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FIA tightens engine mapping regulations ahead of Hungarian GP


By Berthold Bouman

The FIA has moved to clamp down the engine mapping regulations after Red Bull had been over-creative with the engine mapping of its Renault engine during the German Grand Prix. FIA Technical Delegate Jo Bauer found certain inconsistencies in the engine mapping used by the Austrian team.

Engine Mapping

“It became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid rpm range than previously seen at other events,” Bauer said at Hockenheim. Red Bull was nevertheless cleared to race but the FIA last weekend also announced they didn’t accept ‘all the arguments of the team’, and has now (hopefully) closed the existing loopholes in the Technical Regulations.

All Formula One engines are controlled by an Electronic Control Unit or ECU, and it is quite easy to change the engine map. An engine map is nothing more than a little computer programme (software) integrated in the ECU that controls all engine properties, like fuel consumption, air intake, fuel-to-air ratio, ignition angle and timing, valve control and timing and many other things.

All these parameters can be programmed with a laptop, a great number of mappings can be stored in one ECU and it is easy to switch from one map to another, even while the engine is running. These engine maps show up on a computer screen as a spreadsheet-like page, see image, and the parameters are simply changed and then saved, the technology is also used in modern road cars.

Teams have been manipulating the engine mappings last year to give the now banned off-throttle exhaust-blown diffuser an extra boost by electronically opening the throttle in corners and retarding the ignition by changing the ignition angle. Red Bull had changed the engine mapping in such a way it delivered less torque in the mid rpm range, which also could be used as a form of traction control when accelerating out of corners.

The original agreement was that the engine torque should be linear to the throttle input, but the FIA has now issued a clarification to all teams. Teams now have to nominate one engine mapping they have used during one of the first four events of this season, once approved by the FIA this nominated engine map serves as a reference for the rest of the season.

According to the BBC the clarification says: “Above 6,000 rpm, the maximum engine torque may vary by no more than +/- 2% (from the reference map) and the ignition angle may vary by no more than 2.5%.”

Thus Red Bull will not be able to use their more exotic engine mappings, therefore they cannot control the exhaust gases as they were used to, and the car would theoretically behave different, but Sebastian Vettel has already dismissed suggestions the changes would be a disadvantage for him and his team.

“I don’t see any problem with it. There are so many things we try over the course of the season on a race weekend — including the mapping — that it is almost impossible to say whether this is a big step or not,” he said ahead of the race this weekend.

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