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Photo reveals details of Alonso’s Ferrari
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Photo reveals details of Alonso’s Ferrari
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 May 2010   |  7:00 am GMT  |  67 comments

When Fernando Alonso crashed in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, his car was lifted away from the circuit on a crane and photographer Darren Heath was right there to capture it.

The result is this photograph, which at face value shows little more than a very smashed up Ferrari.

However looking more closely at the underside of the car, there are some details which have been secret up to now and they tell us quite a bit about the design philosophy behind the car.

Starting with the obvious – the car is leaning backwards. Obviously there is no driver in it, but experts say that allowing for that, the photo still shows that the weight distribution would appear biased towards the rear. The lifting strap is usually about 1800mm from the front axle, so a bit more than half way.

Look at the back of the car; the double diffuser entry section is pretty large, but not extreme by today’s standards, apparently. It is also believed to be quite close to the Toyota design, which may well be because of the aerodynamic expertise hired in from Toyota over the winter.

The most interesting revelation from this photo is the front section. Look at the floor near the leading edge of the bargeboard; it starts wider then tapers to the minimum width until widening for the driver’s seat area.

The narrowing helps the chin are (which looks a bit like a tea tray) work as a diffuser, with air being fed by the clean centre section of the front wing. Downforce generated here gives a forward centre of pressure, and perhaps helps explain how Ferrari can use a seemingly benign front wing without suffering from a forward balance in high speed.

The other interesting revelation is to do with the way the team operates the ride height of the car. This is a big talking point this season due to the new rules on refueling.

The plank retaining skids are cleverly detailed around the inner edges
of the plank wear holes. This is probably to allow the car to be run a
fraction lower whilst still keeping within wear limits. It shows a good
understanding of precisely how the FIA apply the plank wear regulation in practice too.

They are clearly running plenty of rake, look closely at the front of the plank and you can see that there is hard rubbing , while there are just a few witness marks of light touching further back. The front of the plank looks like it is deflecting up, since there seems to be hard rubbing on the entire area ahead of the seat despite minimal touching further back.

With refueling banned this season and the car therefore required to carry 160 kilos of fuel, which lowers it, giving as little as possible away on ride height is very important.

Darren Heath Website

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67 Comments
  1. Robert says:

    I thought the floors of the modern F1 car had to be flat. Completely flat I have read…. This does not look flat at all. The skid board looks like real wood. Why was it changed from the real wood of a few years back? Great Photo though. I bet Ferrari are very hot having to give up this much information!

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    1. Zippy says:

      It was changed from real wood because real wood swells/warps when wet, whereas the artificial wood they use now doesn’t.

      (And it became wood because that shows wear from bottoming-out more readily than metal)

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    2. Knuckles says:

      Well, you thought wrong. The rulebooks are out there to read, and did you miss the whole double diffuser discussion? How would that have worked with a completely flat floor?

      “The skid board looks like real wood. Why was it changed from the real wood of a few years back?”

      Come again?

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      1. guy says:

        No need to be so harsh to the poor chap – this ia a friendly site for all fans regardless of technical knowledge. It would be a shame if people were scared to leave a comment for fear of a backlash.

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      2. Peteish says:

        @knuckle No need to get nasty mate, i thought he asked a good question.

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      3. Knuckles says:

        Yep, I should have phrased that differently. Apologies to Zippy.

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    3. Henry says:

      Sorry for the off-topic post but theres no way to contact james directly – I have seen in the Italian press that they are reporting Pirelli have won the contract to supply tyres in 2011, but no one in the english press has commented or reported on it yet.

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    4. jonrob says:

      Flat? yes and no!
      You have the plank (or skid block as it is known officially) then the reference plane, then the step plane, so there’s 3 levels to start with.
      The skid block must be: “b) be made from an homogeneous material with a specific gravity between 1.3 and 1.45 ;” (not wood) and it starts off 10mm thick it goes under the reference plane, it is 300mm wide and extends along the bottom of the body from the rear wheel centre line forwards to 330mm behind the front wheel centre line.

      I would also chuck in a reg here because it looks like Ferrari is in breach and has 3 planes not two, around the front end of the plank and along most of it’s sides:

      3.12 Bodywork facing the ground :
      3.12.1 All sprung parts of the car situated from 330mm behind the front wheel centre line to the rear wheel centre line, and which are visible from underneath, must form surfaces which lie on one of two parallel planes, the reference plane or the step plane. This does not apply to any parts of rear view mirrors which are visible, provided each of these areas does not exceed 12000mm² when projected to a horizontal plane above the car, or to any parts of the panels referred to in Article 15.4.7.
      The step plane must be 50mm above the reference plane.

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  2. Ic3 says:

    well, we don’t know how much fuel Alonso had had in the car at the time of the crash, so the balance of the car is hard to figure out, despite it leaning back like that.

    The plank is real wood, it was metal before 1994. But in 1994 Ayrton Senna’s crash is tought to be caused by the car bottoming out on metal floor. So wood was introduced, to avoid “iceskating” of the car, when it bottoms out.

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    1. Andy says:

      I believe the fuel tank is placed such that no matter how much fuel is in, the center-of-mass of the car remains fixed (in front-to-back direction).

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    2. Ross Dixon says:

      The fuel tank will be located aroundthe cars center of gravity so that when fuel is burned off the balance doesnt change.

      A car would bottom out on a wooden plank if it were low enough.

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      1. Paul Kirk says:

        The “centre of gravity” is usually considered vertically, weight distribution fore and aft are considered horisontally. I would assume F1 cars would have a very noticeable rearward weight bias, maybe more tham 60%. I’m guessing they are heavy as possible toward the rear to get away from the line, and get out of slow corners well, then use areo balance to give front grip on the fast corners. The only way the fuel load would not make a difference to the way the car hangs is if the hanging point was situated centrally to the fuel tank, but I understand the tank is behind the roll structure/lift point.
        PK.

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    3. Unload It says:

      I don’t think a metal plank could be a problem with Senna’s crash. If it was caused by the car bottoming out (which has never been proven) the material of the plank has nothing to do with that. The problem of bottoming out is that it cuts the airflow completely (at the plank area in the center) which results in enormous loss of downforce.

      So in my opinion the material of the plank itself has nothing to do with it – metal could actually be better as it is harder and therefore the contact would be shorter.

      But I don’t know why and when there have been changes in that part of the rules.

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      1. Trent says:

        There was no ‘plank’ of any material in Senna’s day. The undertray was completely flat from the rear of the front wheel to the front of the rear wheels.

        However, the comment about the car ‘skating’ is still correct – there’s a line of thought that it could have contributed to Senna’s crash, as the car bottomed out through Tamburello. There were certainly a LOT of sparks the lap before. However, I can’t think of a single other accident where this bottoming-out effect caused a drvier to lose control, so I’m doubtful.

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      2. Ic3 says:

        well the plank is 10mm thick and serves as a spacer, if you will, between the bottom of the car and the floor. Senna’s crash happened because the car had bottomed out – lost downforce, like you said, but like Trent said, there was no skid block, and the airflow was cut completely.

        The plank now leaves that 10mm gap between the bottom of the car and the track at all times (to the sides of the skid block), so there’s downforce even when the car bottoms out, because the diffuser still gets airflow trough it.

        wood is probably used so it wears out, instead of bouncing the car in the air, as it would if there was a metal plate. but primarily i think it is used so that the teams don’t run the cars too low. That ‘skid block’ is measured by the stewards before and after the race, and must be at least 9mm thick after the race. With metal, it wouldn’t wear out that much and the cars would bottom out more than they do now. So it’s just a safety percaution, installed after Ayrton Senna’s crash.

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      3. Unload It says:

        Well, I think you are now spot on. Thanks!

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      4. Paul Kirk says:

        Funny you should mention Senna’s crash, I actually formed an opinion while the acident was happening, that he bottomed out, either on bump stops or the track, and the subsequent rebound reduced tyre grip for a long enough distance that by the time grip was restored,(remember he was just starting to initiate a left hand turn), his right side tyres were on the edge of the track so he understeered straight on as well as loosing braking ability because he was now on the grass. You might remember Sandshoe Fixer, who was right behind Senna, had an onboard camera watching the whole thing. Actually, I think I remember sparks from under the car. Re wood or steel for the “plank”, steel would slide on the track surface where wood would provide an element of friction that might slow the car down thereby reducing impact speed.
        PK.

