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Melbourne – the low down on the latest tech ideas
Melbourne – the low down on the latest tech ideas
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Mar 2010   |  11:11 am GMT  |  80 comments

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.

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Hi James,

You stated; “Ferrari’s system is manual and very obvious.” in the OP.

Explanation please? – Does the jockey “hit a button” during the pit stop?

Craig – Rather than a mechanical system (“moveable aerodynamic aid”?) they may be able to do it electronically with load-sensors….




They insert a key and turn it


For ride height adjustment, what about some sort of lever arrangement between the fuel cell and chassis? It should be possible to arrange some sort of cantilever in the cell mountings to transmit force, perhaps via steel cables to the suspension. Then as the fuel cell loses mass the tension on the cables would change and lower the ride height. If you were to heavily damp the levers then they would not react to bumps and undulations and only to steady state changes in fuel cell mass.

That’s how I’d do it. Anyone else think this would work?



Two stage ride height system:

1) To raise the car after Qualifying, you use a pressurized hydraulic bleed system that is activated before qualifying but requires 20-22 hrs to complete the raising procedure.

2) To lower the car you use a hydraulic bleed that only functions when the car is on the ground. Again activated before Qualifying, but it will not have much time settle as the cars spend more time on the jacks than the track during Qualifying.

Both of these system work through a hydraulic cylinder attached to the torsion bar mount.

Brian Qualifying


“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.”

And he does regularly,I’m sure,that’s what you may not see.So no advantage can be gained,you will just get caught,DQ’d and FINED!



could you please explain us why the McLaren wing is not a moveable aero device?

thanks in advance,



Because it isn’t moving. The driver’s knee is the only thing that moves and he’s not a part of the car


Does anyone know why the air inlet on the mclaren needs to be on top of the nose. The cars usually have an air inlet right on the front of the nose cone which could also have been used perhaps? If they’d used it, then the system would have been a lot less obvious and possibly not picked up on as quickly (like the 2nd brake pedal)


Now everyone is complaining about those ride height adjusters,and even the system is different it reminds me of 1981.

How funny it was to see the cars going over every single curb once the race was over.

I thought that this was not allowed to do anymore,I can’t believe teams wait so long to take advantage of this.


re ride height – lol -back in the bad old days of

Nascar teams use to freeze the shock absorbers to get a lower ride height for qualifying. By the time the car re entered the pits the shocks had come back up to temp and the car cleared the ride height test plank.


Ride height system: How about a pneumatic or hydraulic system the bleeds into a ride height raising chamber/cylinder over a period of about 18-20 hrs. You could activate it during qualifying, but during that short time period you would get very little ride height change.


I found it very interesting that Mercedes had Lewis Hamilton testing their tyres at around 9pm last night.

Love the blog James – watching you right this minute on Channel 10 too, great to see you back on telly


Another very nice article (as usual), James, but I think you’re looking for ‘shear’, not ‘sheer’.


Big miss by McLaren on the ride height feature though knowing McLaren I doubt it’ll take them long to come up with their own system.

I do feel if the Redbull system does indeed rely on their regassing their system I think this is bending the rules an awful amount, I am surprised no team has protested it as the FIA seem to now be saying the spirit of the rules matter !


Bravo James! Knowledgeable explanation of technical detail is harder and harder to find, with the teams so coy.


Thanks James. Have often wished that BBC or SpeedTV would hire you on. But, other than the video stream, your site is better than either of theirs anyway. Hope you’re rewarded appropriately.


Excellent article once again James.

On the ride height issue: I’m no mechanical engineer, but I’m sure I’ve read of a suspension system that resists more the stronger it is pushed into the ground. This would enable the ride height to remain constant no matter the force applied and would be a nifty solution. It’s probably relatively simple to do even with some sort of pneumatic system. Are these legal though? There must be a way around it.


James, with regards to the duct on the top of the monocoque of the McLaren, do you suspect all the other teams to follow suit?

People sound surprised that Sauber have copied this so soon… as in-genius as this devise is… its it complicated to copy?


Would mclaren have a addvantge in monza with the v duct or would teams have one on the cars?


Hi James, quick question and an idea about the tyres….

Over the single lap qualifying is the difference in lap time between the hard and soft compounds comparable from car to car?

If it is, can you give us a “tyre corrected” grid in the same way as we used to get a “fuel corrected” grid?

No one is telling us who’s on which tyre – but at the moment Lewis appears to have the upper hand again. But if Jenson is on the hard and Lewis on the soft, the times suddenly look much closer….. which I’m sure is the same all through the grid.

Or am I missing something?!


Thanks for this post James – excellent, and very interesting, even more so than usual. Is it going to become a regular feature at every race? I certainly hope so…


Hi James,

Excellent article, as always! A bit unrelated, but this being the “LG” Tech Report I couldn’t help myself…

There have been a lot of questions about when will F1 be broadcast in HD, and you promised to write about this. Today, Samsung started selling 3D HD TV sets here in Canada and I just wonder, how long do we have to wait to watch the technological pinnacle of motorsport that Formula 1 is in at least close to the pinnacle of TV technology? Is Bernie going to wait for 4D to come out to offer F1 in HD? And it better not be 720p!


Oh I forgot to mention, I saw a picture on the official F1 website that would suggest that Renault might have an F Duct inlet on the front of their car. If that’s what it is? Check out picture 61 in the Friday Practice Gallery.

Also what’s with Barrichello’s new Williams-esc blue colour scheme? Does it have anything to do with Senna’s 50th?

Many Thanks, great coverage as always.


It does looks like a vent of some sort. Unlike the McLaren or Saubers though it’s central rather than to the drivers left hand side. So if it is an F-duct I would doubt it is driver operated. Also, the body work/engine cover doesn’t connect to the rear wing like with the McLaren/Sauber. Perhaps some other type of innovative take on it?


Interesting that they gave Alonso the new front wing to evaluate rather than Massa, don’t you think? Mind you it’s a 50/50 I suppose they had to give it to one driver or the other to do a back to back comparison. That brings me to another question, what do the Ferrari engineers think of working with Alonso so far?


Very interesting and informative posting on the technical bits. It’s really helpful to understand how these apparently small changes/evolutions, can have such significant gains or losses. The illustration of the front wing was excellent.


Hi James. I’ve been following you on Twitter but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to delve deeper and read one if your articles! I loved it! Just the right mix of tech geek and layman for me! I know a reasonable amount of aerodynamics with relation to aircraft and so trying to apply it to the f duct started to confuse me a bit but then lo and behold you come along and explain it in a few sentences and clear the whole principle up for me!
Thanks James, looking forward to the next article almost as much as I am the return of actual racing in F1. Whenever that might be!


Great piece and insight as always James. Thank you.

Maybe get your graphic artist to adjust the banner to have Lewis doing a donut on the road on the right 😉


Hi James, First of all love your excellent info. Now Renault is granted to work on its engine for equalisation of power. Now my question is will Mercedes & Ferrari be allowed to work on their engines for fuel efficiency?


The Renault change is for reliability. Some changes were denied. This doesn’t mean that the performance won’t be enhanced…

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