Posted on November 23, 2010

The 2010 season was one of the most intense we have ever seen in terms of the rate of technical development. The leading teams did not rest, forever pushing themselves and each other to improve and get a competitive advantage.

Despite the introduction by the teams’ association, FOTA, of the Resource Restriction agreement, there seemed to be no limit to the new parts brought to the cars during race weekends. It was not uncommon to see boxes being wheeled into the paddock on Friday nights, even Saturday mornings with new wings and other updates large and small. Nor was it unusual to hear the sounds of grinding late into the night or shortly before qualifying, as teams worked to fit and adapt last minute changes.

At the height of the credit crunch in the winter of 2008, there were FOTA discussions about limiting the number of updates a team was allowed each season, but that was never voted through. So the well funded teams threw massive effort and resources at improving their cars on a race by race effort and the other teams did what they could afford to do.

Hispania was at the other end of the scale from Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull in that the team did not develop its car at all during the season. Ironically the core concept can’t have been too bad as the car was one second off the fastest Virgin car at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, having been 1.3 seconds off at Barcelona in May! This is despite Virgin bringing several updates to its car, especially at Silverstone.

Because of the total ban on in-season testing, teams were obliged to try out new parts during the three hours of free practice on Fridays even if they had no intention of racing the part that weekend.
And as most teams were forced to incorporate the season’s two must have gizmos – the drag reducing F Duct rear wing and the exhaust blown diffuser, they needed all the practice time they could get. These were complicated aerodynamic devices which tested the best engineers in F1 to the limit.

Fittingly, as the team that invented it, McLaren were still developing the F Duct rear wing right up to the last race. The original design blew the air out of the flap on the wing, but as the season went on and other teams like Force India and Renault found better results from blowing the air out of the main wing element, McLaren tried that too. They first tried it in Suzuka, but struggled to get it working better than the original and that continued until Abu Dhabi, where in Friday practice Lewis Hamilton ran the blown main plane version and Jenson Button ran the original blown flap wing.

Both drivers ended up qualifying and racing the main plane version (see Hamilton drawing below). This seems to have had a more powerful effect on straight line speed. But it didn’t help Hamilton much in the race, as he still could not overtake Robert Kubica with his similarly armed Renault.

The basic flow of the season was that the Ferrari was the fastest car in pre season testing, then the Red Bull proved fastest in the early races. On balance Red Bull remained the fastest car all season, as proven by their 15 pole positions. Both they and Ferrari were forced to copy the F Duct rear wing and Ferrari lost ground while trying to do that. Ferrari also had to incorporate the Red Bull invented exhaust blown diffuser and they had a crude version initially, before getting a more refined and effective version in Valencia. From that point on Ferrari kept refining the car and it was the second fastest behind the Red Bull for the rest of the season.

McLaren fell behind the other two while trying to incorporate the exhaust blown diffuser in early summer and from then on never really seemed to be able to close the gap again. Unlike 2009 where their car improved massively in the second half of the year, they came up just short this time.

Mercedes realised that they had a poor car early on and stopped developing it in the summer, but still found improvements from understanding the set up better in the second half of the season. Williams adopted the F Duct and the blown diffuser, but Rubens Barrichello said that the biggest improvements which made the team regular top ten qualifiers in the second half of the season came from improving driveability. He believes that this has been Williams’ weakness with new cars recently and expects that to be remedied in the 2011 car.

Meanwhile Renault brought many new parts to their car, especially front wings, from a revamped aerodynamics department. They claimed that the fully evolved R30, which did so much damage to Fernando Alonso’s championship hopes in Abu Dhabi, was two seconds per lap faster than the version which raced in Bahrain at the start of the season.

That gain is made up of the F Duct and blown diffuser, both worth roughly 4/10ths of a second per lap, depending on circuit, plus “ten front wing packages, five floors, two engine covers, six rear wing packages, seven front drum and duct packages, and three rear drum and duct packages,” according to the team.

Renault were late to the F Duct party, only bringing it to the car at the Belgian Grand Prix, round 13, but were able to make it work straight away. It was among the first of the F Ducts which stall the wing main plane rather than just the flap.

Overall it has been a very interesting year from a technical point of view and next year will be too. Things to watch out for next year are the return of the KERS , an energy regeneration system, giving a boost to the engine power; the adjustable rear wing, about which there are some misgivings from the drivers and the change of tyres to Pirelli.. We will not see the F Duct again, nor the double diffuser as both have been banned for next season.

Posted on November 10, 2010

The Brazilian Grand Prix was the penultimate round of the 2010 World Championship and many teams have already stopped developing this year’s car and are fully focussed on next year’s.

There are quite a few changes for next year, with the banning of the double diffuser, the introduction of the adjustable rear wing, the switch to Pirelli tyres and the return of KERS. In the paddock in Brazil there was quite a bit of dissatisfaction with KERS coming back.

It was Ferrari who pushed it through, funnily enough around the time they were due to appear before the FIA World Council to face the team orders charges relating to the German Grand Prix.

To make KERS more attractive next year the minimum weight limit has been increased and as a safety net the top teams also pushed through a FOTA edict on weight distribution with between 45.5% and 46.5% front weight distribution. This cuts down the risk of a team which decides not to use KERS being more competitive. The weight distribution has also been done with one eye on the new Pirelli tyres.

Whereas teams like Red Bull and Renault did not use KERS last year, next year they definitely will. The smaller teams are annoyed that they don’t have the opportunity to be competitive without KERS – as Brawn were last year.

Also causing general unhappiness is the cost of the exercise, put at around €10 million per team and the fact that the power output from the KERS has not been increased, to make it more challenging.

But all that is for next year. For this finale to the 2010 season, the teams fighting for the championship are still pushing, with updates to the McLaren and Ferrari noticeable in Sao Paulo.

Ferrari adopted their latest evolution of the blown diffuser with the airflow from the exhausts also blowing inside the side channels. This helps dramatically in terms of improving the efficiency of this element in each of its sections. The Ferrari diffuser differs from the Red Bull’s as it features a horizontal hole rather than a vertical one of the RB6. The central section used in Korea has been modified with more rounded profiles and the additional middle plate in the side channels is no longer present. Ferrari also had some updates to brake ducts, a tiny fin could be seen, showing that the teams were looking for any and all additional downforce possible on this downforce dependent circuit.

The weakness of this year’s Ferrari relative to the Red Bull was in sequences of fast corners like Sector 1 in Suzuka or Becketts at Silverstone. With these small but important increments, Alonso was on a similar race pace to the Red Bulls around Interlagos, while qualifying pace was hard to judge because of the damp track condition. Alonso was particularly fast once the cars switched to the hard tyre after the pit stops.

McLaren again made some detail changes to the front wing (see drawing left) and rear wing of the MP4/25. Noticeable was the return to the standard F Duct with air blowing into the flap of the wing, rather than copying the Force India solution of air blowing downwards into the main plane of the wing, which many teams have found has a more powerful effect (see photo below)

But the main novelty was in the front assembly with a different intermediate splitter under the nose cone. This one in fact is subtly different in its front edge, now slightly rounded and featuring a sort of slightly V shaped entry profile. This improves the efficiency around the front suspension wishbones, in particular diverting in a more efficient way the air flow, divided in two portions, one directed to the engine radiators, and the lower portion underneath the car.

Lewis Hamilton’s car struggled for pace in early part of the race, losing performance from the soft tyre early on. He was faster on the hard tyre after the pit stop.

Posted on October 25, 2010

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.

Posted on October 11, 2010

Suzuka is one of the most technical circuits on the Grand Prix calendar, featuring pretty much every kind of corner that drivers encounter during the year.

The key to a good lap there is the first sector, lasting just over 30 seconds, which requires stable downforce and a strong front end. There is a line through there and when the car gets away from that line, the tenths of a second drop away.