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  3. John Z says:

    Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Nice job, Darren. My guess is that the Ferrari floor isn’t too different to McLaren & Mercedes. All the teams would love to see the Red Bull. Now that would be enlightening.

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  4. Adrian says:

    James, couldn’t the wear on the plank be from contact with the ground when the car crashed??

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  5. Phil C says:

    James

    It would be good to see if you can get your hands on a photo of the underside of the other cars. IE button crashed in Monoco and vetell dumped it in Aus. It would be interesting to see the differences.

    One question for you? Are Ferrari, Merc and Mclaren teaming up to catch redbull together. Cross referencing notes, Or are they all going there seperate ways. I assume Ferrari would be going there own way but then again, i may be wrong.

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    1. Dave says:

      Button’s car was taken back to the Monaco pits after the race on a truck. McLaren then spent several minutes, whilst backing up the entire pitlane, to completely cover the entire car with a black sheet, before car was lifted off.

      Particular attention was paid to covering the rear diffuser area…

      I guess Ferrari are a bit gutted about these pics!

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    2. Stevie P says:

      Phil… err, Button didn’t crash in Monaco and no team would cross-ref notes with another team; ok, so an informal chat might occur between mates (who happen to be on different teams) but I’d imagine that any employees trying to fathom what RBR are doing, would keep it to themselves (in-house).

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    3. BreezyRacer says:

      Ha ha ha .. good idea Einstein! Why didn’t we think of that .. pics of the bottom of other cars too .. brilliant!

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      1. phil says:

        Obviously james hasn’t because no article has been has written.

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  6. Chris Cole says:

    Is there any chance we have all that in plain english for all us non-techie types?

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    1. Fausto Cunha says:

      Same thing year, not very easy for me to notice all does references that James try´s to indicate.

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    2. malcolm.strachan says:

      I’ll try to help. :)

      Look at the wood plank in the centre of the car. The dark parts are parts that have been rubbing. If you notice that toward the front of the car, there is much more rubbing than the back. That means the front of the car is lower than the back of the car. This helps move the balance of downforce a little further to the front of the car. Also, running a flat-bottom car in rake (rake = front lower than rear) makes the whole underside of the car like one big diffuser, so it can generate more downforce from that as well.

      I use the term “flat-bottom” since the underside of the car isn’t using a wing-shape or huge venturi tunnels, like the cars from the late 70’s and early 80’s. Technically, it is a stepped flat-bottom, because of the lower plank in the middle.

      See the big dimple in the front tire that’s hanging by the tether? Right behind that is the start of the plank. If you look at the carbon-fibre beside the plank, you will see that the ridge starts out wide, but then comes in closer to the plank before widening again as you go toward the rear of the car. When that part narrows, it acts like a diffuser that slows down the air. The key to that is, further up where it is wider, the air is accelerated. Faster air = lower pressure, and lower pressure acting on a surface creates a force. Therefore, you end up with a little more downforce at the front from what amounts to a little diffuser.

      For the double-diffuser at the rear, look at how the carbon around the plank narrows, and then the two holes start, fan out a bit from the centre-line, and then extend rearward parallel to the centre-line. These holes draw in air, not only from ahead, but also air entering from the sides under each side-pod. Right at the start of the hole where it curves up (called the “mouth” of the diffuser), there is a major low-pressure area. By extending these holes up further toward the front of the car, you can not only move the balance of downforce forward, but you can also create more downforce because a larger volume of air can now go through the diffusers, since the exits of diffusers can now be made larger.

      Basically, the air coming out of the diffuser will be at regular pressure (that is the function of the diffuser: to bring accelerated air back to normal speed and pressure). If you make the exit of the diffuser bigger, that means a lot more air had to pass over the mouth of the diffuser to fill it. Since more air had to go through that small area before it expanded into the diffuser, that means it needs to accelerate considerably to feed that diffuser, and of course, accelerated air creates low pressure, which in turn creates downforce. Therefore, it’s actually the diffuser mouth, and not the diffuser itself, that creates the actual downforce.

