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GP Week : Issue 179
Strange as it may sound for a sport that’s all about being the fastest, the art of slowing a Formula One car down can be far more crucial to setting purple sectors than outright speed. It is, after all, this ability to hit the brakes at just the right time that determines if a driver locks up, gets the corner right – just kissing the apex before getting onto the power – or overshoots it. Getting it right can often give the driver just enough over rivals to pip them to pole while getting it wrong can cost precious seconds in a sport known for its fine margins. It’s always fascinating to watch a Formula One car braking when you’re trackside at the end of a long straight. One moment the cars are hurtling towards a tight hairpin at over 300 kilometres per hour while the next instant and in the space of about 80 meters – hard on the brakes with brake discs glowing – they’ve shed most of that speed, turning into the corner at a more sedate 100kph. Such dramatic deceleration exposes the driver to extreme forces and requires tremendous effort on his part. “Brake pressure is generated by the force of the driver,” F1 brake supplier Brembo’s Mauro Piccoli explained in the Sepang paddock. “Consider that on a normal brake application this guy can apply 120 to 160 kilogrammes on the pedal.” Formula One drivers are superhumanly fit, but the thought that the force the driver has to apply on the pedal is equivalent to lifting over 100 kilos with one leg eight or nine times a lap – lap after lap – for around 100 minutes at a time boggles the mind. Think of trying that in the gym and you’ll get the idea. And it’s not just about the amount of force required to slow the car down. There’s an art to applying that force: it’s not just hit the brakes as late as possible and turn the wheel. “For sure it's not an on-off system,” two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso explained. “You need to go maximum power in the beginning and then feel how much you need, because sometimes there is a lot more grip than expected and you need to decide in five milliseconds that you need to slow the brakes a little bit. “The first kick is very important,” Alonso continued. “Due to the aerodynamic performance of the car at that moment when you're at 300kph, you can apply maximum effort on the brake and you have the performance. But then when you approach the corner – and especially when you start the turn in – if you apply all the effort you will lock all the tyres so you need to back off a little bit on the brakes and modulate them.” There are also other considerations a driver has to take into account: the grip offered by a track surface that’s always changing, the direction of the wind, the changing fuel load, KERS (which uses the heat generated under braking to provide an addition 80bhp at the push of a button) and, key to the current era of Formula One, tyre degradation. As a result, drivers can be seen fiddling with the brake balance, or the distribution of braking power between the front and rear axles, adjusting it several times over the course of a lap. “When it’s headwind [going into] some corners you can be a little bit more rear wards on the brake bias and you can have a little bit more performance on the brakes,” Alonso explained. “When it's tailwind, one straight or something, you tend to lock the rear end so you move the brake balance for ward a little bit to calm down the car under braking. So there are always areas where you need to be very flexible. There is not a perfect brake balance strategy that the engineers tell you.” Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has revealed to The Daily Telegraph that banker Gerhard Gribkowsky’s attempt to blackmail him centered on the French Paul Ricard circuit owned by Bambino, the Eccclestone family trust. The Bambino trust was created after Ecclestone was advised to transfer his shares in Formula One rights holder FOCA Administration to his Czech ex-wife Slavica as she would have had to pay tax on money inherited from him in the event of his death, as she wasn’t domiciled in the UK. Under UK law, Ecclestone could not have been seen to have any control over the trust, as if he did, the fund would be eligible for taxes that Ecclestone feared could run to the hundreds of millions, if not billions. But Ecclestone helped co-ordinate renovation work carried out at Paul Ricard, and it was on this point that Gribkowsky’s blackmail threat was based, according to the Telegraph. “I helped the people that own the circuit in Ricard; it belongs to the trust,” Ecclestone told the British newspaper. “I helped them and told them the sort of hospital they should build and even the sort of car run-off areas they should build. Gribkowsky said I ran the trust and [the advice I gave to the French circuit] is one example [of that].” Last year, Gribkowsky was sentenced by the German courts to a eight-and-a -half year prison term for receiving $44 million from Ecclestone in return for arranging the sale of a stake in Formula One’s holding company to private equity firm CVC Capital. Ecclestone, who was called as a witness to the trial, denied any wrongdoing but admitted to being “shaken down” by Gribkowsky after the German banker threatened to bring about what the F1 boss felt was an undeserved investigation into his family’s financial affairs. “I tell you what Gribkowsky should have been locked up for. He shook me down and put me in a position that I believed perhaps he was going to do what he was saying he could do, even if he couldn’t,” Ecclestone told The Daily Telegraph. “So, for sure he should have been punished for that.” F1 >>> NEWS Brake if you want to go faster: the art of braking in Formula One Gribkowsky threat centered on Paul Ricard renovation - Ecclestone 11 GPWEEK.com // 11 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: