The best technical innovations of 2012
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Dec 2012   |  12:10 pm GMT  |  73 comments

On a technical level there were some interesting innovations on the cars this year as the F1 teams and engineers worked hard to get around regulation changes.

The most significant change was the governing body, the FIA, wanting to restrict the practice of exhausts blowing into the diffuser area of the floor. During 2011 teams had adopted increasingly extreme solutions and this had resulted in huge gains in down force. Red Bull was dominant in 2011 because it optimized this practice.

For 2012, engines were not allowed to be mapped in such a way that they continued to pump out exhaust gases at high pressure when the driver’s foot lifted off the throttle (“off throttle blowing”). And the exhausts were also required to exit higher up the bodywork and further back from the diffuser.

But the aerodynamic gains from blowing into the diffuser are so attractive, that teams worked out various ingenious ways to make up for the lost ground. Although no-one got close to the levels of down force seen in 2011, teams still got good results.

One innovation, which several teams adopted, was utilising the Coanda effect, whereby channels shaped into the rear of the sidepods, acted as a slide, to lead the gases down to the diffuser. The Coanda effect uses the principle of a jet of air being attracted to a nearby surface, to ensure that the gases are channeled into the correct part of the diffuser. McLaren led the way on this thinking.

To maximize this effect, the designers needed to reduce the back of the sidepods and it was the Sauber team that led the way with this innovation from early in the season. In many ways the Sauber was one of the most innovative teams in 2012, as they also had some ideas on the front wing, which other teams copied, including the top teams.

Drag Reduction

As well as finding new ways of creating down force to allow the cars to travel more quickly through the corners, the F1 teams are always keen to minimise drag, so that the cars will travel more quickly along the straights. The rules in 2012 allowed teams to use a Drag Reduction System on the rear wing, which opened the top element of the wing on the straights, giving a speed boost of around 15km/h, which serves as an overtaking aid.

This year there was quite a bit of innovation around boosting the DRS effect, to get even more straight-line speed, with Mercedes, Lotus and Red Bull particularly active. Red Bull’s introduction of its innovative DRS-booster system in Singapore was one of the cornerstones of its late season fight-back to claim the world championship.

Whereas several teams got caught up trying to engineer something complicated, Red Bull went for a simple solution, which is switched on when the DRS wing opens. This opens a small duct (shown in yellow above left). Air flows through it and down through the side of the wing, known as the endplate and is then ducted into the lower beam element of the wing, where it is allowed to blow out over the central part of the diffuser.

The gain here was that it gave Red Bull higher top speeds without needing to reduce the down force levels. Red Bull has traditionally run its car for maximum down force and has paid a price for that in straight-line speed. With this device they could have the best of both worlds. Sebastian Vettel used it to win four consecutive races in September and October and clinch the drivers’ championship for the third time.

From the start of the season Mercedes designed its car to incorporate a secondary Drag Reduction System, but one which channeled the air all the way along the car and out through a flap in the front wing. The idea was to reduce drag from the front wing, to improve straight-line speeds. It worked in China, where the team got its first F1 victory. But it proved something of a barrier to development and the team subsequently fell behind.

For 2013 new FIA rules outlaw devices which have a secondary DRS effect when the DRS is activated. So it will be interesting to see what passive devices the teams come up with to replicate the effect. As it’s worth a few tenths of a second per lap it is something the teams will be chasing.

There are no significant aerodynamic change and that means that the teams which led the way at the end of 2012 will probably pick up where they left off at the start of 2013.

During 2013, engineers say we are likely to see more innovation around the exhaust-blowing area as well as new ideas for shaping the sidepods. But as always in F1, someone will think of something truly innovative and the rest will have to quickly engineer their own versions.

With a major rule change set for 2014, including a completely new engine, teams will be hard pressed to divide their resources between developing the 2013 cars and making sure they haven’t missed the obvious magic bullet on the 2014 design.

The 2013 field is likely to be as close or even closer than this year, but the new rules in 2014 will spread it out again as the better resourced

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Did a little bit of text go missing from the end of this article – the last sentence doesn’t appear to complete (my reading of it anyway).


