Rarely has there been the start of a Formula 1 season with so many question marks over performance, reliability and fuel consumption.

The order after the test sessions would appear to be Mercedes, Ferrari and, some way back, Renault engines. No longer is it the case of just being an engine manufacturer; the whole package for the new turbo-charged engine and its recovery systems is their responsibility.

I sincerely hope that we see a little more reliability than we saw in testing and that we do not see a fuel formula developing with drivers having to regulate their speed to get the car home.

Looking at the results from testing there is very little chance that Red Bull and the other Renault-engined cars will be able to compete on performance. But that is not a situation that will last very long with all the ability that exists in the teams and at Renault.

Ferrari is another question because they were more competitive and it is going to be very interesting to see how they have responded to the performance edge that the Mercedes engines showed in the tests.

f1 drivers  New technological challenges

A new audio challenge

On Friday I had a hearing test with Jonathan Ormerod of Hearing Electronics. The reason was to try out some new hearing aids. I used to race and ride motorcycles with single-, twin-, four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, and also drove cars with four, six, eight and 12 cylinders, all with open megaphones and no traction control.

That was all down to the twist grip or the throttle pedal, the feel of the car and the sound of the engine. Perhaps you would use a little cotton wool to dampen out some of the high notes, but just like those who spend too much time close to guns or loud music, there is a price to pay.

Jonathan has been into developing custom-fit driver earpieces since the very beginning. He tells me that they have now been developed to a point where the driver can still hear the engine, which is important, but the harmful decibels are dampened down.

f1 drivers  New technological challenges

This year the new FIA regulations have set a new challenge. In order to assess the g-forces when a driver’s head is involved in an accident, it is now mandatory to have an accelerometer installed in the earpiece which can measure both positive and negative 400g. To include these sensors and wiring inside an already-crowded earpiece, which contains the radio speaker and its smaller components and wiring, has been a real challenge, and, of course, it all comes at a price.

A top team would have something like 10 sets of earpieces for each driver every year, which would normally cost £300 per set. However, with the new regulations and specification required that figure will now be something like £1600 per set. I suppose there will also be a question mark over how reliable these sensors are and how useful the information provided will be. But I suppose that if you use the word ‘safety’ no one can argue.

Diary
April 26-27 Classic Motorcycle Show at Stafford
May 4-5 Donington Historic Festival
May 26 Edenbridge Fun Day – display and run through High Street of cars from original Team Surtees factory site
June Surtees Display of bikes and cars at Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands
June 27-29 Goodwood Festival of Speed
July 1 Henry Surtees Brooklands Team Challenge kart event at Mercedes-Benz World
October 8 Henry Surtees Challenge kart event at Buckmore Park
November 17-21 Beaujolais Run
Please visit our website for further details: www.henrysurteesfoundation.com

Click here to visit John’s Hall of Fame page

Driver columns
Sébastien Buemi
Karun Chandhok
Lucas di Grassi
Dario Franchitti
Oliver Gavin
Andrew Jordan
Johnny Mowlem
Mads Østberg
Paul Tracy

f1 drivers  New technological challenges