It is crucial to lap time, as a glance as at the sector times from qualifying reveals. The Red Bulls were three tenths faster than their nearest rivals in Sector 1, whereas there were just six hundredths of a second difference between the leading cars in Sector 2 and a similar amount in Sector 3.

There were a few interesting updates to the cars in Japan; Red Bull had a selection of wings to choose from as usual, but the main talking point was McLaren’s update package, which comprised an updated front wing, longer exhausts, a new engine cover and rear wing.

In addition the F-duct was modified, in particular the way the channeled air blows onto the wing. The new version blows onto the main profile, whereas the previous version blew onto the flap. The idea was for the drivers to test the updates out on Friday, Hamilton damaged his in the accident on Friday morning.

Although McLaren scrambled to get a new one sent out in time for qualifying and the race, the team decided not to run it as the Saturday morning practice was washed out. Hamilton managed to qualify third with the old version, before moving back five places on the grid for a gearbox change.

The new exhaust featured a longer pipe curved outwards, close to the rear tyres, and partially covered by a more generous carbon fibre cover.


Renault was the surprise performer in Suzuka, Robert Kubica qualifying ahead of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button and starting third on the grid. The race was shaping up to be very interesting when he took second place from Mark Webber at the start. Sadly he retired soon after when one of his wheels fell off.

Renault’s pace was helped by an interesting and extensive aero development of their R30. The team seems to have had a new front wing or something new on the wing at most of the races this year and they seem to have got it very right with this step, with revised endplates, featuring a bending outwards foremost portion, with a rigid link to the inner vertical fence that supports the small additional winglets. The outermost and slightly rear portion of the endplates, now features a rounded lower cut, to reduce aerodynamic blocking in the area close to the front wheels.

As well as working better in channeling air to the rear end of the car, it clearly gave Kubica a front end he could do business with and it was in Sector 1 that he was able to gain the crucial advantage over Alonso and Button.

Posted on September 27, 2010

I heard an amazing statistic this week in Singapore from the manager of one of the teams. He said that a Formula 1 car has 4,000 parts on it and during a season they change up to a quarter of them!

The aim of course of all this development is to lower the lap time and Renault boss Eric Boullier told me that since Bahrain the Renault has improved by 1.7 seconds a lap.

Singapore is always a significant date technically because for most teams it is the last opportunity to bring a major package of upgrades to the car. From now on the cars will not return to the factory again until after the season has finished, even after the Abu Dhabi tests. That’s not to say that there will not be new parts on the cars in the remaining races, but they will have to be flown out in engineer’s luggage and they will be individual components rather than packages.

In sharp contrast to the last race in Monza, Singapore is all about downforce, the more the better. So you see more elements on the front wings and some very elaborate designs.

Red Bull are really going for it. There were sounds of grinding coming from their garage in the early hours of Saturday morning as new bodywork parts were fine tuned before being fitted for FP3 and qualifying. Here they had not one, but two new specifications of front wing and there was one of each for both drivers. They did back to back tests on them during Friday practice. The aim, as with all the teams’ updates, was to find more downforce and to improve the airflow to the floor and the rest of the car to improve stability and driveability. Look at how steeply angled the main element is. Both drivers used the same wing for qualifying and the race.

Ferrari were interesting to watch during the weekend, trying various configurations during practice, making the most of the track time. They had a new Singapore front wing, with the outer element of the endplate further back than before and a different main element. But they also had wings of the type used in Monaco and Silverstone. Alonso raced the new wing.

Alonso's car without F Duct channel to rear wing

In Friday afternoon practice they did a comparison test between the F Duct rear wing and no F Duct. Alonso said on Friday night that he thought it was better with the F Duct, but then his car appeared without it for qualifying and he stuck it on pole. This was because the simulations for qualifying and the race showed that the car would be faster here without it, the extra downforce more than making up for the additional speed the F Duct wing would give on the straight. On this occasion Alonso was willing to sideline his instincts in the face of raw data.

..and Massa's with the F Duct channel

McLaren were miles off the pace the last time we went to a high downforce and bumpy circuit, in Hungary. Here they were more competitive and part of that has to do with the way that they have evolved the rear end aerodynamics. This has allowed them to run the suspension softer and that helped over the bumps.

McLaren had a sumptuous looking new front wing on display this weekend, based on the main profile introduced at Silverstone. This layout has the purpose to separate the airflow into two channels, but with both directing airflow around the outside of the front tyres . There is so much detail in this wing, check out the tiny fin vents on the inside of the top element. And contrast the complexity of this wing with the simplicity of the Ferrari one. McLaren ran a back to back comparison between this wing and the previous version and Button opted to run the new one.

In contrast to all of the above we have Hispania’s car, built by Dallara. This car has basically not had any development on it at all.

The high downforce wing in Singapore is the same as...

The most stark illustration of this is the front wing. If you compare their front wing for the low downforce Monza circuit and for the high downforce Singapore circuit you will see quite clearly that they are exactly the same!

For reference the Hispania was 3.75 seconds off the pace in Turkey, earlier in the season and here in Singapore it was 6.4 seconds.

..the low downforce wing in Monza

A tough race for Brakes
With new rules for 2010 requiring drivers to start the race with full fuel loads, Singapore has become one of the toughest races on the calendar for the brakes. The reason for this is not because there are many big stops from high to low speed. Rather it is the lack of cooling opportunities.

There are 17 braking moments on every lap and an incredible 21% of the lap time is spent braking – that’s 22 seconds of braking in a 1m 45s lap. On two occasions the driver has to put over 100kg of pressure on the brake pedal. If the carbon discs and pads are not given a chance to dissipate the heat and cool down their performance fades, so getting the brake ducts right to finding ways of cooling them is critical.

The brake discs were 28mm thick at the start or the race and during the course of the Singapore Grand Prix they wore down to just 22mm. A set of brake discs and pads for each F1 car costs £10,000 and at the end of the 61 lap race they are thrown in the bin.

Posted on September 14, 2010

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the fastest event of the season and it is a unique layout as far as F1 is concerned. The average speed of the lap is 250km/h and the top speed is 345km/h. It is essentially a series of long straights linked with chicanes. There are only three corners; the two Lesmo bends and the Parabolica.

Because of the relative amounts of time spent on the straights and in the corners, teams have traditionally chosen to run the cars in ultra low downforce configuration to minimise drag on the straights, considering this to be a greater gain than having extra speed through the corners. A car using Monza wings will generate 25% less downforce than the same car with Monaco wings on.

But this year the drag reducing F Duct rear wing has changed the game. This is a device which allows engineers to have their cake and eat it – in other words they can have low drag without sacrificing downforce.

Interestingly Ferrari’s top speed at the weekend was more or less the same as last year at 338km/h, but the lap time was 6/10ths faster this year. Much of that is to due to the F Duct.

Engineers I spoke who had carried out direct comparison tests on Friday found that the F Duct was up to half a second faster than the low downforce specification. But only those with an efficient system.

And as there is something to be gained from having a bit of extra downforce in the three corners and in stability under braking, there was an advantage to using the F Duct – but only if you have an efficient system, which sheds enough drag and doesn’t lose downforce.

Therefore a glance at the teams who chose to race without the F Duct – Mercedes and Force India being the most obvious examples – reveals the teams with the system which is the least efficient, and therefore they were too slow in a straight line with it fitted.

One of the things which made it such an interesting weekend was that there was a mix of solutions. And one of the secrets of success this weekend was having a Monza wing with an F Duct in it, rather than a compromise wing.

Button's F Duct, note steep wing angle

McLaren’s drivers went different ways. Jenson Button went for the F Duct and a higher level of downforce than any other driver, preferring the feel of the car in the corners, while Lewis Hamilton went the traditional route with skinny rear wings. After qualifying he was wondering whether he had made a mistake, as he was down in fifth while Button was second. We will never know how it might have panned out in the race as Hamilton crashed on the opening lap.

