Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Nothing is simple in F1, at least not these days. And the steering wheel is of course no exception. Just 15 years ago, the steering wheels were still relatively simple, usually featuring a push-to-talk button for the radio and maybe 1 or 2 other buttons. However the modern F1 car has made dramatic leaps in terms of driver controls. We'll explore the evolution of the steering wheel in this installment.
First off, the steering wheel today is one solid unit that is removed from the car to allow the driver to get in and out of the cockpit. The first thing you'll notice when a driver crashes or gets out is the removal of the wheel, sometimes in anger, as Vettel did following a rain-soaked qualifying effort. This should give you an idea of how cramped the modern F1 cockpit is.
Classic F1 even in the late 80's featured most of the controls and instrumentation on a 'dash' inside the cockpit with relatively few controls on the wheel. Here you can see Michael Schumacher's '89 Benneton with only two buttons on the front of the wheel. The 'N' button is the neutral button; the driver will hit this to put the car into neutral. I believe the green button is the radio.
The back of the wheel has four (or now sometimes six) 'paddles' or levers. The two levers near the top of the wheel are used for upshifts (right-side) and down-shifts (left-side). The driver needn't use the clutch for upshifts or downshifts while on the track. The bottom two levers are both for the clutch of the car and have identical function. The clutch lever in an F1 car is only used a few times during the race; for the start, for leaving the pits, and to prevent the engine from stalling if the driver spins.
More recently, teams have adopted a third set of paddles located below the shifters but above the clutch. These two paddles can be used to toggle various settings, most often of which is the ECU map. The ECU is the computer that controls the engine. Its responsible for running all of the engine parameters, and a 'map' is a particular set of parameters for the engine. Different maps can make the engine behave in different ways. For example, you can have a map that is optimized for torque, another optimized for top speed, and a third optimized for traction.
The idea here is that normally the driver will use two fingers, one on the shifter and one on the ECU map selector paddle, and pull them at the same time. This allows for an engine map optimized per gear. Without the ECU map sector paddles, the driver would have to shift, and then turn a rotary switch on the front of the wheel to change maps. There is a second advantage here, which is that a good driver can actually delay or advance switching maps independent of the gear change. An example might be using a traction-optimized map accelerating out of a slow corner in second gear, and then switching just the map for more power as the car gains speed and rear traction becomes less of a concern. We have seen this especially in the wet from drivers like Hamilton and Kubica. Some have even equated their 'dance of paddles' to a trumpet player.
Maps can also be used to save fuel. Often you'll hear a radio call instructing the driver to use a certain 'mix' which is really changing engine maps to preserve fuel (or optimize power). Typically the drivers will go to a fuel-saving map if a safety car is deployed. The engineers may also request a more conservative map if they suspect issues with the engine.
To simply the electronics and make the car more modular, the instrumentation and most of the controls for the car were moved onto the wheel itself. One of the most important instruments is the tachometer, or rather the 'shift lights'. An F1 car will typically have a series of green, yellow, and red lights that sequentially illuminate as the car approaches redline, indicating to the driver that its time to shift up. Some teams also feature a small informational screen on the wheel for warnings or messages, but generally this is too much for the driver to monitor, and since all the car's data is transmitted in real-time back to the pits, the health of the car's systems is usually monitored by dedicated engineers in the garage.
So now lets tackle the button's and knobs on the front. Here is a picture of Robert Kubica's 2009 wheel, and a list of the functions.
1. Info of FIA/Race Control - When a safety car is deployed, race control sends a signal that will illuminate this light on the driver's wheel.
2. Shift lights - a very simple tachometer
3. Multi purpose display (engine revs, lap times, speed, gear, etc)
4. Neutral (usually when at the pit stop)
5. W – activate front wing - In 2009, it was allowed for drivers to be able to adjust part of the front wing six degrees to increase/decrease front down-force
6. Multi purpose button
7. K – KERS boost button
8. – (presetting down)
9. + (presetting up)
10. Ack – Acknowledge - This button is used by the driver to acknoledge he has heard a radio transmission from the pits, and can also be used to acknowledge that the team is uploading parameter changes to the driver's car in real-time.
