Posted on August 31, 2010

In the aftermath of the Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has come in for a fair bit of criticism for putting himself out of contention once again and damaging his championship chances. Spa was his third retirement of the season. He is now 31 points off the championship lead. He’s made things more difficult for himself, but with 150 points up for grabs, he can still recover. He’s under the spotlight for a collision with Jenson Button, which put the world champion out of the race and he made five visits to the pits, including a drive through penalty. It More…

Posted on August 30, 2010

Formula 1 started up again at Spa Francorchamps after the summer break, which incorporated a compulsory two week factory shutdown.

Despite the lack of development time during this period, there were nevertheless some fascinating technical stories, including two significant upgrades on front running cars, which had been scheduled for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

And there was also a more stringent test to ensure that front wings do not flex beyond what the amount allowed in the rules. Would this force Red Bull and Ferrari into changes and slow them down?

And we’ll also look at the difference between the wet set up and dry set up of the two Ferraris.

Flexi wing tests
After the heated debate in Germany and Hungary about the Red Bull front wing flexing to increase front downforce, a new more stringent test was introduced by the FIA. Red Bull passed the test.

The Red Bull wing at Spa featured fewer elements than the Hungary wing and observers say that it did not flex out on track as much as in Budapest. The team says that they have changed nothing in the wing apart from things they would normally do when moving from an ultra high downforce circuit like Hungary to a faster circuit like Spa. However senior composites technicians from the team’s Milton Keynes base, who do not normally attend Grands Prix, were noticed in the paddock, which means that something out of the ordinary was taking place. The theory is that the wing flexes outwards due to a sophisticated layering process of the carbon composite material.

The new test involved double the load being placed on the wing, so now it was now 100kg. As the severity of the new test is arbitrary, there has been a considerable amount of lobbying of the FIA technical people by Red Bull and Ferrari on the one hand and McLaren and Mercedes on the other.

The outcome from Spa was that McLaren and Mercedes were both privately unsatisfied that the test was stringent enough, while observing that the Red Bull wing flexed less than it had in Budapest, when out on track. The car was much closer to the performance of its rivals than it had been in Budapest, but there are several possible explanations for that, including the weather and the fact that the wing has significantly fewer flaps and thus is creating less downforce anyway.

Rivals suspect that the flexibility of the floor stay may be a larger contributing factor to Red Bull’s speed and have successfully lobbied the FIA to introduce a more stringent test for Monza.

As Monza is a low downforce, power circuit and Red Bull’s deficiency is in engine power, they are likely to be at a disadvantage there anyway and it will be tricky to draw many conclusions on what effect these new tests have had. We should see any differences more clearly in Singapore and particularly Suzuka.

New Ferrari diffuser
Ferrari had a significant upgrade to its diffuser in Spa. The team introduced an exhaust- blown diffuser for the first time in Valencia, copying the idea which Red Bull had revived this year. The concept uses the gas pressure of the exhaust passing through the diffuser to gain more downforce.

The blown diffuser is a complex piece to get right and Ferrari’s strategy was to introduce a basic model and get it working quickly, learn from it and then introduce a more sophisticated one at Spa. This strategy seems to have worked quite well, the team did not lose time in getting it working as McLaren did, for example.

The new diffuser is similar in concept to solutions on the Renault and McLaren. There is a very large hole, made legal by two longitudinal fences which run the length of it. The lower channel of the central section of the diffuser, has a slightly different top profile, whose outer edges now are rounded downwards.

There were also small changes to the bottom tips of the rear wing, which echo Red Bull.

Alonso's rear wing on the grid at Spa

For qualifying and the race, held in changeable weather conditions, Ferrari ran two different specifications of rear wing. Fernando Alonso ran a slightly higher downforce wing, which was therefore more of a wet set up, while Felipe Massa ran the lower downforce example. Massa’s was the newer design and it featured different end plates with curved gills similar to Red Bull, no slot between elements and a smaller main wing element.

Performance wise the differences were subtle but still noticeable. On the fastest laps in qualifying, Massa’s car was 2 km/h faster through the speed trap than Alonso’s and was a tenth of a second slower through the middle sector of the lap, which is a good indictor of downforce.

Massa's rear wing on the Spa grid

Both wings incorporate the drag reducing F Duct device, which showed its greatest advantage of the season so far around Spa. With the need for high downforce in the middle sector and good straight line speed on the two long straights in sectors one and two, cars equipped with F ducts could have it both ways and the device was worth half a second per lap here, a huge amount by F1 standards for a single component.