Hamilton's low downforce wing without F Duct

However on closer inspection it seems that McLaren might have got lucky at the weekend. They said some time ago that they were not planning on using an F Duct at Monza and the wing that they turned up with was actually the Spa wing with the F Duct, according to engineers I spoke to.

In other words, unlike Ferrari they had not built a specific Monza spec wing with F Duct. It worked well enough for Button, but one wonders whether that fraction of extra straight line speed for Ferrari might have just made the difference.

Ferrari’s solution featured a smaller air pipe inside the engine cover. Also the wing had a smaller flap with a completely flat profile, the main profile was completely flat.

Renault too had a Spa wing and it wasn’t fantastic, hence Kubica’s relatively poor 9th place on the grid.

Engine use
Most drivers opted to use a new engine for qualifying and the race. The engines are at full throttle for 73% of the lap in Monza, the most of any circuit, so a fresh unit is considered an advantage.

All drivers are allowed a maximum of eight engines per season and most of them took a seventh new engine at Monza, with the exception of the two Renault drivers (6th engine), the two Ferrari drivers (8th engine). Other exceptions this weekend were drivers who opted not to use a new engine, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello, who have used six engines each and Pedro de la Rosa, who has now used nine. His car will be taken over by Nick Heidfeld at the next round and he will carry on with the same allocation of engines.

Engines used so far in 2010 season
01 McLaren Mercedes Jenson Button 7
02 McLaren Mercedes Lewis Hamilton 7
03 Mercedes Benz Michael Schumacher 7
04 Mercedes Benz Nico Rosberg 7
05 RBR Renault Sebastian Vettel 7
06 RBR Renault Mark Webber 6
07 Ferrari Felipe Massa 8
08 Ferrari Fernando Alonso 8
09 Williams Cosworth Rubens Barrichello 6
10 Williams Cosworth Nico Hülkenberg 7
11 Renault Robert Kubica 6
12 Renault Vitaly Pertrov 6
14 Force India Mercedes Adrian Sutil 7
15 Force India Mercedes Vitantonio Liuzzi 7
16 STR Ferrari Sébastien Buemi 7
17 STR Ferrari Jaime Alguersuari 7
18 Lotus Cosworth Jarno Trulli 7
19 Lotus Cosworth Heikki Kovalainen 7
20 HRT Cosworth Sakon Yamamoto 7
21 HRT Cosworth Bruno Senna 7
22 BMW Sauber Ferrari Pedro De La Rosa 9 (Nick Heidfeld’s car now)
23 BMW Sauber Ferrari Kamui Kobayashi 7
24 Virgin Cosworth Timo Glock 7
25 Virgin Cosworth Lucas Di Grassi 7

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 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 July 26, 2010

The German Grand Prix at Hockenheim will be remembered for the team orders row which blew up after Ferrari ordered Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso through, but it was also notable as a confirmation that Ferrari has made great progress with its car after a period in the first third of the season where it fell behind in development.

Unlike Red Bull and McLaren, Ferrari has been obliged to copy both of the key technical innovations of the 2010 season; the F Duct rear wing and the blown diffuser. McLaren invented the former and Red Bull the latter so both have had half the work to do compared to Ferrari in overall incorporation of new tech.

Ferrari worked first on the F Duct and got bogged down with it, then the blown diffuser was introduced later. The signs were clear in Montreal that Ferrari had taken a step forward and then in Valencia they introduced the blown diffuser. In Silverstone the step in performance was confirmed with Alonso being barely a tenth off the Red Bulls through practice and the early part of qualifying, but at Hockenheim it all came together and Fernando Alonso qualified on the front row, with Massa just behind. In the race, Ferrari had better race pace than Red Bull, indicating that they are contenders for the second half of the season.

Ferrari updates get them in the game
Hockenheim was the third outing of the blown diffuser introduced in Valencia and detailed changes to the exhausts and floor optimised the solution together with a refinement of the F-duct system. Ferrari have modified the side channels of their diffuser. This one now sports a wider and diagonal opening compared to the standard perpendicular one seen in Valencia when the solution was introduced the first time.

Ferrari also had a step on the front wing, which improved the overall downforce and stablity of the car, leading both drivers to talk of greatly improved grip and driveability. Another big step from Ferrari is due at the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, where heavily revised back end aerodynamics will be brought out.

Mercedes rear wing
Mercedes, for its home race brought an array of small developments, the main one being to the rear wing main profile, now featuring two big slits in its central section, to increase the efficiency of this element producing a slightly increased downforce load. The main feature is a double large opening, placed in the middle section of the main profile, mimicking the effect of an additional flap. This solution helps in terms of increasing the downforce load generated by the wing. Mercedes do not have the full active F Duct system operated by the drivers, as used by its rivals, they have a more passive system. It was useful in Germany, although the car is still short of the pace of its rivals and will be even more useful in Hungary.

McLaren blown diffuser
McLaren ran the blown diffuser all weekend in Germany, although their deficit to Ferrari and Red Bull in qualifying and at the end of the race indicates that there is still work to be done to optimise it. In Silverstone they removed it after Friday practice because it was overheating components in the rear suspension and the on-off nature of the exhaust gas pressure, combined with the bumps in the Silverstone track was causing instability.

In Germany they introduced modifications to reduce the overheating problems and now the exhaust pipes are in a more external position , sporting a diagonal cut instead of the perpendicular one adopted previously. This is still a work in progress and McLaren now need to add the next step in performance to stay with the Red Bulls and Ferraris.

Posted on July 12, 2010

This weekend we have been at Silverstone, a classic track but one that has undergone a facelift for this season with new sections on the second half of the lap.

As usual there were plenty of interesting technical updates on the cars, with teams catching up on the trends of the season and adding either exhaust blown diffusers or drag reducing F Duct rear wings, or in the case of Williams, both.

Following on from the rush of exhaust blown diffusers we saw coming onto the cars in Valencia, McLaren had been working towards Germany but fast tracked the update and brought theirs to Silverstone for testing in Friday practice. It was the main feature of a major upgrade package, along with a new front wing.

The system means that the exhaust outlets need to be placed lower near the floor of the car and this causes some problems with overheating the rear suspension, if you are not careful.

Red Bull pioneered the technology and has really maximised it. They blow the exhaust gas through a slot which energises the airflow through the diffuser. It is this slot which the Red Bull mechanics are so keen for people not to see when the car is on the grid. But this is a bit of a pointless exercise, as teams have photographers taking digital images of the cars as they drive down the pit lane!

One of Red Bull’s secrets is a setting on the Renault engine for use on the final crucial lap in qualifying, whereby the ignition is retarded on the over-run, which maintains exhaust gas pressure even when the driver lifts off the throttle. This maintains the performance of the blown diffuser and keeps the downforce up when it’s most needed. It thus avoids the main problem of an exhaust blown diffuser whereby when a driver lifts off the throttle for a corner, the downforce goes missing when you most need it and the rear stability changes.

It’s not something you can do for more than a lap or two as the temperatures go sky high, which damages the engine, but it gives that vital fraction of a second which keeps Red Bull ahead of the rest in qualifying.

But one of the problems with running the exhausts low is that the components at the back of the car get very hot. McLaren’s lower wishbone featured a wide insulating cover to prevent overheating. The side sections of the diffuser featured an upper insulating plate, and underneath and they were painted with an insulating coating. But these precautions didn’t prevent the diffuser slightly changing shape due to the high temperatures, and this caused some rear end instability. So the diffuser was dropped for this weekend and McLaren had a rush on to balance the car with the new front wing but without the rear end package.

Their performance in the race on Sunday was quite remarkable given how much work there was to do after Friday’s problems.

