Le Grand Retour
Paul Ricard 2018
French Grand Prix
The technical challenge of tuning a car in to a new circuit
The technical challenge of tuning a car in to a new circuit
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Oct 2010   |  7:28 pm GMT  |  65 comments

There had been so much focus on the delays in completing the Yeongam circuit in Korea that not much discussion had been had about it’s nature as a circuit. When the cars started running and the drivers fed back their thoughts it soon emerged that the track has been designed to have several characters in one.

The three sectors each had distinctive characteristics, each flattering different aspects of a car. So it is a track which cannot be said to suit any one car in particular. It’s not a Red Bull circuit, for example, because of the long straights and tight turns of the first sector. Nor is it a McLaren or Ferrari circuit because of the sweeping turns in the second sector.

For this reason it gave us one of the most closely matched fields we’ve seen this season.

For all the teams the name of the game was deciding which characteristic of the track to set the cars up for. Should they go for extra downforce for Sector 2/3, or less downforce to be fast on the straights in Sector 1?

It was clear from qualifying that Red Bull and Ferrari went for the downforce option while McLaren had a little less wing for the straights. Alonso was only the 16th fastest car through the speed trap at 313km/h, a fraction slower than the Red Bull and 6km/h slower than the McLaren. And yet paradoxically, Alonso set the fastest first sector time of anyone. Looked at in detail the reason for this turned out to be that he got his braking perfect. There are two big stops in Sector 1 and Alonso got them just right.

Another thing making life difficult for engineers and drivers trying to tune the cars in to the track was that the grip level was unknown before arriving there and the fact that the track condition was a moving target. The track improvement was significant on Day 1 as the dirt and oil came off the surface and rubber went down. The difference between the first lap and the fastest lap on Day 1 was 42 seconds!

As the tyres scrabbled for grip, inevitably they were sliding and this led to a lot of tyre graining, where the top layer of rubber sheers.

It was noticeable that through Turn 11 some cars were lifting the inside front wheel, basically going through two turns on three wheels. This put an extra load on the right front tyre and you could see bands on the tyre when the cars came back into the pits where they had the extra wear.

The reason this was happening was that when the track is as low grip as it was on Friday, teams run the rear suspension softer relative to the front and that meant that in a corner with camber, the rear of the car rolls and sits back, lifting the inside front wheel. That effect reduced as the weekend went on.

In qualifying the track was still improving rapidly, the fastest time in Q1 was 1m 37.113 but an hour later it was down to 1m 35.585.

In the race the McLaren struggled with the wet conditions, as its suspension was set too stiff and it lacked downforce in the final sector, where Hamilton was losing 3/10ths every lap to the front runners.

Button had a difficult day, struggling to get heat into his front tyres. He complained afterwards that he had something in his car different from Hamilton’s, that was a small detail change in the braking system, according to the team.

Updates on the cars
With the Yeongam circuit being finished so late, it was hard for teams to bring updates as it was impossible to simulate them accurately beforehand. Nothing was known of grip levels or kerb heights, for example.

Nevertheless there were a few updates to the cars, with some teams still pushing hard on development right up to the end of the season. McLaren brought the rear wing and revised F Duct, which they had tested on the Friday in Japan and which channels the air through the rear wing in a different way from before.

They also had another step on the endplate of the front wing, with an additional vertical slit ( the rearmost one) and a vertical gurney flap at the rear of the end plate have been added to improve the airflow outside the front tyre, slightly increasing downforce too.

Ferrari tested Felipe Massa’s car without the F Duct rear wing on Friday morning, to experiment with the extra downforce for Sector 2. But he quickly decided that he needed the extra straight line speed the drag reducing wing gives on the straights of Sector 1.

Ferrari also had an update on the diffuser, the new diffuser is visibly different in its central section from its previous version. The top profile (above inset) is wider and more curved, close to its outermost edges, improving the air extraction. The side channels now feature a large middle vertical fence ( lower inset), compared to the previous version.

Biofuel saves weight
Ferrari fuel supplier Shell debuted a new biofuel this weekend. Partly it has to do with the ongoing story of the greening of F1, but the main idea behind it is to use less fuel.

