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.
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.
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.
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.