Red Bull Front wing

The standard wing Webber qualified and raced with

The most talked about technical story of the weekend was the decision by the Red Bull team to use its new front wing on one car only, that of Sebastian Vettel. The team brought two of the new units to Silverstone, but the one on Vettel’s car broke a mounting during Saturday morning practice. So the team decided to take the wing off Webber’s car and put it on Vettel’s car for qualifying and the race, which angered Webber.

Vettel's wing on the Silverstone grid

The pair had been doing comparison tests during practice and the team says that Webber and his engineer were not sold on the new wing by the time the decision was taken. The new wing has two main visible differences; it has a double slot on the side of the end plate and the horizontal plate at the outer edge of the wing is also double.

Ferrari updates

Ferrari brought an update to its rear suspension at Silverstone, to cope better with the overheating issue caused by the blown diffuser.

Increasingly the teams use Friday as a test session for new components and if they perform well they may continue on the car for the rest of the weekend, otherwise they may be taken off and used again at a subsequent event once some refinement has taken place.

On Friday, for example, Ferrari did a comparison run of the two cars with Massa using the drag reducing rear wing in the morning and Alonso using it in the afternoon. It was decided from that test to use the F Duct wing for the remainder of the weekend and Alonso managed to qualify third on the grid with it.

Posted on June 28, 2010

This weekend’s European Grand Prix at Valencia is a significant event in the story of the season from a technical point of view as it was the race where many teams unveiled a device which copies the Red Bull’s “blown diffuser”.

Last year three teams started the season with a double diffuser and, after establishing the legality of it, the rest of the field was forced to follow suit, including Red Bull. This year’s “must haves” so far have been the McLaren F Duct wing and now the blown diffuser. Red Bull is the pioneer and Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault have followed them this weekend. McLaren and Force India are due to follow at Silverstone.

On the grid this season the Red Bull mechanics have been carefully masking the diffuser from view. Although they do have something interesting to hide, in F1 this is often a bluff, indicating that the most interesting part of the car is somewhere else, but they want you to focus on the diffuser!

A blown diffuser is basically a way of using the exhaust gases to interact with the diffuser, which sits at the back of the car at the end of the floor. There are two main purposes for this;

* to try to move the wake from the rear wheels outwards where it will cause less disturbance

* to re-energise the low pressure air at the very back of the diffuser to create more rear downforce.

Rear downforce is important for driver confidence, if the driver feels good rear end stability he will push harder, so the gain on the stopwatch from this kind of development is often not what a simulator tells you it will be, but what the driver actually delivers from it.

The irony is that blown diffuser is not a new concept, unlike F Duct wings or double diffusers. Renault had one in the early 1980s, Frank Dernie put one on the Williams of Nigel Mansell in the mid 1980s and they were common from 1985 onwards. Adrian Newey’s team at Red Bull didn’t invent it, they revived it. The early ones were crude in that the rear of the car often became less stable when the driver lifted off the throttle. Everyone knows a but more about the science now.

They went out of the sport in the mid 1990s due to a change of wording in the rules, but Newey felt that the current rules would make it worth trying again.

The blown element operates independently of the “double” element of the diffuser and whereas double diffusers are banned from next season, the blown diffuser is here to stay.

The Ferrari’s exhaust exits have been moved from the high exit in the top bodywork, which they pioneered in the early 2000s, to the low exit near the floor to feed the diffuser. They stop slightly shorter than the Red Bull ones.

Low exhausts heat everything up in the area behind them and there is a risk here. Less widely reported, there was a new Ferrari gearbox this weekend, only on Felipe Massa’s car, designed to raise the pick-up points of the lower wishbone, in order to keep it away from the hot gases from the low exhausts.

Keeping temperatures under control is important and it was intersting to see a series of red stripes on the rear side section of the Ferrari diffuser. These stripes are of a special paint, which changes its colour in relation to the different temperature of the surface where its applied. In this way the Ferrari engineers could see which part of the diffuser reaches too high a temperature due to the hot gases directly blowing on them.

Ferrari’s update also includes new cooling ideas in the radiators and bodywork for the series of warm weather races coming up in the summer, as they have had problems with the engines in hot countries earlier this season.

This is an important update for Ferrari, who started the season as the pace setters but then lost ground as they got bogged down with developing the F Duct rear wing at the cost of other avenues. Meanwhile McLaren, Mercedes and Renault all stole a march on them.

Renault also had significant upgrades, including the blown diffuser. In this illustration by our technical artist Paolo Filisetti, you can see the old style high exhausts at the top and the new low style ones at the bottom.

Renault continue to push hard, they brought the 22nd iteration of their front wing to Valencia, the ninth race of the season.

And finally Lotus had a good qualifying session in Valencia, with Jarno Trulli the fastest of the new teams, increasing the margin over the other new teams to 1.4 seconds. That said the gap to the slowest of the established teams, ironically Kobayashi’s Sauber, had also grown to over a second.

One key update for Lotus this weekend was a new front wing solution, which owes a lot to design ideas on last year’s Toyota. Many of the engineers at Lotus came from Toyota so this is not altogether surprising.

Posted on June 12, 2010

This weekend we are back in Canada after a one year absence. The track is quite different in character from the circuits we have visited so far this season and it is an interesting indication of how the cars perform in a lower downforce configuration.

Montreal is based on a series of chicanes and long straights without a fast corner to its name. As a result the cars run the second lowest level of downforce of the season, after Monza.

To illustrate the difference in detail, take a look at this drawing of the Renault front wing from Turkey and compare it with the photograph of the wing as they have brought it here.

For Montreal they have lost the small upper winglet elements because they don’t need the extra downforce they bring and they don’t want the drag. The wing keeps the same basic philosophy, particularly with the elegant multiple channels on the endplate but it is a good illustration of the differences between a track like Istanbul and a track like Montreal.

It is noticeable, talking to engineers from other teams, how Renault seems to be making small but confident steps at every race. In Istanbul the car was faster than the Ferrari and this seems to be a team on the move. If Mercedes back off on development in the second half of the season, as has been suggested, then Renault may well finish ahead of them in the championship. After their humiliations last year both on track and over the Singapore crash scandal, Renault is an increasingly confident team.

A real brake killer
One of the problems with reducing the downforce on the cars is that the drag effect is not available to the cars when it comes to braking. Montreal is easily the hardest circuit on the calendar on brakes in terms of big, punishing stops. Monaco can be very hard on brakes because they are in use all the time and never get a chance to cool down, which can tip them over the edge.

But for big, brutal stops you cannot beat Montreal and this year the challenge is even greater in the race because the cars are carrying 160 kilos of fuel at the start. We can expect some teams to have brake problems, it’s just a question of how severe they are. The driver spends 16% of the lap time pressing the brake pedal here, which is quite high in addition to the severity of the stops.

According to Brembo, there are seven stops here of which the hardest is the final chicane, where the cars brake from 320km/h to 140km/h in just over 100 metres, which is a deceleration of almost 5g. But this isn’t the one that really kills the brakes, because they have had a chance to cool down on the long straight. It’s the stop at the hairpin which kills them.

For the hairpin the cars go from 290km/h to 60km/h but because the drivers have used the brakes twice relatively soon before, the brakes are already very hot when they are applied for the hairpin. Most of the teams have larger brake ducts here this weekend to help with this problem.

Red Bull F Duct The next talking point from a technical point of view is ironically, something which isn’t here this weekend; the Red Bull F Duct rear wing. The team tested it in practice in Istanbul, but did not use it for qualifying and the race. However our technical artist Paolo Filisetti, obtained some insights into what goes on beneath the skin, which you can see in this drawing.

The main channel is the top one and this puts the air flow out through the channel in the rear of the wing. The lower one has an exit (inset in the drawing) below the rear wing, which puts the air out underneath the wing. This helps to increase the stall, in other words to increase the effect by which the wing sheds drag. It is controlled by a fluidic switch, which is essentially a switch triggered by airflow.