11. PL – Pit lane limiter - This button keeps the car from exceeding the pit lane speed limit.
12. spare - I'm guessing a just a spare button.
13. R – radio
14. Box – pit stop - Not exactly sure, as usually the call to 'box' or pit is made by the team to the driver via radio, so I assume this is used by the driver to immediately communicate he needs to pit, usually because of damage to the car.
15. BP – Clutch - Again, not exactly sure, but the 'BP' designation leads me to think this stands for 'bite point' for the clutch. In preperation for the start, the teams will perform a few practice starts, and during this time they try to find the ideal 'bite point' for the clutch, which is the point where the clutch is partially engaged during the start, yeilding the best acceleration. Teams tune this parameter per track.
16. SC – Safety Car - Once again, I'm not exactly sure, but my guess is that this button puts the car into 'safety car' configuration; mainly switching engine maps to preserve fuel.
17. Differential - This is the deceleration setting of the differential (corner entry). This allows the driver to vary how much slip the differential should allow between the rear wheels while the car is under braking. Increasing this will limit the slip, which will cause the car to be more stable under braking, but may make the car harder to turn.
18. Preload Differential Settings - the preload is a certain amount of torque added to the differential to control when it locks.
19. Differential - This is the acceleration setting of the differential (corner exit). This varies the slip between the rear wheels while the driver is accelerating out of corners.
20. Cruise Control - This one took me a while, but I understand that its basically a set km/h speed setting just like the cruise control in your road car. Its apparently used when following the safety car. The rationale here must be that the computer can do a better job of maintaining a set speed and using less fuel than the driver (which is true in road cars).
21. Selector (KERS, Front Wing, RPM)
22. Tire adaptation - This has the settings for the various tires, including intermediates and full-wets, so I imagine it controls some settings in the ECU and differential to optimize performance for the respective tire type.
23. Presetting front wing - default angle for the front wing
24. Pedal map - throttle pedal sensitivity (and/or a non-linear throttle map)
25. Fuel mix - ECU map
26. Upshift paddle
27. Downshift paddle
Friday, August 3, 2007
During Q3, the third period of qualifying, the cars circulate the track at speed, trying to burn off as much fuel as possible. As we've discussed, an F1 car is generally faster in 'clean' air than running close behind another car. So what should you do? Since you get fuel credit for each lap you run, if you're really keen on your strategy you may be able to run 1-2 more laps than everyone else, thus burning off more fuel (making the car faster for the last lap of qualifying) and also gaining extra fuel to put back into the car to start the race.
So to get clean air and the maximum possible number of laps in, you want to have your car first onto the track when Q3 starts. So the teams start to line up at the pit exit line early, waiting for the green light. Only one problem with this; F1 cars don't like to sit still.
Normally a regular car's engine has no problem idling, afterall, its designed to. But an F1 engine generates a tremendous amount of power and subsequently heat. It also idles at around 4,000 rpm, much higher than the leisurely 800-900 rpms a street car turns. The car's radiators will easily cool the car, however F1 cars don't have fan's to pull air through the radiator. Fans aren't necessary if the car is moving, and they're a liable to break or imped airflow at speed so they're naturally left off an F1 car. Which brings up a real problem: how do we get our car first in line to get on track and not have it overheat while we wait?
Way back in 1981 Cadillac introduced a mouthful of an engine; the "V8-6-4 (L62)". The part that's important is the V8-6-4. This was the first engine with 'displacement-on-demand' or the ability to turn from a V8 into a V6 into a V4 all electronically. The engine normally worked as a V8 eight cylinder engine, but would deactivate varying cylinders when the engine wasn't working hard, like on the highway, to get better fuel mileage.
It didn't really work out that well and GM eventually withdrew the technology. My neighbor growing up had a car with one of these engines. I always remember it because it had a novel (for the time) talking car module. It would say things like "Door is ajar. Door is ajar." whenever a door was opened or "Fasten seat belts please." Quite annoying actually. Anyway, this guy had so much trouble with the engine that eventually the service center had a GM engineer come out with his suitcase-sized 'laptop' to diagnose the issue.