      Now, the double-diffuser is just simply two diffusers, and two diffuser mouths (actually three diffuser mouths, since there are two on either side of the plank). Having two diffusers is basically like having one big one, in terms of overall downforce.

      I hope that helped, and didn’t just confuse you further!

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      1. Fausto Cunha says:

        You helped a lot , not that i understand everything but now at least i have a better understanding of how the air goes under the car and into the diffuser.

        thanks.

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      2. FletcherB says:

        Wow, thanks for the explanation.

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  7. James R says:

    Hi James. This is the stuff I love reading – your blog is great – but I found this one quite hard to understand. I found it tricky to work out exactly which part of the car you were referring to most of the way through. Any chance you could do some sort of diagram to point out the bits you’re talking about?

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  8. michael grievson says:

    Excellent picture and article. I bet Ferrari love Darren Heath

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    1. me says:

      last year there was this forum talk that mclaren were lucky vettel crashed in monaco … hence there gain in performance … 😀

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    2. Adam Taylor says:

      More importantly, the other teams, especially the struggling teams would love to get their hands on images such as these

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  9. Charlie says:

    Cracking stuff James, it’s always nice to see what they don’t want you to, more like this please!

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  10. Bolaji says:

    Hi James. Thanks for sharing such detailed insight into the design of Ferraris car. However, some of us fans cant identify any of the car parts you mentioned without enough labelling to turn the picture into a text book diagram. Could you give some more insight on identifying the car parts youve mentioned or (to keep the boys at ferrari from getting even hotter from exposure of their car),point us to where we can find such info. Thanks.

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  11. Stu says:

    Can I please have some of Darren’s luck/knowledge, talk about being consistently in the right place at the right time!

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    1. Chris Crawford says:

      Couldn’t agree more. As a photographer myself some guys get ALL the luck!

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      1. Stu says:

        Agreed, as a landscape photographer myself I know only too well how luck helps a great deal in getting the shot you want.

        Planning and skill (of which Darren has both!) obviously are a huge part of it, but you can’t help that big smile moment when your lucky stars find you a nice little situation like this one!

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      2. It’s like when I shoot a wedding, I can anticipate moments about to happen, I guess Darren will be like that at races, although he really would be lucky with seeing Alonso’s car like that, h could easily half been halfway round the other side of track

        Although, would it have been Darren himself, or does he have a team of Photographers?

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    2. Stevie P says:

      Luck has nothing to do with it… Darren strolled up the hill and chucked a spot of oil down, just as Alonso was approaching 😉 [I am joking!!!]

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      1. Matt says:

        Considering how long it took for the car to be hooked up and lifted out, you could easily run round. Besides, having done it myself, most of the agencies and ‘mates’ operate a pool system whereby most crash/incident frames are shared out. Editors simply turn a blind eye. Standard practice.

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    3. Lockster says:

      As a long-term F1 photographer, Darren would have known that:
      A) a photo of all the hidden parts underneath any of the front running cars would be worth A LOT to other teams
      B)the only way to retrieve Alonso’s car would be by crane
      Consequently, all he had to do was make sure he got there before the car got lifted and find a good vantage point to shoot from.

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  12. Alexx says:

    also the wooden plank curtailed the spectacle of sparks flying from the back of the cars pre 1994.

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    1. Trent says:

      It was interesting that the Lotus was striking a lot of sparks at Monaco. Does this suggest a more rearward bias, the opposite to what Ferrari are doing?

      Have a look at Alonso following Trulli out of the tunnel.

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  13. Pierre says:

    Great article, James, thanks for sharing that with us. Did Mercedes, RedBull, McLaren and other teamps saw this picture before you published it? Did Ferrari tried you or Darren not to release it?

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  14. MacG says:

    Is there any truth in the rumour that Alonso’s crash was caused by the same loose drain cover that caught out Rubens during the race?

    I’m not entirely convinced the accidents happened/started in the same place.