However after trialling it in Turkey, they decided not to bring it to Montreal, where it would have been of great value with the long straights. The team wasn’t satisfied with the way it worked in Turkey, as it drained downforce away. This is something most teams are finding as they try to copy McLaren’s breakthrough.

The specific reason why they have chosen not to even bring it here is that the rear wings are not very high downforce in the first place. Also its likely that they have been focussed on getting it to work on the kind of wing they use for 70% of the races, rather than waste resources on getting it to work on a Canada wing.

McLaren have gone to that effort and they have made a new Canada specification rear wing specifically to work with the F Duct.

There are some suggestions among engineers that taking this line of thinking to its conclusion, we might not see anyone using the F Duct in Monza. Although this sounds counter intuitive with straight line speed the order of the day, in fact the downforce levels are so minimal in the first place there is less need to shed drag.

Posted on May 28, 2010

This weekend the F1 teams are racing in Istanbul, one of the newer circuits on the calendar, which features a celebrated corner.

Istanbul’s mighty Turn 8
All F1 fans love seeing high speed corners and the ultimate is Turn 8, not a particularly romantic or iconic name, but a corner which excites both fans and drivers alike. Turn 8 is one of the longest corners in F1; the cars spend eight seconds going through it, covering 600 metres before they exit onto the back straight. The average speed for the corner is 260km/h and the peak is 270 km/h.

According to the Renault team, “the g-force stats are just as impressive with the drivers experiencing an average lateral force of 4.3 g during those eight seconds, with a peak of 5.2g.”

But, believe it or not, the teams do not set the cars up around performance through that corner. That said, it is important to set the ride height correctly to allow for the bumps, especially when the cars are full of fuel.

According to the engineers, Turn 8 is not anything like as significant in terms of lap time as Eau Rouge at Spa or Turn 9 at Barcelona, both of which give out onto long straights. If you are three or four kilometres an hour slower through those corners, it can cost you as many tenths at the end of the following straight. Turn eight has a short following it.

In practice on Friday we saw lots of cars flying off the road at Turn 8. This is partly because of the bumps and partly because of the lack of risk.

Drivers take calculated risks in every corner as they try to find the limit in the short time available for practice. The reason why so many of them fly off at Turn 8 is because the huge run off areas allow them to try to find the limit as quickly as possible. Drivers take their time to find the limits and Monaco or Montreal where the track is lined with walls. Conversely, they crash all the time on the simulators!

New Tech on the cars
This weekend there are some eye-catching new things on the cars, including another new front wing on the Renault, which is quite different in concept from the previous ones (compare to previous Tech Reports).

Ferrari has an evolution of its double diffuser, but the main talking point has been the introduction of the drag reducing rear wing on the Red Bull. Up to now the team has delayed it, because the harm it did to downforce levels was greater than the gain from extra speed on the straights.

The value of the system was shown by the speed the McLarens had in practice. It is worth around 4/10ths of a second a lap and gives a gain of around 10km/h, if you get it right.

McLaren were the pioneers of the system. It was a finely balanced decision but Red Bull decided after practice not to go with it for qualifying and the race. They will take the learnings from today’s test and hold it over to Montreal where it will be a massive gain due to the long straights. As Montreal has no fast corners, a Red Bull strength, they will be looking to claw back performance from the rear wing.

McLaren’s car was designed around the concept, so they have an air intake hole in the optimum place on the top of the chassis, just ahead of the driver’s knee, with which he switches the wing on. Other teams trying to copy it have found it hard to get sufficient air into the system to have an effect when it exits through the duct at the back of the wing.

Engineers say that a fully functional system is worth 4/10ths of a second per lap at Istanbul.

Telemetry in F1

I've been looking into where telemetry technology is up to these days with Virgin Racing. During a 90 minute session the team will collect between 5 and 6 gigabytes of data from the car. It comes off the car in a raw format over radio.

The car transmits at 2 megabits. The transmitter is placed in the sidepod and then a cable runs to an an antenna on the nose on the car.

Data is transmitted from the car using the standardised McLaren electronic system and is picked up by an antenna on the roof of the race truck, behind the pits. The data then goes into the garage to a telemetry receiver rack. The signal is encypted to keep everyone's data separate.

The data is then decoded and converted into a signal that can be understood by a PC. It goes through a software system called Atlas, which displays the telemetry channels for the engineers. This is the suite which displays all the wavy lines on the screen.

The system is connected via internet to the factory in the UK

CSC's Darren Lunn (L) with Virgin's head of IT Joe Birkett (R) analyse the data

The main things that the engineers are looking at are things that could stop the car from running, such as gearbox and hydraulic temperatures and pressures.

The race engineers and drivers look at steering, throttle and brake inputs. There is a sensor on the car which detects when the tyres are slipping across the surface of the track. It measures driver inputs compared to how the car is reacting.

Working with the telemetry data, a large part of the time is spent working on the differential, the most tunable part of the car. The differential, which allows the two rear wheels to rotate at different speeds, can be adjusted for corner entry, mid corner and corner exit. It plays a big role in cornering stability and done well can contribute a lot to the lap time.

You often see the drivers studying telemetry print out sheets. So what is on them? It is mainly the driver inputs; throttle, steering and brakes. If one driver is doing a better lap time than the other, they can look at the traces and see what the inputs are compared to the car speed and that tells them how they can improve by using the controls differently.

In this Virgin telemetry print out, the wavy lines represent (from top to bottom) Revs, Gear, Car Speed, Delta time between runs, Steering angle, throttle and brake pressure overlaid.

For the Virgin Racing team the IT is managed by CSC, who take care of all the telemetry management as well as setting up the a broadband network for the team at every race.

It takes a day and a half of set up time before each Grand Prix to build the IT system, rigging the cables and the racks, connecting the connections to the car.

Posted on May 17, 2010

This weekend the teams faced up to the challenges of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, one of the most famous but also most difficult circuits on the calendar.

Monaco is a unique circuit and calls for some particular details in the technical preparation of the cars, which you will not find anywhere else.

The main one is the steering lock, which needs to be 21 degrees in order to get round the Loews hairpin. Normally an F1 car has a steering lock of 17 degrees.

It is possible to run a standard steering lock and still make the turn, but engineers tell me that it is around 3/10ths of a second slower, so everybody runs the extended steering range.

The brake calipers get quite hot here so there is extra ducting to them. Some of the new teams found that they had not factored in enough cooling and struggled in the race.

The other point to make is that the cars use less fuel to cover the race distance here. Around 125 kilos instead of the 160 they use at many tracks.

And there are quite a few wrong assumptions, such as the idea that you need to run the suspension soft. In fact very stiff set ups can work very well in Monaco. Look at slow motion shots of Robert Kubica attacking the kerbs and you’ll see what I mean.

Monaco is unusual because you need very little entry stability to corners, all the braking is straight. Then you need to be able to turn without understeer. If you can manage that then traction comes because car is turned and pointing straight. Traction in a straight line has a significant effect on lap time, so a rearward weight distribution is beneficial. But there is a trade-off because this can add rear tyre wear, which is often a problem in the race, particularly on the super soft tyre as we saw last year here.

New tech on the cars
There were not many technical updates on view this weekend, more Monaco specific details looking for extra downforce and traction.

Ferrari did not use its drag reducing (F Duct) rear wing here but they did have an additional couple of winglets placed one each side of the shark fin.

This was done to increase the downforce generated at the level of the rear axle so to improve the traction on this very slow circuit. The wing angle was of course at its maximum figure both front and rear.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali revealed this weekend that the F Duct rear wing needs some work before its reintroduction in Turkey because, although it gave the team the fastest car through the speed traps, the team found in Spain that it took overall downforce away from the car and this is a handicap in competition with the Red Bull.