James , the thing I don’t understand is if the FIA want to outlaw exhaust blowing why don’t they state in the regs that the exhaust must exit the car out of the top of the rear engine cover as we have seen in cars prior to exhaust blowing.


They did exactly that. The problem is you can’t force the engineers to unlearn what they know about sealing the diffuser with exhausts so whilst the exhausts now exit vertically within a prescribed area of the car there is nothing stopping the engineers shaping the bodywork downstream of the exhausts to guide the mass flow to a more useful spot. Hence coanda.


Exactly – which shows that the rule was poorly written. The rule should have clearly stated that no bodywork or other parts of there car are permitted with-in 200mm of the end of the exhaust pipe.


i do believe that the regs for 2014 are more explicit in detailing where the exhaust must exit (i think its something like 5cm past the rear axle in the centre of the car… ).

But the FIA were probably lobbied fairly hard from people like Renault who along with Red Bull spent a lot of money and time developing the solution. So the 2012/13 rules are a compromise to ‘ween’ them off the technology without making them throw everything away.

Although there have been instances where the FIA have doen way with certain tech straight away and some like this they let linger. But you can imagine the back room conversations that may have taken place!


Exactly my point. Write the rules to ensure that the exhaust exits the car almost vertically and above the body work. Simple!


Here’s an innovative(?) suggestion for F1 cost cuts.

The silly money is spent on aerodynamics, so why not have a standard issue front and rear wing and a flat floor from the nose all the way to a few centimetres behind the rear wheels. The exhaust should also exit behind the rear wheels.

These would reduce costs and reduce down force so might make in-corner overtaking easier – is it a double-whammy? The innovation would likely move to how to increase mechanical grip – much more useful research.

What about standard issue gearboxes or standard brakes and wheels. A spending limit will always be impossible to police – that approach has failed already – so the rules need to cut down the areas you can spend silly money on.


Watch IRL if you prefer spec series racing.


Nice article. Ferrari seemed to lack the innovation needed to win the title. Sauber appear to have innovators in their team. I wonder if there will be a few staff moving to Ferrari sometime soon?


It seems to be as though Red Bull may have a tough time next year. Their success this year seemed to be down to being able to maximise the benefits of using DRS freely in qualy to get up to the front. Having a good car for the first part of the race let them keep that advantage.

I don’t know how much they had to fight with in a race if they couldn’t do this – it certainly seemed that McLaren and Ferrari had better full-race cars so I suspect that when they lose the DRS benefit, Red Bull will suffer unless they can come up with either changes or a new setup style to get them back on terms with the rest.


The Honda, I mean Mercedes, clearly showed that you can have great on paper ideas but when you have the inability to implement, maintain, AND upgrade its a waste of time. Given all of the great talent now at Honda (Merc) you have to wonder if the team’s failings come down to the rank and file people …. A little off topic, all of this raving about Kimi and slagging of Schuey boils down to who got the better car. Would michael have retired had he been driving the Renault, No!


Great article, James, but looking at the last line, did someone interrupt you? 🙂


I do like these articles as [mod] tend to stay away! 🙂
@martin: check out the Scarbs blog for an explanation of the Redbull double DRS. He goes into a great level of detail on every technical innovation


The Coanda exhaust and DDRS (from Lotus) turns out to be the winning innovations.

Much of it came down to the development race of implementing it correctly to the car.

When Mercedes intro their DDRS, Lotus figured a simpler version. The simplification turns out to be the better way to go since Red Bull also followed that path.

Ferrari seems to be plagued in the second half of the year with their useless windtunnel. Otherwise, I expect they would have innovations of their own.


Lotus did not run their version of DDRS and in any case it was quite different to the RBR one. The RBR DDRS ran holes in the top of the rear wing end plates that when exposed by the DRS activation , channelled air down the end plates and onto the lower beam wing.

The Lotus system channelled air via additional intakes on the engine intake and blew via a funnel to the floor and lower rear wing. This system is still legal under the rules but the Red Bull version is illegal for 2013.

It will be really interesting what teams will use to boost straight line performance – particularly the Renault powered cars because the Mercedes powered cars were so strong though the 2nd part of 2012- Force India & Mclaren in particular. If they find some small gains in downforce they will challenge the Red Bulls quite easily in 2013.