    There is a scrape on left hand side of the underneath of the car . . . the same side as the drain cover Rubens hit.

    Doubt it is the same cause, but if it is then the FIA have something to answer for.

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    1. Mouse_Nightshirt says:

      I would doubt it. The onboard camera shows him getting a touch of understeer before drifting onto the dirty area of the track where he proceeded to understeer into the wall. He was simply pushing too hard.

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    2. Matt says:

      No drain cover incident. Alonso binned it.

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  15. Flintster says:

    James, great piece once again and its writing like this that sets the website above all the rest.

    However, I’m sure the other teams log on from time to time so please stop telling everyone Ferrari’s secrets. Some off us want them to win this year! Ha

    Nice work.

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    1. Matt says:

      The teams have their own snappers anyway.

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  16. Mike says:

    The weight distribution appears more rear biased than it actually is in the photo due to a lack of driver in the car. A 65-90kg driver in something as light as a F1 car has a significant affect on the weight distribution.

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  17. BreezyRacer says:

    One thing that strikes me about this incident is just how fragile the Ferrari tubs appear to be. Such a small crash to wipe out an entire chassis.

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    1. malcolm.strachan says:

      All it takes is one hard, sharp part to spear the chassis, or one crack to form.

      It’s not a big piece of metal that can be hammered straight and re-used.

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  18. Tomys says:

    “Starting with the obvious – the car is leaning backwards, so the weight distribution would appear biased towards the rear.”

    You think it would have been the same with Alonso in the car? :-)

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    1. jonrob says:

      Nah, he isn’t laid back enough but Kimi……

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      1. Paul Kirk says:

        Ha Ha Ha Ha!

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  19. shinronin says:

    to clarify one point:
    “Starting with the obvious – the car is leaning backwards, so the weight distribution would appear biased towards the rear. The lifting strap is usually about 1800mm from the front axle, so a bit more than half way.”

    teams run much more ballast in the rear in monaco than on other circuits to increase rear tire traction given the point & shoot nature of monaco.

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  20. Ironman_Ironman says:

    Brilliant article James.
    Thanks Darren

    This is THE website to get my F1 fix.
    Keep up the good work.

    BTW, I enjoyed the previous videos as well.

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  21. Frankie Allen says:

    I just wish I could get detail from the photo. Very interesting none the less.

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  22. Brace says:

    Not entirely related, but it came from promoters of the Texas GP that Tilke will be designing new USA GP track.
    Hope dies last, but it seems the last hope died with that news already.

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    1. john NZ says:

      There are some wild internet rumors that Bernie may be doing another Donington, and the race may well end up in New York, i guess we’ll see come race day

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  23. FaithHealer1 says:

    Great to get this sort of information James. Would love to know – how annoyed will Ferrari be at this photograph of a very secretive part of the car? Judging from the article, it seems to give quite a bit away about the design philosophy of the car – could this help other teams or are Ferrari’s ideas incompatible with other cars’ design philosophies?

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    1. CH1UNDA says:

      maybe it is what is feeding what Hamilton was calling “a few ideas in the pipeline” at McLaren in Istanbul interview yesterday :)It is interesting to know that sometimes a crash costs more than the points that are lost.

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  24. steve says:

    I think Darren will be carefully watched from now on,will he be at Turkey? possibly?
    I know he will be forced to watch the entire 800 races in a Ferrari motor home for the rest of the year,aww they will give him a big hug and point him in the direction of Red Bull….

    With a Poloroid…………..

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  25. Bill says:

    Somebody at Ferrari/McLaren/Mercedes should ‘tip off’ Darren Heath about where to stand to get a nice photo of the underside of the Red Bull, just as one of their cars collides with it in such a way that it exposes the underside.

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  26. drums says:

    As for yesterday, Ferrari mechanics left the car alone-and-unveiled at the team pitgate. A swarm of cameras had the opportunity to pic the rear and diffussors of the car before the mechanics hurriedly came back to cast the veil.

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  27. Sadly, I never got to see one in person. My high school chem teacher stopped doing them in class a year or three before I took it because the local college had several students injured doing it.

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