In a typical race weekend an F1 car uses around 600 litres of fuel – approximately ten tankfuls for a Ford Mondeo. For the race alone it uses 200 litres. The new biofuel means that they make a saving of 1%, which might not sound like much but the weight saving adds up to 2.5 seconds off the race time for the Ferrari drivers. When races can turn on fractions of a second in a pit stop, that is a gain worth having.

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James could you do an article on fuel please? From a quick google it seems Ferrari have different fuel for different race tracks, while Mclaren have the same formula for every race.


I see Webber and Vettel as “loose cannons”, in a bad mood and capable of losing it. They seem frustrated and unhappy.

I hope there are no incidents in the last two races and there is a clean fight for thr title


Always thought all teams used the same fuel. Are the regulations too tight to allow some sort of fuel war?


A very interesting article indeed, thanx James. I have a question on Ferrari,Fernando has outpaced Massa for almost the entire season , and Ferrari say the reason for Massa’s problems is the tyres. Do you have any insight on what Alonso is doing different that has enabled him to outpace Massa by 3 to four tenths every weekend? We know now that Michael Schumacher’s problem has a lot to do with using the tyres in the slow corners , is the nature of Massa problem the same as Schumacher’s? I am asking this question because Ferrari have improved significantly from the second half of the season with the updates and everything else and I have always wondered what the real problem with Massa is and if Ferrari have done enough to help with his problem.


Dear James

A little off topic, i basically have a request for a article on the new tyres. I don’t know if it is better of being done after the final race/test of the season, but i am very curious as to how it might affect the next season with design issues, driver handling the tyres, race strategies etc etc.

Thank you



Will do, but probably after the teams have tested them in Abu Dhabi


James –

Glad you did some more digging into why Alonso was fastest in Sector 1; I posted a reply about this to your blog after qualifying.

Very impressive from Fernando given the top-speed differential to the McLarens.

I suppose that it’s all give and take to some extent, even in Sector 1 i.e. less wing for McLaren gave them much higher top speed but then hampered them more than any other team under breaking. So, as they were the guys Alonso was giving most away to, they were also the guys giving time back to him in the breaking zones.

Interesting stuff.

I always enjoy circuits with a ‘compromise’ set-up; it makes the engineering aspect fascinating.


NB: obviously Fernando still had to nail the breaking points


As I calculated if car uses 200 liters fuel and in 55 laps gives extra 2.5 second this 1%. For the first few laps Ferrari gets extra 0.1 seconds, which declines while race go on to the end.

And I also encouragement from FIA to innovate fuel… F1 is one of the main force of innovations in autoindsutry and this kind of things espesially economy and efficiancy should be encouraged with every possibilities.



you need to change the website banner at the top to match the point standings after Korea and also include Alonso, Webber and Hamilton 🙂


lifting front wheels = too much front roll stiffness.

ethanol is lighter than petrol but it doesn’t contain as much energy as regular petrol. I’m not convinced it’s an advantage.

abdulla dulla al hak

im sorry, but james is ALWAYS right!!!


wow Chris – you should be an engineer ! what with all this insite … go boy…

Forza Ferrari Sempre !

Forza Alonso !


Excellent article, James. May I say that I am not especially surprised… 😀

I was very suprised to know that Fernando, being only the 16th fastest on speed trap, managed to set the best #1 sector time. Now I know the reason was his perfect braking on the two long straights.

This is exactly the opposite to what I expected. Once we knew that Yeongam had such a long strainght – actually the longest on the Championship – I expected the Ferraris to be quite fast in terms of top speed.

Can’t wait for Brazil.


Hi James,

Slightly off topic, i would be interested to know what the difference in laptime would be if a driver is re-using an old engine e.g. heidfeld, alonso compared to a new one. I assume there would be a slight difference particulary in the first sector of Korea and the last sector of Brazil.


It would be interesting to hear why McLaren’s attempts to catch up and introduce new parts are not going as smoothly as some of the other teams – started with the F-duct and yet others have introduced this and narrowed on the Red Bulls… thought McLaren were the best at development?

Are the two drivers pulling the development in different directions?

Would be good to see how much each team has made up over the season….

