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Japanese GP – the technical debrief
Japanese GP – the technical debrief
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 Oct 2010   |  12:39 pm GMT  |  43 comments

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.

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James, what do you think about mandating wind-tunnel testing of the nose-cones? No more than 10 mm of flex at 320 km/h in the wind-tunnel.

Or maybe regulating that every front wing must use a spec spar to ensure they all have equivalent stiffness? The spar could be made from steel, aluminum, carbon fibre, or just about anything… as long as the stiffness of the spar was enough that it ensured the wings did not flex.

I was thinking maybe wear-tabs or blocks, similar to the wooden plank on the underbody, but that would be likely be too prone to breaking (e.g. kerbs, spins in the grass, etc), unless a particularly clever design was figured out.


Thanks for the ideas. I’ll pass them onto some engineers and see what they say.


James, I’ve been reading the autosport bulletin board and I came across something interesting.

Someone believes that the Ferrari was actually faster than the Mclaren based on the lap times. Alonso did a 35.214 on lap 30 (after which his times got significantly slower) which Hamilton was only able to match on lap 35 with a 35.182. Could it be that Alonso changed his engine settings or suffered a tyre drop-off phase during the laps that Hamilton was catching him. From lap 37 Alonso was right back on the pace.

I think that Alonso had extra pace but would like to know your thoughts…


What about Ferrari upgrades?



Did mclaren feel like it was a good step, and just pulled it for lack of running. I got the impression it was another (didn’t quite perform inline with expectations).

One thing that seems different on front wings? Mclaren always have significant curves whereas a lot of the others seem to focus more on lots of winglets.

As the outwash front wing is absolutely critical I am amazed they have not tried a more conventional wing.


Very good insite into the McL upgrades. Why no word on the return of the Fleing wing. James, why are the press and the FIA so unwilling to comeout and say that the Red Bull wings are illegal? The weight tests are a set of rules designed to check the legality of the flextion of the wings but from the video footage and still pictures it is clear for all to see the outer edges of the wings bending down in controventon of the rules.

Christian does not deny this he just always says the wings pass the test. Very much like Contador saying he is avliable for drug testing 365 days a year rather than stating that he does not dope/cheat. You and the rest of the F1 community do the public and the sport an injustic just like the UCI do by not holding cheats to account.

Off topic but have you seen Button loosing another place at the start!


All teams do this, they find a bit of a loop hole and exploit it…that is what F1 is about.

Chase, catchup, chase, catchup…


If the Red Bull wing passes the weight tests it means the car is legal, so claiming otherwise would be potentially defamatory.

The rules may say that any parts of the car capable of influencing aerodynamic performance must remain immobile (rule 3.15), but all wings flex under load and vibration to some extent so a tolerance has to be applied through the weight tests (rule 3.17). So, if a car passes the weight tests, it’s legal. That may well go against the spirit of the regulations but it meets the letter of them and that’s what matters, in the final analysis.

Red Bull may well have found a clever way of flexing their wing while still passing the test. If that’s the case then well done them, bad job everyone else and an issue for the FIA to consider doing something more about. But do you really expect Christian Horner to run around telling everyone about his new innovation, thus inviting the FIA to change their testing methods to better catch it out?


It’s been posted before, but I think the wording is very clear: complying with rule 3.17 does not mean you comply with rule 3.15. They’re two separate rules.

A lot of people seem to be of the opinion that because you can’t interpret rule 3.15 absolutely literally (no part can be perfectly immobile), then it should be ignored entirely. I don’t agree.

Courts of law don’t get to ignore acts of parliament; if a strictly literal interpretation of a particular law can’t be made, then the judge has to do his or her best to come up with the most reasonable interpretation that can be made. I don’t see why the FIA’s regulations can’t be treated in the same way.

If I were judging this then my reasonable interpretation would be that if a part flexes enough to give a distinct aerodynamic benefit on track, then it would contravene rule 3.15.


I don’t think the “spirit of the rules” comes into it – I think Red Bull are contravening the best possible interpretation of what 3.15 actually says.

The problem is one of proof. A breach of 3.17 can easily be proved in the scrutineering bay. A breach of the more general rule 3.15, that’s only evident on track, is much more difficult. We’ve all seen the photos and videos, but given the variety of factors that are in play, no-one’s been able to quantify exactly what bit of the Red Bull car is flexing and how much. I think you would need that in order to prove that they have a flex that gains an aerodynamic advantage.

Lack of proof doesn’t mean their car is legal. It just means they haven’t been caught.


3.15 and 3.17 may be separate but they’re both part of the same legal framework. That means you can’t ignore either of them (as you say) – but it also means you can’t view them entirely in isolation from one another, because both so clearly apply to the same situation.

3.15 sets out the requirements for the parts of the car capable of influencing aerodynamic performance. 3.17 then sets out specific load/deflection tests to be applied to the bodywork, including the front wing. It also states that “In order to ensure that the requirements of Article 3.15 are respected, the FIA reserves the right to introduce further load/deflection tests on any part of the bodywork which appears to be (or is suspected of), moving whilst the car is in motion.” This clearly implies a link between the load/deflection tests in 3.17 and demonstrating compliance with the requirements of 3.15. Given that 3.17 specifies permitted amounts of deflection for given loads that also suggests a degree of movement is expected and allowed.

