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Static Electricity From Trams: Possibly The Oddest Excuse For A Race Retirement, Ever

Static Electricity From Trams: Possibly The Oddest Excuse For A Race Retirement, Ever

When Mark Webber retired from the Singapore Grand Prix, the team personnel were puzzled as to what caused his RB4 to stop functioning properly. Webber was enjoying a great race until the fabled gearbox gremlins seemed to encroach on the Milten Keynes team again. At the time, team boss Christian Horner could only offer “freak circumstances” as a possible reason for the box trying to select 2 gears at once. But now, they have an even better excuse…

The team now believe that the cause of the gearbox problem may have been due to static electricity produced by a tram traveling under that particular part of the circuit at the time of the problem. Webber was in fifth gear, but the moog valve (that controls the gear selection) had been triggered into selecting seventh. Webber pulled into the pits, despite having a great race until that point, and vacated his car.

At Turn 13 the gearbox selected two gears at once. The moog valve controlling the gearshift had been triggered into changing to seventh while he was still in fifth. Yet after interrogating the software we can see that it at no time was allowing for this. We can see a momentary electrical surge at the precise moment, which seems to have triggered the moog valve.

It was exactly what [Scuderia Toro Rosso] suffered from with Bourdais in Friday practice, at exactly the same place. A tram line runs beneath the track at that corner and it seems as if static from a passing tram at the very moment Mark was in the corner passed through the ground. Christian Horner.

The thing is, Mr. Horner, is that there are another 16 (non-Red Bull) drivers on track racing around all weekend, and presumably the trams were running throughout this period. So why weren’t other squads affected as well? Why was there not a spate of electrical surges with others teams, causing their ‘boxes to jump around the cogs without reason? It would appear that while this was Webber’s first race-ending mechanical failure of the year, the Red Bull gearbox is still a little delicate in some circumstances.

Oliver White

9 comments

  • Furthermore, why didn’t Coulthard (usually the unluckiest driver on the track for mechanical retirements) find his car selecting two gears at once?

    It is odd. I think it comes down to whether or not a tram was under the part of the track where the car was at the time. So maybe Coulthard and Vettel got lucky. But with 20 cars flying around for 3 days, I find it hard to believe that only 2 apparently had this issue. And even if it only affected the Red Bull cars, then why? Why are their moog valves different to everyone else’s?

  • I had to laugh when I first saw this.Static Electricity may be around 50000 Volts,but it contains very little current,thats why it does`nt kill you(around 60 Volts AC with 30 millaAmps will send you heart into fibralation ie you die).As there was no contact with this static,we can only assume it was the Magnetic Induction that spooked his computer,surely it is Magneticly shielded,and the Induction from static woundnt even crash an ZX81. It could be possible that the tram was changing live rails at the time resulting in the Induction(why no shielding),bit like when a motobike interferes with your TV. As excuses go this is a beauty..Mate

  • Just happened to stumble on this from one of my techy Mags written around Febuary to quote…On the shift system side, the Majority of teams now employ a `software` approach. As Renault Technical Director Bob Bell puts it:”The so called `quick shift` gearbox is effectively a bomb waiting for somebody to light the fuse. Essentially with these boxes you can engage two gears at the same time and its only through clever control systems that you dont destroy the box. Making the transition to a standard ECU , where you have less control over how it is done, was a worry. We had some intail difficulties but they were on the test bench and didnt find their way through to the track.” Now,throw in what Steven said about lightning (Say around 200 metres from the track) and a stormy race at Fuji, could we see numerous cars just grind to a halt at the same time. Its made me that more expectant for the next race.

  • I’m not a tech expert by any stretch, but dose anyone else think that the orginisers would have looked into this and considered it beforehand? I think it may be a bit of a lame-duck excuse from Red Bull, especially with one of their mid-pack rivals having pulled out their first win of the year.

  • And it would seem that Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (the tram operators) have responded.

    There is no MRT track beneath turn 13. The nearest MRT tunnel is about 200 metres away, with a depth of about 10 metres.

    The spokesperson also said that the train wheels and running wheels do not generate static electricity.

  • Could it be that Ferrari were testing there new secret weapon, the Electromagnetic Pulse Rifle that fries the cicuitry of the ECU unit rendering it useless, just to make sure it works on Lewis`s car in Brazil, there were reports of a man in a red boiler suit stood on the grassy knowl 😉

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