I don’t ever recall Lotus running a DDRS device in practice or the race. They ran a passive device that stalls part of the rear wing in practice, but never raced it.


Any more news on the Lotus passive DDRS system James ?. I’m guessing they will test on the E21 along with other stuff. The new rules can’t touch this and the beauty of it, if it works is that it will give them speed down any straight.

What Im also baffled about is that after 3 years Renault still can only get 40kw out if its KERS compared to 60kw out of the Mercedes ( Im guessing its a similar figure for Ferrari).


Maybe it’s a weight trade off issue with the KERS? I’d put money on the Lotus being the lightest car on the grid.

As for their passive DRS, I will be surprised to see it show up again. They never raced it this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mercedes try to race it though, or at least test it this winter.


i may be wrong, but my understanding of the Lotus system (which I think Merc also dabbled with) is that it uses a very sensitive liquid switch to turn it on/off. This means the car needs to be set-up very precisely for each circuit (which they couldnt do last year hence never raced it) and that its also prone to being sensitive to the environmental conditions (i.e. air pressure).

So somewhere like Spa, it may work for the first couple of laps and the weather may change and the device be rendered useless…. all these prickly issues sound like it wouldnt be the golden bullet solution. But happy to eat my words if Kimi is able to win a couple more races!


I thought it was pressure related – as speeds increase the volume of air would push a spring loaded latch open in the extra inlets around the engine cover and that would foil the airflow over the lower rear wing and floor. The problem with all these DDRS solutions is that they effect the balance of the car and hence braking etc into hight speed cornering. So they have to trade off a few tenths gain with trying to find the optimum balance ion the car for the whole circuit.

I think hydraulic sensor switch was related to the Lotus self levelling suspension under braking solution that was blocked by the FIA in February ( very innovative devise). I could be wrong but I don’t think you could use additional electronic switches for devises ( other than the drs) anyway- so I don’t see how anyone would try this- that’s why most went with simple solutions such as the holes behind the rear wing flap – such as Red Bull and Mercedes.


Thanks for that David it makes sense now. I couldn’t understand how the air pressure was being ‘ released’ to the rear wing without something opening. I made the silly assumption that an internal release would somehow do this under pressure. Your spot on in that the Lotus system is more of a clever F duct- but it’s funny how the media have trained us on the use if this new acronym for drag reduction. Do you know where you discovered the info on it ,cause I was trying to get more detail late last year with no luck ? I really hope Lotus ( and others for that matter) can continue to innovate with such narrow parameters in the regulations.


There is no spring loaded latch as this would be considered a moveable aero device and therefore illegal. The ‘fluid switch” is actually just clever shaping of the inlets which guides the airflow along a benign path below certain pressure but when that prescribed pressure is exceeded the air is forced along a different path which then creates the stalling effect on the underside of the rear wing. It is this prescribed air pressure which is difficult to tune from track to track as it basically requires new inlet internals each time you change a gear ratio or take a turn out of the wing. It is also a misnomer to refer to this device as ddrs aš the technology is actually more closely related to the f duct of 2010 albeit in passive form.


I wonder if Lotus will be able to get their passive DRS working next year, especially given it will apparently work in races.

It could be next years golden bullet if it does!


I highly doubt it. They didn’t race it this year after testing it during many practice sessions. It is such a hard device to tune, I don’t see much benefit from it.


Nice Analysis James, what about the Coanda exhaust system and double DRS?


Coanda was the first thing James talked about, and DDRS was the last, what do you mean?


one of the most annoying things james is that as soon as creative solutions are found and implemented, the FIA then close them down. i thought that F1 was supposed to be the ‘pinnacle’ of motorsport and favoured the innovation of new ideas.obviously that is not the case.

i am not sure whether this translates from the original but it does bear some contemplation, ‘you will never make the slow fast by making the fast slow’, if you get what i mean.


You are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of innovations that you don’t see or the FIA has no problem with. This is what makes it great. A game, within a game, within a…


Mercedes have been focusing too much on DRS instead of designing a proper F1 car. They were shown up by Red Bull’s clever interpretation of their failed DDRS idea. Mercedes need to realize that F1 is more about cornering speed than straight-line speed.


