t see a fundamental improvement over the current sensors, IF they perform as the specs intend.

  • FakeRussian

    I agree with Jeff and the comments on the chosen method of measuring seems to be the best one. I just made a back of the envelope calculation, and unless Im mistaken the number of cylinders being filled per second is 1500 when the engine runs at 15000 rpm, which again means that the readout speed of 2000 times per second for the sensor means that the flow is measured roughly once every time a cylinder is being filled with fuel. That should in theory be enough, but it wouldn’t hurt upping the read out frequency – which I also believe they tried?

  • James

    As interesting as the technical discussion is it ends up being irrelevant to this case. The FIA told Red Bull to turn it down, several times according to the FIA statement. Red Bull refused. It’s the same as telling a judge in the court room they don’t know the law. You may be right but you’re dead wrong in the only opinion that matters. It’s almost as if Red Bull are picking a fight they know they can’t win on purpose.

  • jeff

    I agree James, as mentioned in several other responses I and others have made; no matter what one may think of the accuracy of the Gil v. Team meters, the regs state the FIA (Gil) meters are the standard by which FIA enforces the flow rate limitations. Red Bull ignored FIA’s conformity mandates. Red Bull thus loses; end of story there. I don’t think they were picking a fight, believed they were negotiating from a Bully Pulpit position a la Ferrari; they found out wrong. If they were trying to take on FIA… I don’t know why.

    However, as Todd’s post here is questioning alternative measurement means, I think the technical theories are on topic.

    FakeRussian, how did you come about your figures, and what did you mean in “the number of cylinders being filled per second is 1500”? I’m not questioning the math, but don’t understand the phrasing or the methodology. From “cylinder filling” and “peak flow” it sounds like you’re calculating for VE, which is an airflow v. fuel measurement dependent and helps determine fuel required to achieve a power rating, not an instantaneous fuel rate measurement.

    (Sidenote: VE’s going to be down @ 15k RPM due to the limited fuel flow rate; these engines were designed for max efficiency and attending fuel flow rate at 10.5k RPM per online info, which is why we saw them shifting around 12k RPM).

    Or, are you determining the rate which the injectors fire relative to the FFM measurement frequency? That, I’d assume, is a relative variable, dependent upon driver input, and metrics such as idle speed, injector duty cycle, and other rubbish that we don’t have access to unless I’m missing something; completely possible.

    I’m not saying your wrong, but am failing to understand what you’ve written, and would appreciate explanation. Feel free to do it in Dummy, as I’m a generalist, familiar w/ engineering concepts not intricacies.

  • Matthew Snyder

    WHY IS FUEL FLOW RATE LIMITED IN THE FIRST PLACE

    • Tom

      Several reasons:
      – In order to create a more level playing field by limiting max. power
      – In order to make the engines more durable
      – In order to reduce costs
      – As a means to increase safety
      – In order to incentivize research in the area of the hybrid system by making it more significant.

      Now, these points may sway you or they may not, but everyone in F1 agreed to have a limited fuel flow: the FIA, the teams and the engine manufacturers. They all wanted it. And whether you like it or not, it is the law now. That’s why this question shouldn’t be mixed with the Ricciardo incident.

      Quite frankly, while there may be good reasons against a limited fuel flow rate, at least it’s the rules are the same for everyone…not like a certain rule that hands out double points in Abu Dhabi…thinking about it, Melbourne is only a Semi-Dhabi, so getting disqualified isn’t all that bad after all…

  • Matthew Snyder

    Sorry, that was neither decorous nor civil. But had to be said.

  • seano

    This is so unfair to redbull – it could be the senor incorrect or set for the wrong fuel blend – The flow rate I had presumed was limited by an on board computer and it will be impossible to tell which machine failed yours or ours. Really they have a 100kgs to work a race that should be limit enough get rid of DRS and fuel flow limits and its even stevens, you wanta blow extra fuel in passing then you can and so can the person you are passing but both are penalised by using their scarce fuel. Sensors fail and go out of calibration in a simple machine at rest good luck with an F1 car.

  • XraycingDoc

    I know that racer/teams are always suspicious and prone to conspiracy theories, but since they are mandated to use the same Gill sensor couldn’t the FIA provide the particular fuel flow meter to each team for each race.

    It would be a lot like the golden era of Indycar, when Indycar provided the teams with their pop-off valve for the weekend.

    I know there will always be bellyaching and conspiracy theories that a team got the hind tit because FOM/FIA provided them with an inferior valve to liven up the show or to keep a team from winning.

    Theoretically, these valves could be given out randomly by lottery on Wednesday before the race weekend. Randomness could provide a sense of fairness and variability.

    I do however ALSO agree that regulating fuel flow rate after already regulating the fuel volume/weight is redundant, superfluous and ridiculous. Really, I don’t see the point of regulating how you use your prescribed quantity of fuel. It is a lot like this example: I give you an apple, you get one apple, that’s all you get no more, no less. Why do I care how or when you eat it, as long as you can get no more?

    Apples or pop-off valves for thought.