Also, are Red Bull worried about engine use? Vettel was already saving the engine going into FP and Quali…. are they starting to feel a pinch on engine use like they did last year with Seb?


They have not been able to develope that car all year. They are not able to upgrade it so they add patches.

The car appears designed for straight line speed. Any attempts to improve drivability or high speed cornering stability have failed. It’s a poorly designed sick car. Period.


I always thought McLaren would struggle this year due to the F-duct, because once the other teams implemented the F-duct they were gonna be left behind. Say for example at the start of the year McLaren were 2 tenths off the pace of Red Bull, but the F-duct gave them 3 tenths (and Red Bull didn’t have an F-duct). This means once Red Bull implemented the F-duct, McLaren would be half a second off the pace (assuming all other developments stay constant).

Just A Bloke (Martin)

James, Have you seen any photos of the Red Bull front wing on that long straight from earlier on in the weekend? In all the spray on race day I did not see if it was “drooping” or not. I know it passes the static load tests but it still bugs me that there has been video evidence that the dynamic behaviour circumvents the rules on ground clearance. 🙁


Martin, your second name isnt Whitmarsh is it? 🙂


Haha – brilliant.

Just A Bloke (Martin)

Touché 🙂

In all seriousness I would love to know what is going on purely from an aero/engineering viewpoint. My world has moved on !!


The wing does not break the rules or they would not be able to use it…. When stationary the FIA apply the loads and the wing passes. I assume the rules do not apply to a moving car. Anyway every other team would try to copy the design if they knew how it worked.


Have to agree with you James; “It’s not a Red Bull circuit”


While perhaps not a outright classic, I think the track is interesting and certainly not near as bad as a lot of armchair critics declared after seeing the first preview video of Chandhok driving a neutered Red Bull on an unfinished track. That it is so balanced as far as technical challenges must be a good thing, something to aim for in future designs.

As for the walls, when a street circuit such as that is built before the city, couldn’t they have allowed just a wee bit more space for tire and/or SAFER barriers? Some of those bare walls looked downright deadly where they are situated.


Agreed. I really liked it, in that it has a mix of characteristics. So not just a redbull track, or a mclaren track.

The clear change for next year is to sort out the pitlane entrances and exits, but otherwise I think its one of the more interesting new circuits.

They also need to have some proper cranes in place around the barrier sections where there is no real runoff.

In many ways they have created a situation where the safety car is the only option…


Did you notice the G Force ratings on some of those turns? 4.5 G’s!




Great post James


James, do you know anything more about this supposedly greener fuel (is it ethanol based, or something else)

Here in Australia the ATCC is now using ethanol based fuel (E85) for supposedly “green” reaons, but the fuel consumption is shocking, so it kind of defeats the purpose.

Ferrari are obviously using something more high tech,

Also, great pre race interviews again on Channel 1


Ethanol contains less energy per unit of volume than petroleum-based fuel, so you would need more of it to accomplish the same amount of work.

Just A Bloke (Martin)

James, Do you know if we can we stream these Channel 1 interviews in the UK ?


I’ll delve some more


Great stuff as usual James!

What kind of laptime dropp-off would Alonso suffer in Abu Dhabi with that Monza/Brazil engine in its 3rd race do you think?

Given the stability of Webbers and RBRs Q3 performances, one would expect Alonso to nurse the car back in 3rd in Sao Paolo it that is the situation, with Vettel at least letting Webber trough on the last lap if the order is Vettel-Webber-Alonso stil running in good position. Then it will be a titanic battle for grid positions in the season finale.

Actually, even if Webber did not score in Korea, he actually has a better situation compared to his teammate now than before Korea. He would have needed a good result in the final GPs anyway, and I still think there will be some more retirements among the contenders, with Alonsos engine as my top guess.


If I recall correctly Massa and Alonso both changed engines after Bahrain free practice. Doesn’t this mean they can only use those engines for the final race?

So does that mean Alonso would use his Spa engine for Interlagos and then that first engine for Abu Dhabi?


No they had a plan and it is as I wrote it.


I hear Force India are taking some bumpers to Brazil.


It was a little like watching the dodgems wasnt it on Sunday.