Next time out on the high speed Monza circuit it is likely that the teams will not use the F Duct. As the elements of the rear wing will be so small, it’s hard to incorporate the device and the performance gain is small in any case.

Renault F Duct
With so much to gain from running an F Duct at Spa, it was the perfect time for Renault to introduce their version. This being round 13 of 19 races, it comes quite late, by the standards of a top team. McLaren pioneered the idea at the start of the season, Sauber had one soon after and Ferrari and Force India soon followed. It’s another complex piece of engineering, involving fluidic switches, which channel and switch on air flows.

Renault has been rebuilding its aerodynamic capacity after the difficulties of 2009 and has focussed on perfecting other areas of the car, like front wings and blown diffusers before trying out its F Duct. The strategy has worked and the car has been steadily improving, as shown by Vitaly Petrov’s season best results in Budapest. So the half second gain from the F Duct at Spa put Robert Kubica right in the hunt at the front of the field. He both qualified and finished in third place.

In common with most systems where the F Duct concept is an add-on, rather than designed into the monocoque like McLaren, the drivers activate the system using their left hand.

Posted on August 29, 2010

We had some strong performances and some races to forget today. So who was your driver of the day? Lewis Hamilton Brilliant final lap in qualifying to improve despite the track getting wet. Got the jump on pole sitter Mark Webber and lead from start-to-finish for only the second time in his career after the 2007 Hungarian GP. Survived a scary trip through the gravel traps at the end when the team insisted on leaving him out on slicks in the rain. Used the McLaren’s excellent mechanical grip to its full potential in changing conditions. Mark Webber Celebrated his 34th More…

Posted on August 29, 2010

Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, in a lights to flag victory, having started second on the grid. It was Hamilton’s third win of the season and the 14th of his F1 career. He retook the championship lead. Mark Webber was second and Robert Kubica third. Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil both had strong days in difficult conditions finishing fourth and fifth. Hamilton survived a major scare on lap 35, when his team insisted he stay out on slicks as the rain began to fall more heavily. It was reminiscent of China in 2007 when he More…

Posted on August 28, 2010

Red Bull got their 12th pole position in 13 races today, but behind that headline is an interesting story which gives McLaren some encouragement for the Grand Prix, particularly if it is wet, as it has been every day this weekend. I spoke with Mark Webber after the qualifying session and he seemed to be more impressed with Lewis Hamilton’s improvement of four tenths of a second at the end of the session when the track was wet, than he was with his own pole position. Asking engineers from other teams they share that sense of wonder at Hamilton’s final More…

Posted on August 28, 2010

Mark Webber took pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica on a day when changeable conditions and sudden rain showers made it very hard to predict when the track would be at its fastest. It was Webber’s fifth pole position of the season and the 12th from 13 races for Red Bull. “We knew the first lap would be important. The weather has been so on and off. I was happy with the lap and it was enough for pole,” said Webber. “It was tense times when the track is like that. It More…

Posted on August 27, 2010

Fernando Alonso set the fastest time today in practice for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. Most of the day the weather was atrocious with heavy rain causing the GP2 and Formula BMW practice sessions stopped due to dangerous levels of water on the track. The morning session was particularly wet. In the afternoon drivers were able to fit intermediate tyres, which seemed to be very fast on the first lap but then suffered quite significant graining and drop off in performance. They ended the session on slick tyres. The second session was red flagged towards the end, under very unusual circumstances More…

Posted on August 26, 2010

It seems a very long time since the last race, after a summer break incorporating a two week compulsory shut down of all F1 team factories. This is probably because the championship had such momentum going. In addition to a thrilling title battle, there were two huge moments in the last two races before the break, with the Ferrari team orders episode and then the Schumacher/Barrichello battle in Budapest. At Spa this weekend the energy will no doubt return. Red Bull start the weekend as clear favourites, after their crushing performance in Budapest. Spa is a very different kind of More…

Posted on August 23, 2010

You will have heard the expression “seat fitting” in connection with F1. Well this is what it looks like. This is a behind the scenes video I shot a little while ago at McLaren which provides a fascinating insight into the detail a team will go into to get the driver comfortable in the car. They have a perfect mock up of the chassis and all the components in it, like the steering wheel, headrest, seat padding and so on. You can see Lewis Hamilton working on the fine detail of the steering wheel movement and his seat padding. It More…