Red Bull’s technical wizardry
Red Bull had many teams scratching their heads after qualifying almost one second clear of the rest in Spain. Again in Monaco the margin of pole position was 3/10ths of a second, which is a lot. The team does not yet have a drag reducing rear wing and its Renault engine is considered not as powerful as the Mercedes. This meant that it was 20th through the speed trap on Saturday, some 9km/h down on the Ferraris. However it made up for that in its speed around the corners, thanks to its high level of downforce.

The secret of the Red Bull is the multiple little details which ensure that the bodywork of the car is optimised to work with the airflow that comes off the front wing and gives the massive diffuser the best chance to function. Red Bull were making microscopic changes to the front wings in Spain, adding a tiny gurney flay to the top element in practice to fine tune this.

The bodywork at the rear of the car is incredibly slender and low it is designed to clean up the airflow. The exhausts have been repositioned low and the technical team has introduced small slots just in front of the rear wheels, all tiny details to optimise the car. The result is a well balanced, aerodynamically efficient missile, perfectly in tune with itself.

Mercedes revert to shorter wheelbase
Mercedes reverted to the standard wheelbase on its car for Monaco, after extending it by 5cm in Barcelona. The shorter wheelbase is more suitable for the dynamic demands of the tight circuit. The longer wheelbase is designed to give the car more of a range of options on weight distribution.

Mercedes will revert to the longer wheelbase for the next Grand Prix in Turkey.

Posted on May 7, 2010

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.

Posted on April 16, 2010

The Chinese Grand Prix is the fourth race in six weeks, all of which have been in long-haul destinations. But in the two weeks since Malaysia, some teams have been able to produce a host of technical updates to the cars, while others are saving up their work for one substantial upgrade in Barcelona in three weeks time.

Here, in layman’s terms, is a look at some of the tech stories from this weekend in Shanghai.

Shanghai has gone F duct crazy

The rear wing concept known as the “F-duct” or “drag-reducing rear wing”, pioneered this season by McLaren, has really caught on now and three other teams are running with their own version of it this weekend in Shanghai. Sauber, Ferrari and Mercedes are all chasing those vital three to four tenths of a second it brings.

Meanwhile a fourth, Williams, have the parts to run their version but they are currently in transit to Shanghai.

The drag reducing rear wing is one of those classic F1 tech stories, where someone makes a breakthrough, everyone questions its legality, then is forced to copy it so it ends up with the competitive advantage being neutralised because they’ve all got them. In the mean time McLaren will enjoy an advantage, which has certainly helped Lewis Hamilton in particular, make plenty of great overtaking moves thanks to his extra speed on the straights.

Sauber introduced theirs in Melbourne (left). It takes air from an inlet duct on the left sidepod and channels it down the fin to the rear wing. Mercedes tried one today, which takes the air from a small hole in the monocoque, previously used for ventilation.

Ferrari have the long fin fitted to the rear wing, down which the air passes, which then exits through a slot in the rear of the wing. It is fitted only to Alonso’s car, but we are told that they have not been able to work on it today, due to the loss of Alonso’s engine in first practice and the need to work through other programmes in the time available this afternoon. Interestingly the Ferrari was still only 1 km/h slower on the straight than the McLaren today at 311km/h.

Interestingly Ferrari’s air intake is above the driver’s head, at the side of the fin. The clever part of these wings is that they are only switched on when needed – ie on the straight, so the question arises of how Ferrari’s drivers will activate the switch, possibly with some hand control which pipes air down the fin.

McLaren invented the idea of blowing air out of a narrow slot the back of the wing (left) to separate the airflow which passes underneath and behind the wing, in order to separate that airflow, which normally causes drag. By doing so, they shed drag and get a straight line speed advantage of around 5 to 6km/h. On a circuit with a long straight, like Shanghai, that can be a significant advantage, up to four tenths of a second.

Although everyone is rushing to copy it, McLaren Engineering Director Paddy Lowe said this week that his staff have already reached all the benefit you can get from this technology, it is certainly not a technology which has much more to come from it.

The great ride height debate

Another major technical talking point which has dominated the first few races is the legality of adjustable ride heights to allow the car to run low to the ground in qualifying, but then raise up by as much as 3mm before the race, to allow for the extra 160 kilos of fuel weight. Rival engineers suspect that Red Bull has such a system, but the team has strenuously denied it. After the last race in Malaysia, the FIA issued a clarification stating that “Any system device or procedure, the purpose and/or effect of which is to change the set-up of the suspension, while the car is under parc ferme conditions will be deemed to contravene art 34.5 of the sporting regulations.”

Any change to the suspension in parc ferme (which is between qualifying and the start of the race) means that the driver must start from the pit lane. Other teams have worked on systems which attempt to find a loophole in this rule. One team invented a system which quietly rose up by 3mm in the garage all by itself during the night, but decided not to run it on the car this year because of legality concerns.

You can see why the teams would want to do it. It’s potentially worth 3 or 4 tenths of a second per lap in qualifying and the engineers tell me that they have worked out that every 1/10th of performance you gain in qualifying is worth 4/10ths in the race, because it gives you better track position. The no-refueling rule has stretched the value of grid position to such an extent, because it is so hard to overtake now in the race without refueling strategy.

Renault gets stabilised

Renault have had two strong races in a row and Robert Kubica is only nine points off the championship lead, mainly thanks to a pair of fantastic starts in Melbourne, where he went from 9th to 4th and Malaysia, where he went from 6th to 4th.

However there is more to it than that. The Pole’s lap times from the first race in Bahrain and the ones which followed in Australia and Malaysia show a strong development from Renault, as they move closer to the pace of the front runners.

Bahrain – Quali = – 1.7 secs (slower than fastest lap)
Race = – 2 secs

Melbourne – Quali = – 1.3 secs
Race = – 1.2 secs

Race = – 1 sec. ( Quali was wet)

The team is catching up after a tough winter with uncertainty over its future, before it was bought in December by internet entrepreneur Gerard Lopes.

The car showed modest pace in pre-season testing and in Bahrain, but took a step forward in Australia, thanks partly to a new front wing (pictured left).

And in China they have come along with a further front wing update. Kubica used it in second practice and said afterwards that it “improved the front-end stability.”

They have also brought a new floor, but he says that this hasn’t proved its worth in practice today and it is to be taken off the car.

Compare this with the photo above. A lot of work has gone into the curvature of the upper front element and particularly into the detailing of the end plates. The new ones feature (1) a shorter and less vertical fin than the Melbourne wing and (2) a squarer end to the upper element.

As we explained last time, the front wing has a bigger effect on the overall aerodynamics of the car under the current rules than previous rules, and the “outwash” wings replicate some of the work channeling dirty air away from the back of the car, done previously by the bargeboards which sat behind the front wheels. The front wing is not just about creating downforce to stick the front of the car to the track, it is about channeling air to the floor and to the diffuser and helping the overall downforce level of the car.

Here what we are seeing, according to F1 engineers canvassed for this article, is a wing development which is not primarily about adding front downforce, but rather is about cleaning up flow to the rest of the car and crucially, adding stability when the front wheels are turning through a corner. These tiny details on the front wing are working for that and it seems to be working.

Sharp braking

The 3.3km Shanghai circuit is quite hard on brakes. According to brake manufacturer Brembo, 13% of the lap time is spent braking. Although the track features 16 corners, there are just eight braking events per lap, the harshest being at the end of the long straight for Turn 14, where the cars decelerate from 313km/h to 73 km/h in three seconds – a braking distance of only 140 metres.

The drivers also dab the brakes for 0.8 of a second into Turn 1, a similar amount for Turn 3, then shed 200km/h in 2.6 seconds at Turn 6. They give them the smallest of dabs in the 212km/h Turn 8 and another longer dab at Turn 9. Then comes the all important set up for Turn 13, which starts with braking for Turn 11, from 278km/h to 93km/h.

After the big stop for Turn 14, there is a tricky little stab on the brakes in the final corner onto the pit straight, lasting 0.8 sec, to get the car down from 249km/h to 177 km/h.

