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.
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.