Your interpretation is essentially that the requirements of 3.15 go over and above the tests in 3.17. But if that’s correct it, why hasn’t the FIA disqualified the RB6 or a rival team protested it on those grounds?

At the moment, the RB6 passes the tests and therefore complies with the letter of the law. You may legitimately think that it fails to comply with the spirit of the law or that it shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s not the same thing at all. The key question here is not “is the RB6 legal?” because it hasn’t yet failed pre- or post-race scrutineering, which is the recognised test of legality. The question is whether the FIA should allow wings to flex as much as the RB6 wing appears to and, if not, how it should devise a better test.


I wrote on that on Friday.



It seems like people don’t understand that under the tests, the wings are allowed to deflect.

Even though the test is a point load and the actual load is nonlinear and distributed, it is obvious that if a 100 kg test mass deflects the wings 20 mm, 250 kg downforce would deflect the wings more.

They are not cheating. Other teams are simply over-designing their wings for stiffness.

At least in part, this might be explained by the aero concept of the wing. On the Macca wing, their upper elements are rigidly supported on the main plain by large plates. This adds loads of longitudinal stiffness (as the structure has 4 sides), whereas red bull use little storks to support their elements. Ferrari don’t have any supports at all..

So we might have a situation where Macca cant change their aero concept to exploit extra flexibility, so they argued (earlier in the season – not last weekend) that red bull are in contravention of the rules to try and “level” the field.


Malcolm, your analogy is rubbish on the face of it.

And, “the spirit of the rules” aren’t the rules.


“They are not cheating. Other teams are simply over-designing their wings for stiffness.”

Wrong. Red Bull is designing their wings for the test, not the rule. The rule is “no moveable aerodynamic devices”, and there is a test that aims to verify that the rule is being followed. A wing that flexes is a moveable aerodynamic device, and is therefore illegal.

The other teams are adhering to the spirit of the rules and building wings that do not flex. Red Bull is cheating by building a wing that flexes intentionally in order to gain an aerodynamic advantage, whether it passes a test or not.

It’s like someone above said; if you take performance-enhancing drugs that pass the tests, it is still illegal, even if the test doesn’t catch the drug in your system. It’s the same thing here.


You did james and you do go further than other is your insinuation that its illegal. why are the FIA not stamping this out? Could it be that to do so at this stage would undermine all the results from this years championship?


There were rumours that Mercedes might protest, I’m told. Nothing happened.


It’s going to be interesting to see how the departure of Bob Bell impacts Renault.

Their wind tunnel/track correlation issues from the past seem to have disappeared and the team really seems to have a good understanding of this years car.


James Allison is heading up the Technical Department this year where as Bob was leading in the past. Possibly a change of pace has lead to a revived technical team. Look at Brawn last year and even the arrival of James Key in Hinwil after the start of the season.

No bad words on Bob though. He’s carved out his mark throughout the years.


Six elements in the endplate, makes the wheels fall off! As Kubica found out. In fact it was a flying wheelie weekend.

As was mentioned in the bbc tv commentary by Martin, the nuts are supposed to have special devices to stop the wheels coming off the driveshaft/stub-axle even if the nut is loose.

Can we have a tech piece on wheel nuts please James. It is noticeable that nowadays on pitstop the nuts seem to get only half a turn, and the torque limiters no longer clatter as the clutches slip. On McLarens we used to see the locking piece pulled outwards after the nut was done up, but this too has gone.

So please a tech bit on nuts.


As far as I’m aware it was driveshaft failure on both the Renault & Mercedes cars? Nothing stopping the wheels coming off if the thing they are attached to breaks.


Slightly Freudian there, they are Brakes not Breaks, but then again….Kubicas seemed to be attached properly and I’m sure someone at Renault was blaming the wheel nut gun.


mm, being a smart arse and not reading properly. But surely the brake disk etc is attached to the drive shaft and the whole brake surround was still in place on Kubica’s car


Read it. He actually did mean breaks not brakes nic or nik


On another technical note, Schumacher claims his car hasn’t been the same as Nico’s, and Haug has backed him up.

There you have it.. Schu hasn’t been underperforming at all! Nico’s relative performances have been an illusion!


Why did they stop trying to run the new rear wing? Button was still around to evaluate it?

michael grievson

And at this stage where they’re falling behind and are off the pace they could have taken a gamble and used it anyway.


I agree, surely it was worth the gamble in running the new rear wing in the race in the hope it got both cars closer to the Red Bulls?


Possibly because jenson is too fussy in setting up his car or either isn’t as good at evaluating. I’m not dissing jenson because hes definetly a sound driver but remember last year? For a man leading the championship he had to resort to copying Rubens set-up on a number of occasions.


This weekend was an unparralled disaster for Hamilton and McLaren, period.