Brembo supplies six teams with brakes; Ferrari, Mercedes, Sauber, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Hispania.

Posted on April 2, 2010

Ever wondered why F1 designers go to such extraordinary lengths to refine the design of the front wings and particularly the endplates? Top teams bring something new in this area to almost every race.

When you drill down into this area of the car’s design, you realise that it has far more effect on the aerodynamics than the much discussed double diffuser – probably five to ten times more effect!

Double Diffusers grab all the headlines, largely because of the legality issues, but they are nothing like as important to an F1 car as the barely discussed “outwash” front wing.

So this week we’re going to give the outwash wing, the spotlight it deserves.

The front wing tip vortex and the front wheel wake are the most important things to control in F1 aerodynamics. You want to stop them going in places where they do too much damage. 50-60% of the aerodynamics of an F1 car is concentrated on this vital area.

In 1998 when F1 cars were new rules narrowed in width from 2 metres to 1.8 metres the cars ended up with the front wing endplate alongside the edge of the front tyre. Designers developed very sophisticated solutions to manage the front wheel wake and wing tip vortex in order to get lots of downforce.

But then in 2009 the FIA brought in a radical change of aerodynamic rules, one of which was to make the front wing wider. Now, with the tips of the front wing sitting directly ahead of the front wheels, it was a completely different ball game.

The more experienced engineers in the pit lane, who had been around before 1997, or who had worked on IndyCars or Le Mans cars, knew that it would be desirable to produce an outwash effect from the front wing endplate, which would generate a low pressure area on the outside of the front wheel. It would also avoid the front flap being blocked by having a wheel right behind it.

Toyota were one of the first to try it, thanks to the intervention of veteran aerodynamicist Frank Dernie, and it was one of the signature items on the Brawn car. Engineers say that the outwash front wing was the single biggest step from 2008 to 2009, far more than the double diffuser.

The huge step in performance McLaren made last July was largely down to introducing an outwash front wing for the first time.

This year every car in the pit lane has one, with varying degrees of sophistication.

Red Bull has a very pronounced vortex channel underneath the end of the wing. If you look really closely there are lots of new details, sometimes tiny, sometimes very pronounced every race weekend, because the front wing, and particularly the tip of it, is an incredibly sensitive area and the tiniest change to a turning vane can make a big difference to the car’s performance. Ferrari made a good gain in Melbourne with the new wing endplate detail we featured in the Australian LG Technical Report.

Some of the new teams like Lotus and Virgin have fairly crude front wings and refining them will bring a big step forward in performance, moving them closer to the midfield teams. Lotus has an upgrade to its front wing coming for Spain.

For Virgin Racing, whose designer Nick Wirth insists on using only CFD (computational fluid dynamics) in the design and development of his car, this will be a real test and the whole pit lane is watching to see how well he does it.

This is because the main weakness of CFD in F1 design is in the area of modelling front wheel wake. It is so complex and changes with every tiny movement in the attitude of the car. Rival engineers, who also have big CFD capability in their factories, say it’s not possible to accurately measure front wheel wake using F1 standard CFD alone. This is because the air flow in the wheel wake is unsteady and the only CFD programme capable of modelling unsteady flow is owned by NASA and costs $1 million a month to run!

If the rivals are right then this will hold Virgin racing back. But if Wirth comes up with a major step in this area, then the others may begin to concede that he has found an affordable way to do away with wind tunnels.

But Virgin’s development may be held back in any case by the urgent need to build a larger fuel tank and Wirth’s attention will be focussed on that. It is a huge job, not just lengthening the chassis and redesigning the floor and bodywork, but the wiring harness will not be long enough. There are two options there; build a new one which is a huge task, or lengthen the old one, which is sub optimal and could introduce reliability problems.

Renault introduced a sophisticated new outwash front wing solution in Australia and it contributed a significant amount to the car’s improvement.

Posted on March 26, 2010

New tech on the cars in Melbourne
It may be the early part of the season, when the long distance flyway races make logistics difficult, but many teams are pushing really hard on development. There are quite a few updates on show this weekend in Melbourne. Several teams have new aerodynamic parts including new front wings for Red Bull, Renault and Ferrari.

The Ferrari wing has a new endplate with a smaller vertical fin, outside the end plates, featuring an S shaped vertical profile, instead of a straight one. It is about 5cm lower than the previous version. It’s main function is to give less pitch sensitivity. Although this wing gives slightly less downforce than the previous version, it causes less turbulence in airflow around and under the car and works better with the new wheel fairings.

On Friday in Melbourne only Alonso used it, but both drivers will use it for the rest of the weekend.

Tyre graining
Melbourne is a circuit where the tyres often “grain”, which causes them to lose performance and it is something all the teams will be guarding against in the race if they want to be competitive.

Last year the graining on the softer of the two compounds was very bad and proved a decisive factor in the race. Many teams found that after just six laps the rear tyres had grained badly and were losing two to three seconds per lap. This year Bridgestone has brought tyres, which are a step harder. So instead of super soft and medium, they have brought soft and hard.

Graining is where the rubber shears away from the top surface, caused by a high level of sliding at high loads, both lateral and longitudinal. Lateral comes from sliding in corners, longitudinal comes from acceleration and braking.

Temperature has a lot to do with it, probably more than any other factor. Imagine a plastic ruler left in the fridge – when you take it out and bend it, it will snap. But if you bend a warm ruler it will flex easily.

It’s the same with F1 tyres – if they are being used below their operating range the rubber will be less compliant and will shear off more easily. The hard tyre grains less because the compound shear strength is higher.

Another major factor is the track surface at Albert Park. It is quite old and has low micro and macro roughness, which basically means that the stones in it are small. The result of its age and smoothness is that the surface is very low grip and this means that the tyres grain laterally here because the car slides in the corners.

Watch out for the rear tyres graining from the inside shoulder towards the outside.

Ride height adjusters
A lot of talk in the paddocks of both Bahrain and Melbourne has centred on ride height adjusters on the Red Bull and Ferrari cars in particular, which means that they can optimise the aerodynamics in qualifying and for most of the race.

Up to a point, the lower you can run your car the more downforce it will have. But this year with refuelling banned, teams need to set the ride height so it works for a low fuel qualifying lap and then without changing it in parc ferme before the race, also works when the car has 160 kilos of fuel in it. Inevitably the extra weight will lower the car on its suspension and mean you will be running 3mm lower in the first stint of the race than in qualifying. As the fuel burns off the car rises. If you can lower the car a few millimetres at your first pit stop, you will have more downforce for the rest of the race.

It is perfectly legal as long as the car is stationary when the change is made and the gain is worth a few seconds over a race distance. Here’s how it’s calculated; every 1 mm of ride height you move is worth 5 kilos of downforce, which in turn is worth 0.05 seconds per lap. So if you pit on lap 18 in Melbourne, you can lower the car will have 40 laps of benefit, which is worth two seconds. If you lower the car by 4mm, which is realistic, you will gain 8 seconds. It is only worth it if you can make the change easily in the pit stop without losing that time.

Ferrari’s system is manual and very obvious. There have been suggestions that Red Bull has a more sophisticated system, which allows the car to run low in qualifying trim but then raises itself up when the 160 kilos of fuel are loaded in and lowers itself again as the fuel burns off. The key to that is making it legal.

Other teams are scratching their heads about how Red Bull might have achieved that, but one suggestion is that they may be exploiting the regulation that allows teams to re-gas pressurize the dampers between qualifying and the race. If this is the case then they would get the benefit of running the car low in qualifying and then raise it up when the fuel is added. Hence their stunning qualifying form.

More on the McLaren rear wing
The McLaren rear wing with its novel airflow arrangement via the sharkfin engine cover, gave the team around 4/10ths of a second per lap in Bahrain, because it meant that the car could travel down the straights 5km/h faster thanks to the rear wing “stalling” and thus shedding drag. There has been a lot of speculation about how this is achieved.