Later GM did get this technology to work, and they used it on the 'Premium V' engine initially as a failsafe mechanism to save the engine if all the coolant was drained. The coolant (aka 'anti-freeze') is the water/ethylene glycol mixture that circulates inside of the engine block, carrying heat away to the radiator, cooling, and running back into the block again. (The glycol keeps the water from freezing when its cold out). Without coolant, the engine overheats, causing all sorts of warping and general nastiness that quickly results in a useless lump. The point is: by cutting out varying cylinders and running the engine like a V4, the engine does not produce as much heat and can actually cool itself simply with air.
F1 engineers are a clever bunch and resurrected this trick for their own cause. So now you know. Those glorious V8 F1 engines are, at least for the few minutes they wait to exit pit-lane, really just 1.2L 4-cylinder engines.
Which brings up an interesting point. At the 2007 European Grand Prix, after a dry start, torrential rain covered the first corner by lap 3. Six (yes that's right, six world-class drivers) went off the track in turn 1, including one Lewis Hamilton. It was comical. Conditions were so bad that the remaining cars, on full-wet tires, couldn't even keep up with the safety car. The race was red flagged until the rain subsided. However of the cars off in turn 1, only Lewis Hamilton rejoined the race, although several others were undamaged. The reason? He was the only one who kept his engine running. The other cars either stalled or didn't have the software to allow the engine to idle for a long period while the cars were extracted by crane from the gravel-trap. But Hamilton immediately got on his radio asking his engineer what to do so he could engage the idle mode and save his race. Smart lad!
Friday, July 27, 2007
To figure out where the line is and why, we must first understand what happens in a corner. In a race car, we strive to be using all of the car and its tires at all times. This means we are always accelerating at full throttle when possible, and we're always braking as hard as possible. As we've talked about, tires grip both longitudinally and laterally. These grip levels are not independent of each other; if you are using all of the tires' grip to brake, you won't be able to turn. This is very easy to try for yourself in an empty lot.
We can better visualize this idea of available grip with the 'traction circle'. The basic idea is that at any time the tire has 100% of its grip to be allocated to turning, braking, and accelerating. So you can turn and brake at the same time, but only in a combination that doesn't exceed 100%, say 60% braking/40% turning.
Let's pretend we are in our race car headed for a 90 degree left turn. We'll stay 100% on the throttle until we get to our 'braking point'. The braking point is some point before the corner when 100% braking should start. This point is far enough ahead of the corner that the car will slow down enough to make the corner.
Usually the best line through the corner is the one with the widest possible radius. This means that coming into the corner, we want to place the car on the right side of the track; outside for a left-hand turn. After we finish braking, we reach the 'turn-in' point, the point at which we begin to steer the car to the left. We'll aim the car at the left side of the track at the innermost point of the corner. This is the 'apex'. From the apex, we slowly unwind the steering wheel and begin to squeeze the accelerator. We aim the car at the right (outside) edge of the corner.
So the pattern for a simple corner is outside-inside-outside. The car lines up as far as possible away from the corner (outside), drives an arc that clips the apex (inside), and then tracks out to the edge of the track (outside).
Now things are not quite that simple. There are various positions of apexes, described as early or late. An early apex means turning the car and continuing to brake into the corner, than adding more steering at the apex. A late apex means keeping the car outside longer, then adding steering to get to the apex, then reducing steering and accelerating. Basically, an early apex is faster into the turn, a late apex is faster out of the turn. So which one is right? Well it depends on the track. If there is a long straight after the turn, a late apex will be faster. But if there is a long straight before the turn, and another turn immediately after, an early apex line may be faster. Generally speaking, the ideal line is a late apex line.
Here's another view of the various lines. The green line represents a 'neutral' apex line; the line that would be the fastest through the turn, ignoring the straight parts of the track before and after. The dark blue line represents the early apex line. You can see by pointing the car towards the apex, the early apex line begins with the car traveling straight towards the apex. During this time the early apex driver can brake, but the early apex line then must turn tighter after the apex to stay on track. The light blue line represents the late apex. With this line, the driver does all the braking before turning in. The late apex line has to do more turning before the apex, but then gets a straight shot to accelerate after the apex. Thus the common racing adage for late-apexing: "slow in, fast out".
