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Spanish Grand Prix  – The latest tech updates
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 May 2010   |  7:13 pm GMT  |  30 comments

The Spanish Grand Prix, round five of the F1 world championship is the first European round after the flyaway races and as such is always an event where all the teams bring updates to their car to a greater or lesser extent and this year is no exception.

What we are seeing this weekend is in most cases not as extreme as last season, when many teams were trying to catch the Brawn team by copying the double diffuser, but there are some quite significant and eye-catching changes on many cars.

Perhaps the team with the most eagerly anticipated changes is Mercedes. Last year’s champions – when they were called Brawn – have had the slowest car of the top four teams thus far and always targeted Spain as the race where they would bring in big changes.

Mercedes has two obvious updates here, one is the angling forwards of the front suspension, to help with a weight distribution problem and the other is the air intake, which is so radical a solution that many aerodynamicists I’ve spoken to say they’ve never even thought of trying it in a wind tunnel.


Instead of a hole above the driver’s head, the Mercedes has two air intakes lower down on either side of his head with a short fin to give the car the required height dimensions. This solution also helps the airflow onto the rear wing.

What makes this very interesting is that if you look carefully the driver sits quite high in the car anyway, probably in order to see over the very high front of the cockpit on the Mercedes. This isn’t perfect as every millimetre your driver’s backside is above the floor is raising your centre of gravity, which is a bad thing. The air coming off the driver’s head must be affecting the flow into the air intakes. Today the drivers were experimenting with plastic flip-ups on the top of their helmets to see if it improved that.


The front suspension is angled forwards on the Mercedes in order to lengthen the distance between the front and rear wheels and this has the effect of moving the weight backwards. They have done this because the drivers were complaining of the car pushing straight on in the corners, or understeering. Weight distribution is the most critical thing when it comes to tyre temperature and balance and this is clearly what Michael Schumacher was struggling with in China. The new narrow front tyres don’t grip like last year’s or like the ones he was used to in 2006. Judging from his strong performance in practice today, this fix seems to be working.

A lot has been said about this problem, but engineers tell me that angling the front suspension is the lightest solution, indicating that it was not a major problem, more a characteristic which needed addressing. Of course in moving the front wheels forward they have had to move the front wing forward too. This will have a negative effect on the aerodynamics so there is a loss to be swallowed before the gain you get from the improved weight distribution, but they must be happy with that trade off to have gone ahead with the change.

(Incidentally look at the small orange ring on the underside of the monocoque. That wasn’t there before and appears to be for adjusting the ride height during pit stops.)

Doing all of this will have eaten up much of their resources at a time when teams need to be well into the design of next year’s cars. There is a big rule change next year with the banning of double diffusers, so Mercedes will be worried that they are falling behind on that.

Ferrari and McLaren front wings

Many teams have new front wings here. The more complex they are with flaps to add downforce the more it indicates that the team has also added downforce at the rear of the car via the rear wing and diffuser and need to balance it out at the front. Judging from the McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari front wings there is a lot more overall downforce on the cars and it shows when you watch them on track. They look nailed to the ground.


It’s interesting to contrast the McLaren and Ferrari front wings. The McLaren is an elegant cascade, like the Red Bull wing, whereas the Ferrari is more classic with more detailed work on the endplates. It’s striking how different they are.

New longer Virgin car
Virgin has brought a new chassis for Timo Glock this weekend, which is longer than the original model, still being used by Lucas di Grassi. The fuel tank was not large enough to complete the Grand Prix distance and the team was given special dispensation to change the monocoque, which is a homologated part. The Virgin team has used the opportunity to introduce some other bodywork changes, such as a fin engine cover, which is in vogue at the moment and a large exit hole for cooling which is straight out of the Red Bull design textbook.


These engine covers are very eye catching but actually contribute only a small gain, in comparison to front wing or diffuser updates. But they get everyone talking because they are so noticeable.

A big cooling exit like this has a cost in lost downforce, but it gets all the hot air out of the engine bay in one go and in Red Bull’s case is the most efficient system given the extremely tight packaging of the rear end of the car. Virgin doesn’t appear to have such packaging issues, but has gone for the exit hole anyway.

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30 Comments
  1. Andy Carr says:

    Very nice write-up James. Will you be posting an article on the different variations of the RW80 (“f-duct”)which the teams have been testing here in Spain?

  2. Alexx says:

    Great article Jimbo!

  3. Andy C says:

    The detail on the front wings amazes me. It must be massively complex to design these multi element wings with uprights etc.