Yeah, Adrian drove the wheels off it, didn’t he?


i thought the difference between button and lewis cars was the suspension thats what ted kravits said on the bbc but obviously not


McLaren told me a subtle difference in braking system


I am sure I heard Button say that HE had asked for a different suspension part from that being used by Hamilton and this was the possible cause of his lack of grip – although the team were unable to figure out why.

Brill article James!


Subtle enough to prompt Button to complain about locking up the front wheels every time he had to brake?

Not intending to read anything between the lines, simply being curious.


just gos to show how mutch hamilton is a better driver than button…..he looked bemused after the race….shuld have stayed at brawn


Interesting on the fuel! I actually thought there was a control fuel provided by F1/FIA…is that not the case? If not how is this controlled? Simply samples throughout he weekend?

And surprised there wasn’t more hoopla over a greener fuel being used and it being more efficient in the telecast!


No control fuel, in fact the rules have been opened up this year on fuel to encourage the kind of innovation from Shell and others. Fuel samples must match however on terms of performance additives etc


Really? The way that last paragraph about the fuel read, it sounded awfully like Oil Company Marketing PR speak…and this is coming from an ex-Oil company marketing-PR guy.

Like Andrew, I assumed there was a control fuel as there’s huge opportunity for – well – shall we say “cheating” if the fuel is not controlled.

I would be interested to know more about what aspects of the fuel are controlled versus where they can develop

The Kitchen Cynic

There’s a bit of history to fuel in F1 – see Italy 1976 for example. During the 80s a bit of a fuel war developed and it was serious rocket stuff. Then iirc, they switched to standard pump fuel as part of the overnight safety changes of 1994. There was an issue at Brazil 95 where Elf’s fuel, though legal, didn’t match the homologated sample. Perhaps they’ve become more liberal recently though from what James is saying.


Pretty cynical. They have to have freedom to innovate a little otherwise there’s not much in it for oil companies, like Mobil, Petronas and Shell. The controlled bit is that they give a sample of the fuel to the FIA before the season and when any change happens and then it’s cleared and any sample taken at any time after that must match.


James, I thought fuels had to exactly match numerous samples given to the FIA before the season started to prevent any unfair advantage being gained.

Obviously this isn’t the case any more. Is there a margin of performance/efficiency that the FIA uses to clear a new fuel for race use, or is it something else?


Omg how have I never known this?!?

I too was puzzled, surely mobil, shell and petronas would be chucking millions at this??? Be interesting to see their budgets for f1 related r&d.

Think I could turn into the athletic scandals where substance A is not considered a performance enhancer when actually it does just that. Later banned and subsequent doubt thrown over the results. I can see the perennial headlines already.

James, no scandals in f1 at the moment (thankgod). Is there anything on the horizon that will make me wince. Next round of team contracts for tv money??



Do you know anything about the Mercedes set-up change on the Grid? Brundle on BBC was saying they went to a full wet set-up because they were out of parc ferme conditions. Is that strictly legal?

Also, is that a reason why they were so much more competitive than we have seen previous?


Yes it’s legal. You can work on cars on second grid


So did all the other teams miss a great opportunity there?


How much time to change suspension settings(on the Mclaren) then? Strange that it was only Brawn/Shumi/Rosberg who had prepaired for such a scenario.


The TV pictures I saw of Webber seemed to show the right front leaving the ground which would have put the extra load on the left-front tyre, is that just a typo in you’re analysis or am I missing something?


No, But I’m talking about the double left hander


That explains it 😉


A just result re Webber,it would have cheered Ham up no end.”Good job”!Still what was Web up to,how dare he disrupt a perfect 55 lap procession with the most exciting albeit amateurish event of an otherwise very dull race.


I was a bit surprised by the quality of the track. I’m hoping it’s just an in-construction thing, though.

For a new, purpose-built, track, I was amazed at the lack of run-off and the number of walls. I would have expected much better visibility and off-track space for a new track.

Is this just a temporary thing because of the incomplete nature of the facility?


But it’s not just a purpose built track. They are eventually going to use some small parts of the track as roads and put up a load of buildings, so they can’t have loads of run-off areas as they would be wasted space.

It’s basically a city street circuit but the city isn’t built yet.

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