The 2010 season was one of the most intense we have ever seen in terms of the rate of technical development. The leading teams did not rest, forever pushing themselves and each other to improve and get a competitive advantage.
Despite the introduction by the teams’ association, FOTA, of the Resource Restriction agreement, there seemed to be no limit to the new parts brought to the cars during race weekends. It was not uncommon to see boxes being wheeled into the paddock on Friday nights, even Saturday mornings with new wings and other updates large and small. Nor was it unusual to hear the sounds of grinding late into the night or shortly before qualifying, as teams worked to fit and adapt last minute changes.
At the height of the credit crunch in the winter of 2008, there were FOTA discussions about limiting the number of updates a team was allowed each season, but that was never voted through. So the well funded teams threw massive effort and resources at improving their cars on a race by race effort and the other teams did what they could afford to do.
Hispania was at the other end of the scale from Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull in that the team did not develop its car at all during the season. Ironically the core concept can’t have been too bad as the car was one second off the fastest Virgin car at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, having been 1.3 seconds off at Barcelona in May! This is despite Virgin bringing several updates to its car, especially at Silverstone.
Because of the total ban on in-season testing, teams were obliged to try out new parts during the three hours of free practice on Fridays even if they had no intention of racing the part that weekend.
And as most teams were forced to incorporate the season’s two must have gizmos – the drag reducing F Duct rear wing and the exhaust blown diffuser, they needed all the practice time they could get. These were complicated aerodynamic devices which tested the best engineers in F1 to the limit.
Fittingly, as the team that invented it, McLaren were still developing the F Duct rear wing right up to the last race. The original design blew the air out of the flap on the wing, but as the season went on and other teams like Force India and Renault found better results from blowing the air out of the main wing element, McLaren tried that too. They first tried it in Suzuka, but struggled to get it working better than the original and that continued until Abu Dhabi, where in Friday practice Lewis Hamilton ran the blown main plane version and Jenson Button ran the original blown flap wing.
Both drivers ended up qualifying and racing the main plane version (see Hamilton drawing below). This seems to have had a more powerful effect on straight line speed. But it didn’t help Hamilton much in the race, as he still could not overtake Robert Kubica with his similarly armed Renault.
The basic flow of the season was that the Ferrari was the fastest car in pre season testing, then the Red Bull proved fastest in the early races. On balance Red Bull remained the fastest car all season, as proven by their 15 pole positions. Both they and Ferrari were forced to copy the F Duct rear wing and Ferrari lost ground while trying to do that. Ferrari also had to incorporate the Red Bull invented exhaust blown diffuser and they had a crude version initially, before getting a more refined and effective version in Valencia. From that point on Ferrari kept refining the car and it was the second fastest behind the Red Bull for the rest of the season.
McLaren fell behind the other two while trying to incorporate the exhaust blown diffuser in early summer and from then on never really seemed to be able to close the gap again. Unlike 2009 where their car improved massively in the second half of the year, they came up just short this time.
Mercedes realised that they had a poor car early on and stopped developing it in the summer, but still found improvements from understanding the set up better in the second half of the season. Williams adopted the F Duct and the blown diffuser, but Rubens Barrichello said that the biggest improvements which made the team regular top ten qualifiers in the second half of the season came from improving driveability. He believes that this has been Williams’ weakness with new cars recently and expects that to be remedied in the 2011 car.
Meanwhile Renault brought many new parts to their car, especially front wings, from a revamped aerodynamics department. They claimed that the fully evolved R30, which did so much damage to Fernando Alonso’s championship hopes in Abu Dhabi, was two seconds per lap faster than the version which raced in Bahrain at the start of the season.
That gain is made up of the F Duct and blown diffuser, both worth roughly 4/10ths of a second per lap, depending on circuit, plus “ten front wing packages, five floors, two engine covers, six rear wing packages, seven front drum and duct packages, and three rear drum and duct packages,” according to the team.
Renault were late to the F Duct party, only bringing it to the car at the Belgian Grand Prix, round 13, but were able to make it work straight away. It was among the first of the F Ducts which stall the wing main plane rather than just the flap.
Overall it has been a very interesting year from a technical point of view and next year will be too. Things to watch out for next year are the return of the KERS , an energy regeneration system, giving a boost to the engine power; the adjustable rear wing, about which there are some misgivings from the drivers and the change of tyres to Pirelli.. We will not see the F Duct again, nor the double diffuser as both have been banned for next season.