Things get even more complicated when we consider a series of corners, not just one turn in isolation. Often there may be 3 or 4 turns strung together which requires a 'compromise' line; a line that may not be ideal in each turn, but overall results in the best speed.
Racers have come up with some general terms to describe types of corners. First is the 'sweeper'; a long, flowing high-speed turn, similar to a long circular off-ramp. An 'S' or 'Esses' is a combination of alternating turns in an 'S' shape, as you might expect. A 'hairpin' is a turn that is usually about 180 degrees and quite slow, usually with a straight leading in and another leading out. Finally, a 'chicane' (pronounced "sha-kane") is a tight left-right or right-left combination, usually at the end or middle of a straight. Often, chicanes are added to tracks to slow the cars down. Often times a chicane will have cones or soft barriers marking the edges of the track to minimize risk to a driver who enters the turn too fast. If a driver does miss the chicane, they can drive back onto the track, but they cannot gain any positions. The Ferrari at right is entering a chicane. The two cones mark the apexes of the turns.
Now maybe you can see why the drivers get paid so much. Finding the line and hitting it consistently lap after lap, with the car on its limits of grip is quite difficult, and even more-so in the pinnacle of cornering which is the F1 car.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Its no secret that the FIA's working group wants to increase overtaking, thereby increase the spectacle of the racing. However, there's a fundamental problem here. The FIA wants to ensure that F1 cars are the fastest around a road course; faster than any other racing series. To do this, the cars have to make downforce. But as we've talked about before, inherent in making downforce is leaving turbulent air behind the car, which greatly reduces the effectiveness of the wings on a car following in this wake.
The FIA considered several ideas to try to address this issue, including a rather interesting design called the Centerline Downwash Generating (CDG) wing; basically a wing with the middle section cut out. The aim was that clean air would flow through the middle and downwards, given the trailing car's front wing good air to work with. However, Racecar Engineering (a magazine) did simulations that showed the CDG wing only made the situation more complicated and probably worse for the trailing car.
Which brings us to the current proposed solutions: active aero. I've been a proponent of this idea for a long time, so I'm very excited to see what will happen. The basics are this: within a given range specified by the FIA, the teams will be able to electronically adjust the angle of their wings. The cars will also have a turbulence sensor fitted, and when turbulence is detected, the ride height of the car will be lowered. This puts the car closer to the track, increasing the downforce the car is able to generate. A leading car cannot lower its ride height below baseline. With active wings and active ride height, the FIA hopes to increase overtaking.
The rule changes are also taking into account the application of F1 technologies to road cars. One common area that both road and racing cars hope to reduce is drag. Obviously the need to create downforce creates drag, but downforce is not needed during straight-line driving. On a road car, there is no need to create large amounts of downforce, but the designers must prevent lift at high speed to prevent the car from becoming airborne. This is why many Porsche 911's had spoilers that automatically deployed at highway speeds.
Drag is also created by letting air flow into the car, namely for cooling purposes. Typically, a car (both racing and road) is developed with a radiator opening for largely the worst possible cooling case. However, when the car is traveling at speed, this opening doesn't need to be as large since there is more and flowing over the radiator. By reducing the opening, drag is reduced. This is practical on a road car to increase fuel mileage, and will be allowed in F1 for 2011.
There was talk that the front and rear wings would become spec items, however the FIA has decided that the wings are an important element of styling and the FIA does not wish to have a field of identical-looking cars. However, to control development costs the number of elements (essentially separate wings) in the wing will be limited. The floors of the cars will become spec, with a design that is said to lessen the effectiveness of the front wing.