Posted on August 23, 2010

It’s just been announced that Swiss bank UBS is coming into F1 as a global partner, starting from next month’s Singapore Grand Prix. This is interesting as it brings a new name in to the sport and it shows that F1 is getting some traction with expanding its global partner programme, an area which Bernie Ecclestone’s partners CVC felt was under exploited, when they bought into the commercial rights holder. In recent years DHL and LG Electronics have come into the sport in this capacity. The sums of money are not revealed, but it is less than the sanctioning fee More…

Posted on August 22, 2010

I see that the leading French sports paper L’Equipe has an interview with Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, where he appears to close the door on F1 for good. The 2007 world champion switched to rallying this season after being dropped by Ferrari in favour of Fernando Alonso. He joined forces with Red Bull and Citroen in WRC and this led to suggestions that his route back into F1 might be with the current championship leaders, but RBR team principal Christian Horner has always dismissed such suggestions and this weekend Raikkonen seems to be saying that he will not be back More…

Posted on August 20, 2010

I was reading about tennis star Andy Murray the other day, who beat Roger Federer to win a tournament soon after dispensing with his coach. It seems to be quite a big deal and the more you read about it, the more you realise how central to an elite sportsman’s life his coach is. If you think about it, most sportsmen and women still rely heavily on coaches even when they reach the peak at the elite level. Golf, tennis, all the Olympic sports, all the team sports like football, rugby and cricket, basketball, NFL – they have armies of More…

Posted on August 19, 2010

After three days of voting by readers of this site and over 230 comments, the clear winner of the moment of the year so far is the collision between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Istanbul. The second most popular moment was Lewis Hamilton taking pole position in Montreal, the only time in 12 races this season that Red Bull were not on pole. Mark Webber’s win at Silverstone, after being relegated to the old specification front wing was the third favourite moment followed by the breathtaking pass by Rubens Barrichello on Michael Schumacher and the McLaren battle for the More…

Posted on August 17, 2010

Nick Heidfeld has accepted the role of test and development driver for Pirelli tyres, hoping that having a head start in understanding the tyre will make him an attractive proposition to an F1 team as a race driver for 2011. The 33 year old German has been a rather forlorn looking reserve driver for Mercedes this season. With no on track testing allowed during the season, his role has been largely on the simulator and behind the scenes at the factory and the race track. The Pirelli opportunity involves him driving the 2009 Toyota car, not the car which was More…

Posted on August 16, 2010

I’ve just started the process of reviewing the season so far to pull out the best moments and blog entries for the JA on F1 2010 book. And there is no doubt that this season has given us some fantastic moments. There has been notably less political confrontation than last season and the action has mostly been on the track, where it should be. We’ve had great racing so far thanks to a combination of the best drivers being in the best cars and things not going always to plan for the fastest team, Red Bull, allowing McLaren to win More…

Posted on August 14, 2010

When I was doing some behind the scenes filming at the Lotus factory in Norfolk, I came across a room which houses the chassis mock up, made of what looked like clay, which the team built over the winter prior to building their first car. This is also where the drivers have their seat fitting, making sure they actually fit in the cockpit. It was amazing to see perfect replicas of the Cosworth engine, the fuel tank, the oil tank and so on, which the engineers and mechanics spent hours on, like a giant Lego set to make sure the More…

Posted on August 13, 2010

The German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, an opinion leader in F1 circles, has published a table reviewing the finishing record of the Formula 1 teams in the season to date. Ferrari comes out well on top with an astonishing 1471 racing laps covered, out of a maximum of 1474! Fernando Alonso’s engine failure in the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix is the only blot on its copybook. Felipe Massa has a flawless finishing record. And interestingly Red Bull has come out second, with 1,373 laps covered. This is despite a reputation for shaky reliability early in the More…

Posted on August 12, 2010

Rubens Barrichello will reach the amazing milestone of 300 Grand Prix starts at Spa in two weeks from now. And to celebrate he has produced a commemorative T shirt, which he and his sons Eduardo and Fernando have been modeling in the last 24 hours on Twitter. No doubt there will be a fair bit of public demand for these shirts. He has not yet indicated how many he’s producing and whether they’ll be for sale, but Rubens tweeted that there will be some kind of draw. If you want one, best thing to do is to sign up to More…

