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 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 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 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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