There are also attempts to ban 'aero-plasticity'; basically a fancy word for wings/floors that bend or move at high speeds. Ferrari developed a rear wing with a slot in it, so that at low speeds the slot would be closed, but at high speeds the air would bend the wing, enlarging the slot and allowing more air through, reducing drag (and increasing top speed). There are also claims that McLaren's front wing and Ferrari's floor both flex at speed. Determining if a part flexes or not is quite difficult, as the FIA specifies a bending test, but this test is carried out in the garage and doesn't use nearly the force that high-speed air puts on a part. The FIA hopes that by allowing other aero technologies, teams won't have to resort to these kind of shenanigans.
There's also talk of some very new and very interesting aero technologies being allowed. Aerodynamics is a complicated topic, but one of the common issues is 'flow detachment'. Basically when air hits a surface, the air will flow along the surface until at some point (perhaps the end of the surface) it 'detaches'. This detachment leaves swirling vortices of air that cause drag. To overcome this, several new technologies are being considered.
First is the plasma generator, which works by having an electric strip along the leading edge of the wing which ionizes (charges) the air. A second charged strip is placed farther back on the surface, which then attracts the charged air, preventing flow detachment. Another idea is MEMS; Micro-fabricated Electro-Mechanical Systems. Basically it’s a strip very tiny little vibrators on the leading edge that create turbulence in the 'boundary layer', which is the layer of air very close to the surface. This air essentially 'sticks' to the wing, but doesn't flow off, thereby increasing the effective thickness of the wing. Creating turbulence in this layer reduces its thickness, reducing drag and flow detachment. This can also be accomplished by tiny holes in the surface, which jet air into the boundary layer.
One problem in aerodynamics is that its difficult to scale things; meaning you can't use small models. Clearly it would be vastly easier and less expensive to build a 1:10 scale wind tunnel and use 1:10 scale models to test designs. However, it turns out that anything less than a 1:2 model doesn't relate well to the full-size car. Its also important to model the effect of the moving road. Therefore, teams have had to construct full-size wind tunnels with rolling roads to get good information. Obviously building and running these full-size tunnels is very expensive. One of the new techniques to model aero is CFD (computational fluid dynamics); basically a computer simulation. Only recently have computers become powerful enough to approximate the complex airflow seen by an F1 car. In fact, the Williams team just bought a supercomputer for this very purpose!
So the new rules argue that most of the teams already have the aero testing facilities, so the new aero rules won't cost significantly more to implement. In fact, there should be cost savings because the adjustability will allow for easier tuning of the car in all situations, instead of having to build 400 wings just to find the one that is the perfect fit for that week's circuit.
In the next installment we'll explore the powertrain regulations for 2011.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
In the past, teams were free to run whatever brand of tires they wanted, provided the size of the tire meet basic requirements. The start of the modern 'tire war' in F1 was in 2001, when Michelin entered F1 to challenge the then monopoly of Bridgestone.
In physics terms, all tires work basically the same. The idea is to create a tire that will have high friction in all directions. You need longitudinal grip (along the direction the tire rolls) for good acceleration and braking, and lateral grip (sideways) for cornering. Your typical street tire accomplishes this through mechanical friction. The more rubber that touches the road, the better as far as grip is concerned. So you may wonder why your street tires have various grooves and slots; the "tread pattern". The street tire is designed with the voids to channel away water (and snow and mud) from coming between the tread block (the part that touches the road) and the pavement, which helps to avoid hydroplaning. Hydroplaning happens when water builds up between the pavement and the tread block, leading to a loss of traction.
So it should be clear that a racing tire, designed for maximum dry, warm-weather conditions will be a 'slick' or have no voids (no tread pattern, like the blue car at right). And in most racing series, this is still the case. However, in F1 the speeds were getting too fast, so the FIA attempted to slow the cars down by mandating that the tires have several grooves molded into them, reducing the effective area of the tire (see far right).
We've talked before about the aero loads (downforce) that the cars achieve. Ideally, we'd want our wings attached directly to the wheel hubs or suspension, which would then push down only on the tire, and leave the body of the car free to move up and down to absorb bumps. However, due to some spectacular failures of suspension-mounted wings, these were quickly banned and now any aero surface must attach to the body of the car. This means that the downforce pushes the body down, which then compresses the suspension of the car. In order to keep the car from bottoming out, the teams must run a very stiff suspension, which has a travel of only a few inches.