Posted on August 11, 2010

A little while ago I was contacted by Sports Illustrated magazine to help them out with information for an article they were preparing on F1. One of the things they were interested in was the drivers’ salaries and how they have been affected by the financial crisis of the last two years. This isn’t something I’ve really bothered with much in the past, but I did some asking around among people in F1 whose job it is to know this kind of information and I found it quite interesting. What we have here is by no means exhaustive and is More…

Posted on August 9, 2010

This is a video I shot a little while ago behind the scenes at the Lotus factory in Norfolk. I’ve been in all the F1 team factories, apart from Hispania, some many times and Lotus is definitely one of the friendliest places. This is not surprising given that it is a new team, but all the same there is a family feel about the team that Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne have built and there are many familiar faces from other F1 teams over the last 20 years. Here we talk to Keith Saunt, who runs the factory and is More…

Posted on August 8, 2010

When I was writing the other day about the things that could stop Red Bull winning the world championships, I forgot to consider an incapacitated technical director. Red Bull got away with it today when Adrian Newey had another accident, this time at the wheel of a Ginetta G50 in the BTCC support race at Snetterton. Newey was spun into the path of another car. After a heavy side-on impact, he was removed from the car on a back-board and taken to hospital for check ups. I’m told that in hospital he was chatting to the doctors, but was in More…

Posted on August 7, 2010

F1 drivers are pretty selfish individuals more likely to stamp on the fingers of another driver climbing the ladder, than help them. So when I read a story about how Mark Webber helped out fellow Australian driver Will Power, it struck a chord. The trigger for the story is that while Webber leads the F1 drivers’ championship Power is now emulating him and is on top of the Indycar standings in the US with four wins, driving for the Penske team. It turns out that Power owes his career to Webber, who kicked in much of the €500,000 he needed More…

Posted on August 5, 2010

The Hungarian Grand Prix has developed a reputation as a bit of a dull race over the years, although there have been some races where due to strategy reasons, the race has been enthralling. One that springs to mind was the 1998 classic, when Ferrari’s Ross Brawn switched Michael Schumacher on a three stop strategy, which required him to knock out 20 laps of qualifying level intensity to beat the McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. Mark Webber faced a similar task on Sunday, as he and his engineer took the decision not to pit under the safety car More…

Posted on August 5, 2010

I’m grateful to Russell Batchelor, the photographer who took this amazing photo, for sending me a high resolution version so you can see more clearly exactly what was going on between Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello on the Hungaroring pit straight, late in Sunday’s race. There’s a full size version at the bottom of this post which really does it justice. We’ve had hundreds of comments about this incident, with some calling for Schumacher to be banned and others arguing that Barrichello should stop bleating. I’ve picked out one recent comment from Andrew C, which I thought was very interesting More…

Posted on August 4, 2010

I notice that the BBC has announced that its F1 presenter Jake Humphrey, will not be at the Japanese Grand Prix this year as he will presenting the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games in India. So the BBC will turn to pit reporter Lee McKenzie to anchor the show. This is a good news story in that it allows people to write “First Female F1 presenter” headlines and although I’m delighted for her, I resisted the temptation in this case because there is a more interesting angle than that for me. Humphrey has been a revelation in the anchor More…

Posted on August 3, 2010

With the Hungarian Grand Prix falling just one week after the German race, there wasn’t much time for the teams to add major updates to the car, however there were some scheduled updates, such as the blown diffuser on the Force India car, which was used only in the practice sessions and some interesting solutions for getting maximum downforce.

And as the weekend’s action revealed, downforce was everything at the Hungaroring.

The two main talking points were the Red Bull flexi front wing and the Renault rear wing, which gave the team a good performance boost and yielded a best ever F1 finish for Vitaly Petrov.

Red Bull front wing
The anaylsis of the Red Bull front wing is in two parts this week. There is a separate post on the FIA’s decision to apply a more stringent test to front wings at the next race and what this means for Red Bull. Here we will look at the wing itself.

The concept of applying aero elasticity to F1 wings is not new, in fact it goes back over 30 years. Wings which flex at speed have appeared at various times over that period, when new technology allows the rules to be circumvented and new rules the performance gain is attractive enough. This is such a time, due to the new wide front wing rules.

