F1 cars gaining speed in unprecedented push for development
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Jun 2014   |  7:54 am GMT  |  13 comments

The new generation F1 cars are improving at a faster rate than their predecessors and by the end of the season will be up to four seconds faster than at the first race.

Alongside the normal development on aerodynamics, the rapid improvement of the new hybrid turbo engines is contributing to the leap in performance of the cars. The phenomenon was pointed out by Pirelli’s Paul Hembery, who observed that the the company has to cope with the significant gain in speed in its tyre specifications.

According to JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, the normal pattern with a refined set of regulations such as we had last season is for teams to find 30 points of downforce across a season, which equates to around a second.

But when you have a new set of regulations, such as there were in 2009 and particularly this year, the gains are bigger and come more quickly. This year Gillan forecasts a gain of 60 points for the leading teams, despite reductions in wind tunnel time due to cost saving measures. “This will decline over the next three years down to about 30 pts a year, as you get the inevitable diminishing returns,” said Gillan.

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With new aerodynamic regulations such as we have this year for example, which initially caused significant reduction in rear end downforce, the gains are more significant. It is particularly in the rear end of the car where the teams are finding the gains at the moment, leading to the cars becoming more stable at the back. This should help drivers like Sebastian Vettel, who needs a stable back end of the car to utilise his particular style of driving.

Another important area for the aerodynamics is the closing off of the bodywork, as the teams become more confident on cooling. Ferrari, for example, has tested tighter side pods and engine covers in the past two F1 weekends, with significant gains in performance, as seen yesterday with 3rd fastest time for Alonso.

‘This “shrink wrapped” bodywork helps to energise the floor, where most of an F1 car’s downforce is generated and stabilises the rear wing,’ says Gillan.

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But Ferrari has so far proved cautious in using these new parts in qualifying and the race due to worries about cooling. Once that has been sorted the Ferrari will be a lot more competitive in the race.

At the same time major gains are being made on the power units; this is where much of the other two seconds will be found this year.

The manufacturers are improving their engines all the time through modifications which are supposedly to improve reliability. But they are also fixes for teething issues and optimising the units to deliver to their full potential. There are also big gains coming on fuel from the likes of Petronas (Mercedes) Shell (Ferrari) and Total (Renault).

This weekend for example, Total is providing a new fuel for its Renault engined customers as the development race continues on all levels.

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With such big gains being made, correlation between the wind tunnel and the track is at even more of a premium this year. This is an area where McLaren and Ferrari lost ground in recent years for example.

Williams has seen impressive results from its aerodynamic updates this season. Most of what they have produced in the wind tunnel has translated into performance on the track, as witnessed by their strong performances here and in Canada.

It is vital to have good correlation because the wind tunnel is typically working six weeks ahead, so if things aren’t working now, you cannot look forward, you have to solve today’s problems first. In that lag, a team loses ground against its rivals in the development race and drops a few rows on the grid.

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13 Comments
  1. cheesypoof says:

    James, can you (or anyone) clarify if Ferrari will be using their new parts for qualifying today, or removing them as they did at the past race weekend so they can safely secure 1 or 2 points?

  2. goferet says:

    Well now, the season is shaping nicely for 2015.

    With the cars getting faster by the end of the season + the teams getting back downforce for 2015 + the nose issue having been agreed upon for 2015, this can only mean F1 will get back it’s fan base.

    Yes it’s an amazing job the teams are able to do by finding performance despite limited on track testing but considering the reason why Newey wants to semi-retire from 2015, it would appear the current regulations are engine dominated with no loop holes to exploit.

    In other words, if a team can’t sort out their engine, they might as well be chasing the wind because the teams with the best engines will always be able to push ahead with better innovations.

    Regards Ferrari, am surprised the team hasn’t been able to come up to speed faster considering the wind tunnel correlation problems had been solved, this can only mean Ferrari’s main handicap must be the engine seeing as it’s heavy and all.

    As for Mclaren, they have the engine and are only lacking balance in the cars seeing as Williams is faster.

  3. Andrew M says:

    Although all the cars are improving, the competitive order hasn’t really changed very much. There’s Mercedes a country mile ahead of everyone else, and then a gaggle of Red Bull, Ferrari, Force India and Williams behind them, with McLaren and Torro Rosso scrapping for minor points and Sauber struggling to stay ahead of Marussia and Caterham.

    1. eric morman says:

      you might eat those words now that the Qualifying has finished,
      people seam to have one thing in mind and that is to run this season cars into the ground for not being fast enough, not enough nose, DRS, fuel saving, tire saving.
      yet here we are with some of the most spectacular racing we have seen in possibly 20years,
      out of the 50years of watching F1 this has just been the most terrific season yet.

    2. Steve Zodiac says:

      No testing, no wind tunnel, no CFD, even less testing, even less wind tunnel, even less CFD, scrap Fridays, cut costs, cut cut cut!! F1 has become a lame shadow of the mind blowing spectacle and challenge it once was and all this cutting back is just taking away from the fans+ not really bringing any cost savings as the teams just look for new ways to spend their money. Trouble is if audiences continue to lose interest, the cash will dry up and F1 will (is) die. Never thought I’d see the day but to be honest even I don’t feel driven to watch every detail any more. And I am fed up with being able to hear the spectators clapping instead of the cars.

      1. forestial says:

        I would disagree regarding CFD and wind tunnels. How do those or any of the other aero-related technologies contribute anything to the show? It has been persuasively argued elsewhere that these things make the racing worse by creating difficulty for a following car to overtake.

        This year’s cars with the lack of rear downforce are much better to watch in my opinion because you can see the drivers having to struggle (show some driving skill) to control them.

        Also, almost no-one has any clue what CFD is, so fans have no connection with it. I would also be in favour of cost cutting by outlawing all the mysterious ‘fuel development’ that is going on, since race fans have no understanding of it and again it contributes essentially nothing to the show.

        Technologies must either be understandable to the race watcher, or contribute to advancement of car technology in general, if they are to help keep F1 healthy.

  4. Damonw says:

    I’m not buying that at all, so they are trying to tell me that if they went back to Melbourne at the end of the year they would be as quick as the massively high Redbull of 2010??

    1. Damonw says:

      *downforced

    2. Andrew Carter says:

      I’m doubting the 4s as well, but 2-3? Yes, I can easily see that.

  5. Andrew Carter says:

    You missed the one area that’s probably giving the biggest gains for most of the teams, software, and how it controls the feed in of the ERS power. This seems to be the main area that Merc are getting their big advantage in.

  6. Richard says:

    Full grand stands, 100k turn up, amazing to see so many people to a “new” race in Austria. I am yet to understand why F1 is heading to countries like Singapore, Abu Dhabi, India, Bahrain, China, I am so happy that Korea isn’t on the calender anymore and India should NOT return for 2015. Abu Dhabi and Bahrain probably bought their calender spot anyway, just like Qatar bought their World Cup.

    1. Steve Zodiac says:

      Don’t worry, once the fans have been this year and seen/heard what little is on offer for their over priced tickets the place will be empty next year. The reason F1 goes to places like Abu wotsit etc. is because their Governments cough up the doe so F1 still makes money. Won’t carry on like that forever though and Bernie/the FIA will rue the day he/they abandoned his hardcore of fans.

  7. finster says:

    4 seconds? I have my doubts about that. 1-2 seconds may even be a stretch.

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