There had been so much focus on the delays in completing the Yeongam circuit in Korea that not much discussion had been had about it’s nature as a circuit. When the cars started running and the drivers fed back their thoughts it soon emerged that the track has been designed to have several characters in one.
The three sectors each had distinctive characteristics, each flattering different aspects of a car. So it is a track which cannot be said to suit any one car in particular. It’s not a Red Bull circuit, for example, because of the long straights and tight turns of the first sector. Nor is it a McLaren or Ferrari circuit because of the sweeping turns in the second sector.
For this reason it gave us one of the most closely matched fields we’ve seen this season.
For all the teams the name of the game was deciding which characteristic of the track to set the cars up for. Should they go for extra downforce for Sector 2/3, or less downforce to be fast on the straights in Sector 1?
It was clear from qualifying that Red Bull and Ferrari went for the downforce option while McLaren had a little less wing for the straights. Alonso was only the 16th fastest car through the speed trap at 313km/h, a fraction slower than the Red Bull and 6km/h slower than the McLaren. And yet paradoxically, Alonso set the fastest first sector time of anyone. Looked at in detail the reason for this turned out to be that he got his braking perfect. There are two big stops in Sector 1 and Alonso got them just right.
Another thing making life difficult for engineers and drivers trying to tune the cars in to the track was that the grip level was unknown before arriving there and the fact that the track condition was a moving target. The track improvement was significant on Day 1 as the dirt and oil came off the surface and rubber went down. The difference between the first lap and the fastest lap on Day 1 was 42 seconds!
As the tyres scrabbled for grip, inevitably they were sliding and this led to a lot of tyre graining, where the top layer of rubber sheers.
It was noticeable that through Turn 11 some cars were lifting the inside front wheel, basically going through two turns on three wheels. This put an extra load on the right front tyre and you could see bands on the tyre when the cars came back into the pits where they had the extra wear.
The reason this was happening was that when the track is as low grip as it was on Friday, teams run the rear suspension softer relative to the front and that meant that in a corner with camber, the rear of the car rolls and sits back, lifting the inside front wheel. That effect reduced as the weekend went on.
In qualifying the track was still improving rapidly, the fastest time in Q1 was 1m 37.113 but an hour later it was down to 1m 35.585.
In the race the McLaren struggled with the wet conditions, as its suspension was set too stiff and it lacked downforce in the final sector, where Hamilton was losing 3/10ths every lap to the front runners.
Button had a difficult day, struggling to get heat into his front tyres. He complained afterwards that he had something in his car different from Hamilton’s, that was a small detail change in the braking system, according to the team.
Updates on the cars
With the Yeongam circuit being finished so late, it was hard for teams to bring updates as it was impossible to simulate them accurately beforehand. Nothing was known of grip levels or kerb heights, for example.
Nevertheless there were a few updates to the cars, with some teams still pushing hard on development right up to the end of the season. McLaren brought the rear wing and revised F Duct, which they had tested on the Friday in Japan and which channels the air through the rear wing in a different way from before.
They also had another step on the endplate of the front wing, with an additional vertical slit ( the rearmost one) and a vertical gurney flap at the rear of the end plate have been added to improve the airflow outside the front tyre, slightly increasing downforce too.
Ferrari tested Felipe Massa’s car without the F Duct rear wing on Friday morning, to experiment with the extra downforce for Sector 2. But he quickly decided that he needed the extra straight line speed the drag reducing wing gives on the straights of Sector 1.
Ferrari also had an update on the diffuser, the new diffuser is visibly different in its central section from its previous version. The top profile (above inset) is wider and more curved, close to its outermost edges, improving the air extraction. The side channels now feature a large middle vertical fence ( lower inset), compared to the previous version.
Biofuel saves weight
Ferrari fuel supplier Shell debuted a new biofuel this weekend. Partly it has to do with the ongoing story of the greening of F1, but the main idea behind it is to use less fuel.
In a typical race weekend an F1 car uses around 600 litres of fuel – approximately ten tankfuls for a Ford Mondeo. For the race alone it uses 200 litres. The new biofuel means that they make a saving of 1%, which might not sound like much but the weight saving adds up to 2.5 seconds off the race time for the Ferrari drivers. When races can turn on fractions of a second in a pit stop, that is a gain worth having.