Perhaps the same goes for all the other teams Red Bull has beat over the last 3 years? Was the Mercedes team thinking of cornering speed at all when they won the championship as BrawnGP?


They didn’t have kers or a drs back then. It was just a decent chasis with great down-force. They did struggle with getting temperature into the tires but the car was good at most tracks.


Good day,

Great story James, like always. How to fix F1: Small-ish wings, very large tires, 3 pedels and a gear lever…I am thinking about the early 90’s cars with a few twicks. I am looking forward to next season, I hope it is close as you predict.

Thank you,



Yeah, and the tyres shouldn’t be so sensitive to driving style! Oh yes and let them have as much petrol as they need. Let the drivers drive flat out the whole race so they look like they’ve done some work. (Like they used to).



It’s a good point, but back to manual gears?

I think they should unlock the regs on gears, lets see what a fully CPU controlled CVT gearbox can do.

Perhaps some active feedback on the Throttle pedel too.

I would love to see what some uber-gearbox system could do to my MPG in my old battered (horrible gold) Volvo instead of my clumsy left hand & foot… probably more good than some Condra-affect off-throttle blowing exhaust.


Fully agree… DRS is a disaster of epic proportions… it’s just a type of blue flag passing system.

Smaller wings with wider chassis and tires would result in real racing again.

F1 as it stands now, is an utter bore on the racing front… slip streaming was the most exciting aspect of an overtake in the past… now, the cars wobble around like jelly because of the excess areo and low mechanical grip…

I want to see drivers fighting their cars… not cruising around on rails.


Why large tyres? All that would do is create masses of mechanical grip giving great traction and stability at low speed.


Here’s the problem with these types of throwback suggestions; the spectacle of seeing these cars go around at physics defying speeds would be lost. F1 still needs to be properly high tech and of course, fast. We can’t have GP2 or GP3 cars lapping around as quick, if not faster than these hypothetical lets-rewind-F1-20-years racing cars.



I would just like to see cars that were less aero and more grip. The 3 pedles is so poeple can miss gears and show there true skills, i know it will never happen. also i do love see the high corner speeds the wings allow. Im just old school F1, its still great racing.

Happy new year to all!


The clutch would still only be used off the line and at pitstops/recovering from an off.


It is not GP2 and GP3 pace that would be the problem, as I imagine their cars would be modified accordingly to still be micro-F1 machines.

90’s F1 mimics would, however, be slower than LMP1 (which are closer in pace to HRT than HRT where to the mid-field in F1) and Indy Car, and would no longer be the ‘pinicle’ of motorsport.

Modern F1 is already pretty slow; unlimited DRS use masked this, however. It needs more engine power. Current engine are so gutless that they A: hardly challenge the drivers on throttle and B: are slow.


James, any chance of a similar article for technical innovations used in pit stops, factories etc?


Good post. Yes, James. Teams can make gains during pit stops, if they are smart enough – and quick enough! Can you post some comments about what teams implemented over 2012 to improve pit stop times (i.e. Sam Michael’s strategies that evolved from the initial disasters).


For God’s sake I don’t want another Vettel/Newey year…


I don’t mind Newey, but Wetal is a pain! (Fingers, boreing speaches.)



I still don’t understand how blowing the diffusor on the Red Bull can generate more top speed.

“which is switched on when the DRS wing opens.”


Maybe I’m looking at the device as being more simple than what it is but…it looks to connect a high pressure area to a low pressure area (from the top of the first rear wing element to the bottom of the beam wing).

The diffuser is a high efficiency downforce creating device, meaning it creates little drag for the ammount of downforce. I don’t see a huge benefit to stall the diffuser. There is a bigger benefit to stall the rear wings because they aren’t as efficient in creating downforce.

Red Bull were likely stalling the beam wing and possibly the lower rear wing element as well. I doubt at all that the diffuser was stalling. The diffuser likely lost some efficiency when in DDRS mode because the low pressure area below the beam wing aids in extracting flow from under the car/diffuser.


RBR had some problems getting on the front row in the beginning of the season, so I think it has more to do with getting more speed exiting the corners in qualy.