It is known that the air enters the cockpit via a duct on the top of the monocoque and passes down a channel. The driver raises his left knee to close off a gap in the channel which sends high pressure air through the sharkfin and out of the back of the rear wing, breaking away the airflow which passes underneath. But the clever part of the system is how the air switches direction in the engine cover. This is done using a Y shaped junction and a science called fluidics, which is where air can be made to have digital properties.

Sauber has become the first team to attempt to copy the idea, with a duct on the left sidepod of their car. But it is hard to see how it will be optimised to the degree that the McLaren is.

Ever wondered how they test whether the cars are legal? After every race the F1 cars have to be checked over to make sure that they comply with the regulations. But the pre-race legality checks are not carried out by the FIA, they are carried out by the teams themselves. It is up to them to make sure that their car is legal before the action starts.

FIA's Jo Bauer checks cars post race (Darren Heath)

The teams have to ensure that the bodywork fits the dimensional templates supplied in the FIA garage. The cars are weighed, the track width is checked, as are bodywork dimensions like the size of the front and rear wings and the front wing height. Teams have just 10 minutes for each car to check that it is legal. Typically they do this on a Thursday evening. And they had better get it right because once the action starts the FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer can check a car whenever he wants and if it doesn’t comply it can be disqualified.

All the FIA do pre-event is to check that the safety features are in working order, things like the monocoque, the electricity kill switch, the rear light and the fire extinguisher.

Posted on March 11, 2010

Welcome to a new content feature on JA on F1 for this season.

In response to readers’ questions about technical issues in F1, we’ve got together with LG Electronics to produce a technical report which will appear at every Grand Prix, looking at the latest developments, key talking points and practical issues facing the teams. It will be written in layman’s language to provide a window into the often obscure world of F1 Tech.

I will be working with F1 insiders, engineers and a technical artist to demystify the technical story and to bring fans closer to the sport.

To kick the series off, we will look at some of the clever devices, which have got everyone talking ahead of the first race. We’ll look at some issues raised by the refuelling ban and examine what HRT will need to do first as they try to race an untested car.

Technical developments

The technical regulations for F1 have changed since last season, but not by as much as they did from 2008 to 2009. The aerodynamic regulations have stayed pretty much the same. The cars are in many cases longer and wider than last year to accommodate a larger fuel tank, which arises from the ban on refuelling. Instead of carrying a maximum of 90 kilos of fuel, cars will now start the race with around 160 kilos. This means that the weight distribution has to be reconsidered.

It makes for a fiendish challenge for the engineers when setting the cars up, because they need the cars to work the tyres hard on the first lap in qualifying but then, without changing the set up in parc ferme after qualifying, the car must treat the tyres gently over a long run in the race.

The slick front tyres are 25mm narrower than they were last year, but getting the set up right, so that the load is evenly distributed across the four tyres is as important as ever.

To help preserve the tyres, the Front Wing Adjuster will be very important during the races this year. It was made legal last season, but drivers rarely used it. This year those teams that have it are finding it very helpful, particularly with preserving the front tyres.

Using a servo, controlled by a dial on the steering wheel, the wing can be moved by up to 6 degrees and this affects the amount of downforce the front wing produces. It can be used twice per lap and will be used extensively during the race.

It is a difficult thing to get right, without movement you don’t want from the wing, but it counts for a lot and it’s something Ferrari were the first to master with the 2010 cars. By trimming it as the fuel weight burns off, the driver can keep the wear on all four tyres as even as possible.

Another major talking point arising from the winter testing is McLaren’s Rear Wing, which seems to have the ability to cut drag on the straights, giving the car additional extra speed. In Barcelona the McLaren was 5km/h faster through the speed trap than its closest rival.

This is achieved by passing air through a slot in the rear wing (the black line near the bottom of the wing in the picture left), which neutralises the rear wing, cutting the drag. Such a device would also reduce the overall downforce, which would be a bad thing. So switching it on and off when needed on the straights is the key. That is where the question of legality comes in.

The way it works is this: there is a hole in the cockpit to a duct through which the air passes. The driver decides when to open it and he does so with his knee. Air then shoots through the duct in the sharkfin engine cover and exits through a slot in the underside of the rear wing. This causes the airflow under the wing to separate from the wing and this cuts the drag.

The FIA’s Charlie Whiting inspected the wing on Thursday and is satisfied that it is legal, so it is something some other teams will be sure to copy. They are all working on their own versions of it now anyway. The problem is that they cannot make a hole in the cockpit because the rules say you cannot modify the safety cell once the season has started.

Ferrari’s wheel crowns
In a similar vein, Ferrari has also slipped in a clever idea which no-one can fully copy. Aerodynamic appendages attached to wheels, which help clean up the air flow, have been banned. But Ferrari has come up with an ingenious idea, involving two crowns on the wheels, which do part of the job the spinners used to do.

They are legal because they are made of the same material as the wheel. Ferrari only put them on the car at the final Barcelona test. And the clever bit is that, as the wheels are now a homologated item (along with the safety cell and crash structures), the other teams can’t change their wheels to adopt this solution!

Racing an untested car
The new teams have not been able to do as much testing as their established rivals and one team has done no testing at all. The HRT team was only rescued at the 11th hour and their car, built in Italy by Dallara, has yet to turn a wheel before Bahrain. So what will be the priorities for the engineers in those first practice sessions?

Cooling is the first thing to check on Friday morning. A car which overheats will not get far, especially in the heat of Bahrain. If anything the car is likely to be engineered to overcool; with all the uncertainty over this team, the design engineers are likely to have been conservative. However the general rule in F1 is that a car which cools really well is a slow car. Designers want to shrink wrap the bodywork over the car to get the best aerodynamics, so in a really quick car, the bodywork is often no more than 5mm away from the radiators.

Water temperatures typically run to 140 degrees, which is possible because the system is pressurized, while oil temperatures of 115 degrees are acceptable. If the oil gets any hotter than that it loses its lubricating properties and causes damage.

After the cooling has been verified, the engineers will begin the difficult process of learning about the tyres. This is what the other teams have been doing for the last month in testing. It will take HRT several Grand Prix weekends to learn how to set the car up, to get the load evenly balanced across all four tyres and get the correct balance between aero and tyre temperatures. There aren’t too many short cuts here and even very experienced teams can get it wrong. This is a problem Brawn engineered into their car in the second half of last season, for example. The HRT team has hired ex Honda technical director Geoff Willis to help speed up the learning process. Gabriele Tredozzi, formally of Toro Rosso and Minardi, is working for Dallara on the design side.

Getting the electronic systems to work will be another priority, the teams all use the same Microsoft McLaren Electronics ECU and getting that coded to work with all the the other systems on the car, such as the gearbox and the hydraulic systems. HRT will be helped in this by the fact that they are using the same Cosworth engine and Xtrac gearbox elements as Lotus and Virgin. But modern seamless shift gearboxes are fiendishly complicated things. The coding for programming one runs to 50 pages of A3, to get the timing and fail-safes working properly!

Cooling the fuel
One aspect of the refuelling ban which has not had much attention is the danger of the last drops of fuel overheating in the tank towards the end of the race. With the first races taking place in Bahain, Australia and Malaysia, this is an even greater risk. Hot fuel evaporates and in extreme circumstances you get a condition called cavitation, where the fuel boils and air bubbles get into the fuel system, damaging it.

In the days of refuelling, fuel chilled to 10 degrees would be put into the car at a pit stop. Without that luxury, the teams have had work on two areas; insulating the fuel tanks from the engine heat and working with their fuel suppliers to blend the fuel with additives which will stop the fuel from vapourising. Shell in particular have put a huge amount of effort over the winter into blending “cool fuel” for Ferrari, believing this to be a key area.

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