Will Gray

Technical Talk: Shedding the pounds

Will Gray

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Michael Schumacher is shedding the pounds ahead of his F1 return to make the most of Ferrari's KERS system - but how important will his weight loss be in his bid to achieve comeback success?

Formula One has been more focused on weight this season than it has been in years due to the introduction of the heavy Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) units used by some teams and if Ferrari are to get the maximum out of their boost button in Valencia, Schumacher is going to have to get back into tip-top shape as quickly as possible.

There are not many things about Schumacher that can be described as average, but at 5 feet 8.5 inches he is pretty much bang on the traditional height for the modern F1 driver. But while his height is not an issue and he was always lean when he was racing, he has openly admitted he needs to work off a few pounds to bring him back to the level of the current F1 drivers, who train hard day in, day out.

But does a little weight actually matter?

Well, there are so many factors in Formula One that make a difference, but each one does make some sort of a difference.

The cost in time of an extra kilogram per lap varies depending on a large number of variables, but the general assumption is that 10kg slows a driver by around 0.35s per lap. If it was that simple, the three kilos Schumacher has shed so far would theoretically shave one tenth of a second off the time he would have been able to achieve without the weight loss, all else being equal. But it doesn't quite work like that.

Because the car and driver combination, including KERS if it is used, must weigh no less than 605kg altogether, a driver can never directly reduce weight and gain lap time, no matter how much he loses.

Losing weight, however, is still relevant for a driver because teams design their car to be as light as possible - often well below the 605kg limit - and the rest is made up of the driver weight and the ballast, a moveable weight that can be located anywhere on the car.

Teams can move ballast around to change the weight distribution between front and rear wheels and alter the balance of the car, improving the handling. For every kilogram that comes off the driver, who must sit in a fixed location in the car, an extra kilogram adds to the ballast, which can be moved around and positioned in the best place.

The KERS systems introduced by some teams this year weigh in at around 30kg, and that weight is fixed in terms of its location in the car. Even with that system in place, the car's weight will still be below the minimum of 605kh and the teams still use ballast to bring it up to the required level - but those who run KERS (currently just Ferrari and McLaren) will have less ballast left to play with.

So with Ferrari set to run KERS in Valencia, Schumacher's weight loss will simply provide them with more ballast to improve the handling of the car - but however minor that may be, it will still be a benefit.

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