There are two points of view on front wing flex; one is that a rigid front wing will give you exactly the same results on the track as you get in the wind tunnel and in the Computational Fluid Dynamics programmes. The other is that the lower you can get the wing tips to the ground, the more downforce you will generate and this will be faster.

A flexi wing can bring gains of 2/10ths of a second or more in the wing tips alone, but there are risks to this approach.

It is easy to end up with a wing which makes the car loose in high speed corners, which spooks the driver. It can upset the balance of the car with some strange results. The reason for this is that it is not possible to do wind tunnel tests and CFD programmes with deformed shapes, which replicate the full flexing of the wing with the car at various angles in cornering. It’s just far too complex to model. So having a flexing front wing is a bit of an unknown.

Another problem is that by definition, if it is flexing and thus creating more downforce as you go fast down the straights, it is therefore also creating more drag. And then when the driver lifts off the throttle and the wing rises up it drops downforce and can make the car unstable in a slow corner.

However it is very good on medium and fast corners, such as are found in Sector 2 in Budapest, where the Red Bull was untouchable last weekend.

Renault rear wing
The aerodynamics department at Renault has been very busy with updates this season, particularly front wings, with countless iterations, which have made the car steadily faster. The car was competitive in Monaco and again at the high downforce circuit in Budapest, Renault was on the pace, vying with McLaren for third fastest car last weekend behind the Red Bull and Ferrari.

In Hungary Renault introduced a new rear wing especially designed for high downforce. The wing features a deep V shape in the middle, main profile and the flap is divided in two sections by means of a large hole.

As with the McLaren and the Mercedes, the elements of the wing work as if it was constructed of three separate elements.

Posted on August 3, 2010

The FIA has responded to lobbying from McLaren and Mercedes in particular and has decided to beef up the tests they carry out on the flexing of front wings. On the face of it this will oblige Red Bull and Ferrari to stop their wings from flexing as much as they do now and this will cost them lap time. But let’s look more closely at this and establish how much we think this will slow the cars down relative to the opposition. The FIA is allowed to change the test as it sees fit thanks to a rule which More…

Posted on August 2, 2010

Michael Schumacher has apologised to Rubens Barrichello for trying to put him in the wall in the closing stages of yesterday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Writing in German only on his website (the English version of the site does not yet have the post at the time of writing) he says, “Yesterday right after the race I was still in the heat of the action, but after I watched the scene again with Rubens, I must say that the Stewards are right with their assessment: the manoeuver against him was too harsh. I wanted to make myself of course difficult to More…

Posted on August 2, 2010

The F1 teams are now on a two week summer shutdown, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to! Here on JA on F1 there will be plenty of interesting content through the holiday period including insights, analysis, thought provoking articles, videos and technical insights. With teams well into their car design for next year, we’ve got a video behind the scenes at McLaren looking at how they use a chassis mock up for driver seat fitting and getting driver input into design at an early stage. There’s behind the scenes video content looking at Lotus as More…

Posted on August 1, 2010

We saw some great drives today throughout the field. Here are a few contenders. So who was your Driver of the Day? Mark Webber Lost a place to Alonso at the start. Was forced into a change of strategy by the safety car, deciding to stay out in order to have a chance to get ahead of Alonso. Took advantage of Vettel’s mistake behind the safety car and then pumped in over 25 flat out laps to build a big enough lead to pit and rejoin ahead of Alonso. Fernando Alonso Great start to jump Webber, then kept up a More…

Posted on August 1, 2010

Rubens Barrichello described the move his old team mate Michael Schumacher pulled on him today as “the most dangerous” in his entire career. The stewards weren’t too impressed and have penalised the seven times world champion with a ten place grid penalty at the next race in Spa. Coming on the eve of his 300th Grand Prix start, Barrichello felt that Schumacher was carrying some baggage from their past together at Ferrari. Having run in 6th place, Barrichello had pitted late in the race, after staying out when most of the field pitted on lap 16 when the safety car More…

Posted on August 1, 2010

Mark Webber put in a charging drive today to get control of the Hungarian Grand Prix after his team mate Sebastian Vettel was given a penalty and put himself back in the lead of the championship battle. It was Red Bull’s 100th Grand Prix start and its 12th victory and it gave them the lead in the constructors’ championship. It was Webber’s fourth win of the season and the sixth win of his career and it was all built on an astonishing middle stint on soft tyres after a sudden safety car for debris on the track. With Lewis Hamilton More…

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