Ideally we'd like to have a softer suspension to deal with bumps on the track, but since that's not possible, teams turned to tires. You'll notice that the sidewall of the tire is quite tall in F1. Contrast this to the very short sidewalls on this LMP Porsche in the Le Mans series at right. This is because the tire actually is the majority of the suspension of the car! The tire is designed to deform to absorb bumps and maximize grip. This means that since the tire is also largely the suspension, understanding and having correct tires is critical in F1. Most teams partnered with a tire supplier and designed their cars around getting maximum use out of the tire.
During the tire war from 2001-2006, the tire engineers went nuts. They developed special compounds for each race of the season, sometimes multiple compounds for different air temperatures at the track. The tires are quite sensitive to heat, and need to be at the proper temperature to work. Too hot or too cold and the grip will be less than optimal, and the surface of the tire may start to degrade. You'll see whenever the cars change tires, the tires are wrapped in special blankets. These are tire warmers that heat up the tires to near track temperature, so when the driver goes back out, there's at least some heat in the tires.
During this period there were several changes in the tire regulations. For a while, the cars had to qualify and complete the race on a single set of tires. This rule was designed to make the teams run harder tires, which have less grip, and therefore slow the cars down. The result was actually more dangerous, as the drivers would still want to run as soft of tire as possible, even if it meant risking a failure, and eventually this lead to the US-GP debacle in 2005.
Now for 2007, the tire war is officially over, with Bridgestone becoming the sole supplier of tires. Bridgestone has developed five tire compounds that will be used for the entire season, and all teams get identical tires. These compounds range from super-soft to hard. For each track, Bridgestone selects two of these compounds. The harder of the two will be designated the 'prime' or 'hard' tire for that race, while the softer tire will be referred to as the 'option' or 'soft' for the race. This can be a little confusing in some cases, like Monaco, where Bridgestone brought their super-soft and soft tires, which were then called "soft" and "hard" respectively, for that particular race. The "prime" and "option" terminology is better, and its what most of the teams use.
The rules specifiy that during the race each car must use both types of tire at least once. The option tire is distinguished by a white stripe painted in one of the grooves on the tire. Most teams have said that the option tire tends to be a little faster, but doesn't last nearly as long. They tend to be good for one or two fast laps, and then begin to degrade. Most teams have found the prime tire to be more consistent over many laps.
Unlike many other forms of motorsports, particularly those that compete on ovals, F1 races are not usually cancelled or stopped due to rain. Hence, Bridgestone also supplies 'intermediate' and 'wet' tires for non-dry conditions. (At right is a full wet tire).
The intermediates (on the car in the pits at right) have a shallow tread pattern, and tend to work best on a damp track without standing water or rain. The full wets work quite well in heavy rain and standing water, but on a drying track they can quickly overheat and start shedding chunks of rubber.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The FIA, or Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, started in 1904 as a sanctioning body for auto racing. They organized the first world championship, which evolved into what is now Formula 1. They make the rules governing the construction of the cars, and they enforce the racing rules when cars are on-track. Typically major decisions are handled by the FIA president, who since 1991 has been Max Mosley. Pay attention, because you'll see his name pop up a lot in F1-land. Before Max, the president was Jean-Marie Balestre (facing the camera at right), who enters into play next.
Ayrton Senna. For F1 die-hards, that name recollects one of the best drivers in recent history, perhaps the best of all time. Senna had an amazing career in F1 including 65 poles, 80 podiums, and 41 wins in 162 races (basically 10 years). Senna's time in F1 was tragically cut short in an accident at Imola (Italy) in 1994 in which he was killed. We'll talk more about this amazing driver in the future, but for now I'm going to focus on one of the biggest drama's in F1 history.
In 1988, McLaren enlisted two amazing drivers; Alain Prost (already a double world champ) and relative F1-newcomer Ayrton Senna. That year between the two of them they won 15 of 16 races, with Senna winning his first championship. As you might imagine, there was a rivalry brewing between the two drivers and the following year it became even more intense.
