The first European round of the F1 season is traditionally a time when teams bring new parts to their cars hoping for a performance boost.
We saw that to some extent this weekend in Spain.
But here, with the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, formerly of Williams, McLaren, Toyota and Jaguar Racing, we have highlighted some interesting details, to help fans understand more of what goes on behind the scenes and especially some of the interesting things Mercedes and Red Bull in particular are doing with their cars at the moment, which contributes to why they are performing as they are.
Don’t look at this post as a dry analysis of aero updates. There are some pointers here which could become real talking points as the season goes on.
All teams have aerodynamic departments which will be looking to add 1 point of downforce per week in the wind tunnel and using computer simulations. The rough rule of thumb is that three points of downforce is worth around 1/10th of a second in lap time.
So in three weeks of development you gain 1/10th. This is why if you take a wrong path and lose time, as Ferrari did last year for example, you lose ground to the opposition.
It has been around 9 weeks since the start of season, so teams will be looking at around 3/10ths to aero gain and more from the new hybrid power units. However this post is mainly on the chassis side.
These channels on the rear floor section just ahead of the rear tyres are not new but highlight the mixture of complex carbon and metallic structures integrated in the floor with these ‘simple’ addendums literally riveted onto the top surface.
The channel clearly works though and sometimes the simplest solutions, even if not the most aesthetic, are the best. It shows that even the leading teams have afterthoughts. The floor is beautiful and this piece isn’t, but they aren’t too proud to do what’s right even if it looks ugly!
Everything around the rear cut out corner is about channelling air around the tyre. This is there to control that flow. This area is one of most sensitive parts of the car. You can lose a lot of lap time in getting this wrong.
This is an example of the secret of Mercedes’ success. Once again not new for this race but it is worth mentioning Mercedes interesting approach to their lower wishbone with a single outer wetted surface (highlighted) to help optimally manage the flow from the front wing and front corner assembly, including brake duct and narrow spacing inboard between the pick-up points onto the chassis. Mercedes have carefully checked the flow structures on this assembly.
The gain here isn’t all aero, it is also mechanical. The mounting points are very close together, the geometry is interesting. This can’t be copied by other teams because you can’t remake chassis pick up points under F1 rules on chassis homologation. They have to wait to 2015 to copy it.
This is the kind of item Ross Brawn was talking about last year when he said that there are some clever things on the Mercedes which rivals can’t copy.
This corner of the car is very sensitive aerodynamically, but the gain here is also mechanical and helps with front grip and protecting the tyres. It’s hard to say exactly how this works without seeing the drawings. Other teams will be looking at this very closely. We might well see it on other cars next year.
Red Bull Racing
This could turn out to be a real talking point this season.
Red Bull were running flow vis paint on their rear wing and floor again in Spain. If one zooms in on the leading edge of the upper element (highlighted) one can see some intresting stripes as the flo vis shows what the air is doing through the wing. This is unusual; these perfectly regimented surface flow structures almost look as if they’ve been created by micro vortex generators.
What does this mean? Their rear wing flow structures are extremely stable. These stripes are unusual and you only get them if you energise the air flow. These structures are much more stable than any other team. This is a class act. It is a very strong, stable rear wing.
You see this kind of thing on aircraft rear wings, but not on racing cars. Red Bull’s clever aero peole may have learned something possibly from aerospace solutions.
If you look at Sector 2 and Sector 3 times in Barcelona, which highlight aerodynamic excellence, the Red Bull car was very quick and this is highly significant, indicating the car has massive downforce.
What is behind this striped pattern on the rear wing could become a real talking point this year and for sure all the teams will be studying images like this one, trying to understand how they are doing it.
Interestingly, Red Bull traditionally run more wing on their car because their approach is to get pole and lead races and and dodn’t worry about straight line speeds because the chasing cars can’t get close enough in the corners.
Now with an under performing power unit and a massively fast Mercedes rival, Red Bull doesn’t have that luxury and although they are sticking with the same aero and development philosophy, the problem for them could be that the car is too draggy for where they are in the field at the moment.
Williams have removed the integrated mirror stay between the mirror and central vane on the chassis cascade, but have retained the three element cascade profiles. The profiled stay may have been there to act as a stiffener, but potentially later found ‘excess to requirements’ and therefore removed. This is worth probably a point of downforce, so around 3/100ths of a second.
This is a small gain, but as part of a package it all adds up to around 2/10ths or 3/10ths of a second. Williams is bringing new parts to the car, which seem to be working and the team is moving forward.
Ferrari’s exhaust diameter has increased. In recent years there was always a clear trade-off between the smaller diameter exhaust’s better diffuser-blowing capabilities and improved aero benefits versus the detrimental loss in engine performance.
With the ban in 2014 on blowing towards the floor and the impact of the turbo charger in 2014 this trade off no longer exists to the same extent, so exhaust diameters tend to be set for optimal engine performance. It is interesting that Ferrari have tried a modified system.
In the blown diffuser days aero staff wanted a narrow pipe for maximum blowing pressure, which the engine people wanted a wider diamteter for better engine performance.
With the turbo taking energy, the pipe is sized for performance, so it is interesting they changed it after four races.
This indicates they are retuning the power unit, one of their biggest weaknesses. These updates are pretty powerful in terms of gains, but if you get it wrong can cost you. In the blown diffuser days you could lose 10hp with a narrow pipe, but the gain on aero was in tenths of a second, so the trade-off was on the aero side.
Whilst not a change for this race it is interesting to highlight how large the Ferrari front brake ducts are compared to their rivals. Although larger doesn’t necessarily mean worse (from an aero perspective) Ferrari’s ducts are surprisingly open. Not new but stands out. It is surprising how large they are. Their rivals go for less scooped duct.
There tends to be a size beyond which it becomes detrimental. They are doing it because they want to cool brakes, but also because it provides an optimal aero solution for front corner, maybe they help enhance performance. McLaren traditionally have been the ones with largest ducts.
McLaren had a revised front drum geometry (everything inboard of the red stripe) and detailed changes around the brake ducts including the addition of a grill (highlighted) to probably stop tyre rubber fragments into the cooling system, thereby stopping any potential blockage. The hot rubber tends to stick on the grill rather than enter the system.
Given the amount of marbles on the track on Sunday this was a prudent design. With the advances in pressure monitoring systems this type of grill could also potentially act as a mini rake for Friday running.
Typically Brake ducts mods like this are very expensive from a tooling point of view and give around 2-3 points, so 1/10th of a second. It wouldn’t be worth doing for less than 1/10th but it’s all carbon and lots of pieces so a very expensive piece of engineering.
To remove a reported 15kg of mass from an F1 car in a single update package is an impressive achievement. This should be roughly half a second of lap time.
It is unlikely they were 15kg overweight before, but they were a bit overweight. The centre of gravity will be improved and there are lots of other benefits, like they can also run more sensors. This is a significant gain. They need it because they are struggling a bit.