The DDRS creates more downforce, so they could activate the DRS earlier when exiting the corner without losing rear grip, thus creating faster laptimes.

That’s my idea anyway. Maybe it’s something completely different.


Hi Renato,

I don’t understand it fully, but the first concept is the fluid switch, which first appeared with the F-duct. Only small pressure variations were required to mechanically change the switch, which then controlled a larger fluid flow. So when the DRS is opened the fluid switch opens and allows a separate flow of air through a pipe to the beam wing and diffuser.

To minimise drag, at the first order level you want to maximise the pressure behind the car. At about this point my fluid dynamics from university engineering and state of the art F1 diverge quite a bit. In F1 we have stalled wings that generate less drag than working ones (not normally the suggestion for stalled (high angle of attack) aircraft wings). With diffusers, I understood the main aim was to maximise the effect of the venturi under the car, so that would mean aiming for as great a pressure behind the car as possible anyway.

I hope my half answer is of help. If I’m lucky, someone will educate me.




I don’t think there were any fluid switches. I think it simply connected a high pressure area to a low pressure area. It likely stalls the beam wing and probably the lower rear wing element too. The diffuser probably loses a little efficiency when DRS is activated due to the beam wing being stalled.


Here you go – Scarbs is usually pretty good at getting the detail in layman’s terms and good tech drawings… although he hasnt posted for a while, his last article was about the RB rear wing:


no doubt it disturbs the flow in the diffuser in some way, destroying the downforce/drag-creating flows in the diffuser.


thanks, sounds good to me


As the better resourced what? I think the last sentence of the article got cut off.


“…and making sure they haven’t missed the obvious magic bullet on the 2014 design.”

not so obvious to me, I don’t think – as I’m left wondering what that might be?


That’s the point. No-one knows until it turns up at the first race, then they all curse and set about copying it!


I’m not expecting anything next year as a magic bullet although I hope I’m wrong. I do expect clever engine mapping and some added bits to the coanda exhaust area.

If anyone gets a passive DRS device to work, it may give them a little edge on certain tracks.


Very interesting article

Was it ever revealed what the intake on the redbull nose was for apart from ‘cooling the drivers feet’ as Mark Webber described it in your 2nd podcast…



It did remove the previous cooling hole from the very front of the car. It’s other performance advantage may have been to waste the time of other teams as they considered what advantage it might bring.


was just about smoothing airflow over the step apparently:


Nice summary James

I would also point out that Lotus had another idea in the bag. The leveling/braking system which ultimately failed preseason and wasn’t implemented

I’m sure there were probably other ideas that didn’t get to the grid, but that was the mentioned quite a bit preseason

Cheers and Merry Xmas to all from Canada! Peace..


This article only highlights how little innovation and scope for revolutionary ideas there is in F1. The regulations are so constricting that teams are spending enormous sums and time developing aerodynamics to gain 1 or 2 10ths. The engines have been frozen for years, new ideas are immediately banned, and the cars are almost specs series. I no longer purchase technical analysis books as there is nothing, really, to analyze except tiny incremental improvements in aero, as James does above. This series has become technically boring and irrelevant. The new turbo engines for 2014 had the chance to be interesting, but the rules are too constricting; bore, spacing, angle, c.g., turbo location, minimum weight, revs, etc. etc. are all specified and enormously limit innovation. Too bad.


Yes. I wish it was like the late 70’s where real innovations could be explored; Six-wheelers, ground effect (with skirts and fans), turbos and non-turbos. Or the early 90’s; traction control, active suspension, ABS, continously variable transmission. The 93 Williams was probably the most technical Formula 1 car ever designed; it was eveything F1 is supposed to be about.

It would be fatastic to watch cars that are built to be 100% optimum race cars and I’m sure drivers would relish the opportunity of driving such a car (even if they do need oxygen masks to prevent blackouts). 😀


i agree, but it comes down to cost and the FIA trying to limit the amount the smaller teams have to spend in relation to the more established teams with increased budgets.

