Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Comparison: F1 2013 vs. F1 2014

One of the biggest complaints that I have heard regarding the 2014 Formula One season is that the cars seem a lot slower than the cars from the 2013 season. This could be due to a lot of things, ranging from the aero changes to the new 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engines that were adopted for the season. After hearing all the negative feedback regarding the new cars, I wanted to see just how much slower the 2014 cars were compared to the 2013 cars. Without access to actual Formula One cars and drivers, I had to resort to the next best thing: racing simulators. With access to both F1 2013 and F1 2014 by Codemasters, I can at least get a fairly good idea of how much slower the 2014 cars are compared to the 2013 cars.

*All game play captured on the PC versions of the games with an Xbox 360 controller

One of the biggest changes between the two seasons has to be the engine. The 2013 season marked the last of the naturally aspirated engines before the FIA decided to go back to the forced induction route. For 2013, cars were equipped with a 2.4 liter V8 that made approximately 750 horsepower with an 18,000rpm rev limit. As mentioned earlier, the 2014 season sees the introduction of a new 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 that makes less horsepower (something in the neighborhood of 700bhp), but a lot more torque. Engine rev limit has also been lowered to 15,000 rpm. The decision to go to a smaller, forced induction engine is the FIA's way of attempting to focus on fuel economy. Yes, the new engines are indeed more fuel efficient than their V8 predecessors, especially when you consider that fuel flow is restricted past 10,500 rpm to 100 kg/h. With the increased fuel economy though, you do lose that extremely gratifying mechanical wail as the old V8 approaches its 18,000rpm rev limit.

Another big change involves what used to be called the Kinetic Energy Recover System, or KERS for short. The system has been renamed to ERS-K for the 2014 season and saw some redesigns in its usage. One of the more significant changes to the system is the addition of an energy recovery system designed to recover energy from waste heat generated by the turbo charger and store it as an electrical charge. A device directly connected to the drivetrain called the kinetic motor generation unit drew its energy from the charge stored by the heat based energy recovery system. Along with the more traditional kinetic energy recovery, the new ERS-K system granted drivers a 161bhp boost for 33 seconds per lap, as opposed to the old KERS' 80bhp for six seconds per lap. The other significant change to the system is that it is entirely controlled by the ECU. This means that it is up to the ECU to determine when the stored energy could be used in the most efficient and effective way. Drivers can still manually override the ECU and deploy whatever energy remains in the system.

So, a huge bump in torque, and an energy recovery system that gives drivers a 161bhp boost should mean that the 2014 season cars should be much faster than the 2013 season cars, right? To test this theory, I fired up both F1 2013 and F1 2014 to find out. Just to make sure I could make this comparison as accurate as possible, I made sure to pick the same track, under the same weather conditions, the same tire compound, and the same team. Watch the video below for the results.

So what have I learned from the comparison, other than I really need to practice more and possibly get a steering wheel for my computer? The 2014 season car is not just slower than the 2013 season car, but it is significantly slower. In the video, you will notice that my 2013 lap time was approximately four seconds faster than my 2014 lap time. If you look at the upper right hand corner, you will also notice that my 2013 fastest lap time is about six seconds faster than my 2014 fastest lap. Just to assuage any concerns that there was any funny business going on, the only speed increasing system I employed for both cars was the DRS (drag reduction system). Aside from DRS usage, I intentionally picked cars from the same team, drove them on the same track in the same weather condition, and picked the same tire compound...or at least I thought they were the same. More on that in a bit.

This comparison did make me wonder why the newer cars are slower than the older ones. There has to be a reason why the car with far more torque and electric boost ends up being anywhere between three and six seconds slower than the old car. After digging around, I think I may have found some answers. The funny thing is that in a straight line, the new car should theoretically demolish the old car thanks to the new aero regulations that creates less downforce in a straight line as well as the added torque. However, this aero design that improves straight line speed also decreases cornering speeds. With less downforce through a corner, the car is more prone to losing traction, which means drivers have to be more gentle with the throttle.

Also of note are the tires. As much as I wanted to believe that I was running on the same compound, it turns out Pirelli changed the tires they brought to the 2014 season due to the fiasco at the 2013 British Grand-Prix that led to a string of explosive blow-outs. It would seem that in an effort to increase tire longevity on the track, Pirelli resorted to bringing harder compound tires for competitors to use. While this meant that you were less prone to seeing tires blowing out left and right, it does also mean that drivers now have less grip to work with due to the harder tire compound.

With the entire consumer automotive industry moving more towards fuel economy over performance, it seems logical that the FIA would do the same with its flagship racing series. The smaller engine, reduced downforce, and change in tire compound can all be attributed to the promotion of fuel efficiency (though the tires are more for longevity than fuel economy, as establish earlier). I am sure the original plan was to promote the idea that green can be fast too. What the FIA probably did not expect was for the newer, more fuel efficient cars to be that much slower than the older cars. I will say one thing though: based on what I have read about the 2014 season, it does seem the newer cars have forced the drivers and teams to be much more strategic, making for what could have been some very good racing. What we got instead was the entire season ending up being teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton battling for first place. Oh well, I guess you sometimes cannot have your cake and eat it too.