Going into the second-last race of the 1989 season, Prost was in the points lead, and Senna needed to win the race if he was to stay in contention for the championship. The two McLaren's qualified in the front row, and before the race Prost said something to the effect that he would not yield to Senna just to avoid the embarrassment of the two McLaren's taking each other out. And that's exactly what happened…
Senna tried to pass Prost on the inside going into Susuka's chicane. Prost turned into Senna, their wheels tangled, and both cars went off-track onto the chicane escape road. Prost got out of his car, thinking that he had won the championship with Senna out of contention. However, Senna's car was in a dangerous position on-track, and as the corner-workers pushed his car, he was able to bump-start the engine. He got back on track and went to the pits for repairs, and then rejoined the race.
However, the FIA (then president Jean-Marie Balestre) decided that Senna did not take the chicane (obviously because of the accident) and that the push-start was illegal, and not only disqualified him from the race, but also gave him a heavy fine and actually suspended his Super Licence (which one needs to race in F1).
Now the real drama starts. Prost went to Ferrari for 1990 while Senna stayed with McLaren. Ironically, the pair came into the second-last race, again the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, with Senna leading Prost by 9 points. Senna was able to take pole, however the pole position at Suzuka was on the right side of the track, off the racing line. This area of the track was dirty and disadvantageous for the start, and before qualifying Senna asked the marshals to move the pole position to the left side of the track, which they agreed to do, but Jean-Marie Balestre later overruled.
Senna was infuriated by what he saw as the FIA conspiring against him, and stated before the race that he would enter the first corner without regards for Prost's car. Prost got the better start his position in 2nd on the left side of the track, and true to Senna's word, he collided with Prost and both cars were out of the race, this time making Senna the champion!
A year later Senna reflected on the situation. "So I said to myself, 'OK, whatever happens, I'm going to get into the first corner first — I'm not prepared to let the guy (Alain Prost) turn into that corner before me. If I'm near enough to him, he can't turn in front of me — he just has to let me through.' I didn't care if we crashed; I went for it. And he took a chance, turned in, and we crashed."
This wasn't the first or last time that drivers would be accused, justified or not, of deliberate accidents and other 'unsporting' conduct, such as blocking. One of the more recent incidents involved one Michael Schumacher at F1's most famous venue, Monaco. Schumacher entered the race behind rival Fernando Alonso of Renault. As 2006 was likely to be Schumacher's last season, he was especially motivated to win at Monaco as it would tie Senna's record for most wins at Monaco (six).
During qualifying, Schumacher had set the fastest lap and was on pole. However, on Schumacher's last lap before qualifying ended, he was ahead of Alonso on the track, and running a pace off of his best time. Alonso, also on his last lap, was running at a pace that would put him on pole. Its suspected that Schumacher knew this, and entering one of the final corners, a tight 180 degree turn, spun his car 90 degrees, effectively blocking the track and forcing a caution flag, and ruining Alonso's very fast last lap.
After this there was enormous controversy as to if Schumacher deliberately spun his car, or if it was an honest accident. Some claimed that a driver of his skill would not be likely to make such a mistake at a slow part of the track, on a lap he knew was already slower than his best. Others are adamant that it was an honest and human mistake.
The FIA took issue with Schumacher's actions finding them to "seem deliberate", and moved him to the back of the grid, taking his pole, and promoting Alonso from 2nd to 1st. Ferrari principal Jean Todt said he was disgusted by the decision, but Schumacher was not alone. Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella ("john-carlo fizzi-kella") was penalized his three fastest laps in qualifying for blocking David Coulthard. Still, Schumacher showed his stuff by starting 22nd and finishing 5th on a track where passing is notoriously difficult. This wasn't Schumacher's first brush with controversy; he was accused of deliberate wrecks in 94 and 97. But he'll still be remembered as one of the modern greats, having won 7 championships, 76 fastest laps, and 68 poles.
Hopefully what I've shown is the drama and controversy that's a part of F1, and the extremes people are willing to go to in order to win. The pressure placed on drivers and teams to win and win consistently is enormous, and the drivers' own personal ambitions and overwhelming desire for victory can be all-consuming. Such is the passion that surrounds F1.