I’m curious… are you a fan of Housemeister, are you him, or got the name somewhere else?


The McLarens finish fourth and fifth and that’s an unparalleled disaster? McLaren have endured some truly terrible weekends, but some perspective please. Yesterday’s best case scenario for Hamilton was third place behind the Red Bulls, meaning he’d be 23 points behind Webber rather than 28. Either way, he’d still have a big mountain to climb to win the 2010 WDC.

For unparalleled disasters, how about the 2008 Canadian GP where Hamilton crashed into the back of Raikkonen’s stationary Ferrari in the pitlane (taking himself out and getting himself a penalty for the next race, which probably lead to a further penalty because he started further down the pack than usual) and Kovalainen failed to score?

Or the Japanese GP from the same year, where Hamilton finished 12th after being penalised for a first corner incident and a crash with Massa, while Kovalainen failed to finish with engine problems?

Or the US GP from 2006 where Raikkonen and Montoya collided at the first corner, putting both cars out on the spot?

The Austrian GP in 1999 where Coulthard spun Hakkinen to the back of the field then failed to stop Eddie Irvine winning the race?

Or the near simultaneous Mercedes engine blow-ups while McLaren were 1-2 in the 1997 Luxemberg GP?

Just a few that spring to mind…


Anything less than a win would have been a disaster and the 5 place drop really seen to that.


Qualifying must have been encouraging though – to get one driver third having had almost no running and the other sixth despite being on the slower tyres isn’t too shabby. Brundle was spot on though – mclarens drivers were in the wrong order until the pits. It’s all hypothetical now given the gear box problem but would have been interesting to see Hamilton out of the button bottleneck and free to attack fernando rather than try and make up a 4-sec gap


Poor result for McLaren but in terms of race pace far from it. Without the Gearbox issues for Lewis he would have finshed thrid and maybe challenged the RB for the win. Very fast in the race, good insite into the McL upgrades which should help them fight for victories in final races.

Why no word on the return of the Fleing wing. James, why are the press and the FIA so unwilling to comeout and say that the Red Bull wings are illegal? The weight tests are a set of rules designed to check the legality of the flextion of the wings but from the video footage and still pictures it is clear for all to see the outer edges of the wings bending down in controventon of the rules.

Christian does not deny this he just always says the wings pass the test. Very much like Contador saying he is avliable for drug testing 365 days a year rather than stating that he does not dope/cheat. You and the rest of the F1 community do the public and the sport an injustic just like the UCI do by not holding cheats to account.

Off topic but have you seen Button loosing another place at the start!


I’d be very interested to know if the width of the RBR front wing was changing at speed.

It’d be very easy to design a device to enable the wing to pass a static test, by resting on a rigid mount, and yet have the wing expand widthwise due to flow.


The definition of legal in F1 is that it passes the tests, and the Red Bull wings pass the tests, therefore they are legal, end of story.


It’s not as clear cut as that. The load tests determine whether a car is legal to start a race, just because it’s deemed legal to take it’s place on the grid doesn’t make it legal under race conditions. If the FIA had the balls they would have sorted out this issue as soon as it arose, everyone can see through photographic and video evidence that there’s no way that front wing adheres to the rules. The problem is the FIA would be made to look rather stupid if they took any action now so it’s easier to hide behind their insufficient load test results.


Not really.

I mean, McLaren were still quick. Had they done what they have on many occasions this year and maximised their potential, they could have had a driver on the podium. ‘Unparralled disaster’ is too strong a term. I’d say Singapore and Monza were worse weekends for Hamilton. At least here he picked up points.

I think it was Martin Brundle (not 100% sure on that) who said that Hamilton effectively now has nothing to lose, so he might as well banzai each race and just go for it. Same goes for Jenson really.

On a side note – I may have missed this – but what happened to Jake Humphrey this weekend?!


I concur Martin – after Hamilton won in Belgium, he should have scored heavily in Italy too – but he didn’t; I feel that was more of a blow to him than anywhere else.

Everyone knew that Suzuka with “the snake” section would be a Red Bull track. Korea is unknown; Brazil, well, the in-field section will suit RB, but will Ferrari and Macca be able to pull that back, up the hill to the grid – who knows. Abu Dhabi has long straights, which could play into f-duct territory (or double f-duct, if Macca’s apparent upgrade is to be believed).

Button or Hamilton must win in Korea and the other must be 2nd, for them to have any chance of the drivers title. It’s a long shot, but anything can still happen… 🙂

Oh and Jake’s on Commonwealth Games duty.

James – I love this tech section; most of it goes over my head as I’m no engineer or aero-chappie, but I still love seeing the complexity and minutae of the detail – it’s so impressive.


A most interesting scenario to me would be Button leading Ham in a McLaren one two at Korea and then Massa resuming his winning ways at Brazil, it would tighten up the championship so tight it could hardly breathe and make Abu Dhabi the most anticipated race of the decade!


Banzai??? Martin B. Isn’t that what Hamilton does every lap of every race? Lol.


And a total bore fest…. hope the next one is a bit more interesting

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