The problem is, in my opinion, that the emphasis is on aero too much – if the cars had more mechanical emphasis you wouldnt have to have teams burning $$$$’s in R&D budget on wind tunnels and CFD to make a few mm’s change on the height of the side pod etc…

Of course the irony being that the inclusion of new power plants and “green” technology such as KERs is costing prob even more money and is now being tweaked and changed to frequently at the moment, so what the FIA gives with one hand, it takes back twice with the other!


Exactly – The FIA are making the spending war worse.

FIA talk about cutting COSTS and trying to make F1 GREEN –

By trying to make F1 green they are attempting to get business interested to invest in F1 – but all its doing is getting more money in F1 turning it into a bank account war.

FIA focusing on how much fuel a F1 car uses per race but ignoring the 3-4 huge planes to move all the teams around and what happens to all those KERS batteries once used.

While the FIA try to make F1 green they are in fact killing the competition side of the sport.

Cut the crap – let the teams do what they want but set a budget and fuel usage for the year.


The idea is not to use as little fuel for a racing weekend or make cars green for public opinion of the sport but rather to help create technologies that could apply to road cars. A revolutionary fuel saving on a race car when applied to a road car could mean a huge amount less pollution etc. Williams fly wheel based KERS, inevitably it failed for F1 use but did find some use on touring cars. It could make a road car greener eventually.

Its all very what if but it does make more sense than a V8/V10 etc in that case, even if the racing may not be as good (which is poor for us obviously).

Renault apparently had a big say in the change to V6’s as they are more relevant to their road car market for these reasons.


I’m afraid you’re right.

I’ve been following F1 since the mid 1960s – I assumed there would have been immense and radical changes in this technologically ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’ sport over the last 50 years.

Apart from the thankful improvement in driver safety, I was wrong.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the American Le Mans Series in 2013 to redress the balance.


James, do you think DRS gizmos will have such a big impact? The new DRS rules, which reduce its use, forbidding its use around the circuit, made me think DRS will not be a big player next year.

And the difference between qualifying and race pace would be smaller, particularly with Ferrari an Lotus, which seem to struggle with all-lap DRS


Hi Carlos,

There are a few parts to the argument.

In Ferrari’s case, reattachment of the airflow after the DRS is released was the issue for it, particularly in qualifying. On one straight the fractional loss is small in closing the DRS and then braking for one corner.

Teams could go for a bigger DRS as there is no ability to use it in corners, so the downforce required from the wing with DRS open is not an issue.

The FIA will be hoping this is the case as previous rule was to force cars to use gearing that would facilitate DRS passes. A team such as Red Bull could use DRS to hit the same top speed earlier down the straight, which hurts passing, but aids clear air lap times in the race when DRS is not in use. If comparable teams both use this approach then DRS would be effectively negated. As it is, KERS is usually sufficiently powerful to allow a car to hit 18000 rpm in 7th gear.

For Lotus, its problem was different, and it is unaffected by the 2013 rule changes. Lotus was trying to use fluid switches that relied on air speed to generate a specific level of pressure to activate stalling devices. Lotus was unable to get these to activate consistently in the right speed ranges. If Lotus or another team can make this work, then it is free to use it. With DRS the wing shut as soon as the driver braked, or on release if you were driving a Ferrari to retain stability. If the fluid switch was set to 240km/h, then after a 310 km/h straight there would be that 70 km/h range where the braking performance would be reduced. Then there would be a rearward shift in centre of pressure mid braking phase, taking more weight off the front wheels. If the teams could make the fluid switch pitch sensitive then that might be a way to reduce this effect as the stalling would stop as soon as weight transferred forward under braking. However, the same pitch is a disadvantage for generating downforce from the floor, so the teams run a degree of (not complete) anti-dive suspension geometry to reduce pitch under braking.

I suspect the Lotus avenue is not be followed by many and DRS will, as you suggest, be much less significant in 2013.




“The 2013 field is likely to be as close or even closer than this year, but the new rules in 2014 will spread it out again as the better resourced”… websites are able to finish their posts? Good morning. How about another cup of coffee?

I hope someone will see the light and find a way to reasonably manage costs. That means $40 million is a jokingly small amount. But also allow more innovation so smaller teams can still find innovations rather than lose via expensive iterations of tiny marginal gains.

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