  4. Andy C says:

    Please ignore my comment. :-) I switched off the mobile setting on my iPhone and there was the branding for lg lol.

  5. Richard Hoyland says:

    James, what are your thoughts on the pace the Red Bull showed in second practice? Are they still miles ahead or were the likes of McLaren and Ferrari working on setup with heavier fuel loads?

    I’ve generally enjoyed the races this season but less so the qualifying. Would love to see a different car on poll tomorrow but it looks unlikely.

    1. James Allen says:

      I think they are ahead, yes.

  6. Ian Joyner says:

    James, what is the deal with the Ferrari drivers’ gloves? Looking at the onboard shots from today’s practice, it seems that they both have these large black patches on the back of the hands – particularly Massa, whose entire left glove was black…didn’t look like a styling thing to me…?

    1. Tone says:

      I think they operate their F-duct with that padding on the glove. Notice how they touch the cockpit sides with the back of their hand as they exit a corner.

      1. Ian Joyner says:

        Good shout- Alonso was taking the final turn one-handed in order to keep his left hand at the cockpit side

  7. jonrob says:

    As you say James, the new Merc air inlet looks rather inefficient, but the overall effect of it and the rather delicate looking canted forward front suspension has allowed Schumi to start showing his old form. But the car was fine for Rosberg before, now it has been changed to suit Schumi’s style, Nico is loosing out. Or so it would seem from both today’s sessions. However of course we do not know if Nico had more fuel on board than Schumi.

  8. sixtenths says:

    “but engineers tell me that angling the front suspension is the lightest solution, indicating that it was not a major problem, more a characteristic which needed addressing”

    So would a Chassis change be the ‘heaviest solution’ ? Is there some other way of changing the suspension mounting points without making a new monocoque ? Do Teams rarely need to make this change, so do not build in this adjustability into the design ?

  9. Bevan says:

    Love the detailed technical info from your site James,without which many of us international fans wouldn’t have a clue.Much appreciated.

  10. James,

    i thought you were going to comment on the distinction between redbulls current front wing and the new wing that they have been testing for the past two days.

  11. PaulL says:

    This is a fantastic feature!

  12. Robert Powers says:

    And inside each of those openings on the airbox of the Mercedes-a dual intake.The top one for the engine,the bottom for the rear wing.

    I don’t think we have seen the true effect of the new Mercedes airbox yet.Even though they already show signs of improvement,there is more to come from this soon.That might be why it was referred to as radical.

    1. Proesterchen says:

      The lower air intake is most likely still for the gearboxes oil cooler. Remember Mercedes had this inlet rear of the airbox initially, then moved it forward, above the driver’s head, with additional ducting after the Valencia tests early in the year. Now that the airbox has been relocated backwards, so has the oil cooler intake.

      No F-duct there, I’m afraid.

    2. LoudHoward says:

      Err, Merc doesn’t have a shark fin, so the bottom intake isn’t for the rear wing. More likely it’s for the gearbox.

      1. James Allen says:

        Yes it is because the lower airbox means cleaner air to the rear wing. If you don’t believe me here’s what Ross Brawn says about it, “It was done to improve the potential of the rear wing, so the system we have on some circuits where you need the maximum potential of the rear wing then we think it’s a better system. That was the reason.

  13. John Whitling says:

    And what of the different RB wings?

  14. PaulL says:

    ..Also the Mercedes airbox solution reminds me of the 1988 Benetton.

    1. Curro says:

      …And the 1989 Ferrari 639/640

  15. barry says:

    that was supposed, this sort of insight is what makes you great
    thanks, barry

  16. Relativity says:

    James, excellent report.

    Will Mercedes be introducing their version of the McLaren F-Duct at Barcelona?

    1. Proesterchen says:

      Seems to me they had their hands full with their mechanical and air box changes, and found the passive solution introduced at Shanghai efficient enough not to rush an active system.

      Given that Mercedes hasn’t run even parts of its F-duct in practice yesterday, I’d be surprised to see it on the cars before Friday, May 28th, in Turkey.

  17. Antoine says:

    Great read…

  18. Nick L says:

    James, this is excellent; exactly the sort of interesting and insightful information that we need to enhance our enjoyment of what has been, thus far, a very exciting F1 season. I look forward to reading more.

  19. Alan R says:

    James,

    The Merc now appears to have little or no roll-over protection. There is a central post, but this looks inadequate in the event of a lateral roll and also liable to dig-into a gravel trap.

    Would the revised tub/airbox have had to pass any kind of safety test before use?

  20. midbach says:

    Nice article Jim. I always enjoy the tech heavy discussions.

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