In this latest look at some of 2017’s most interesting technical developments in Formula 1, we analyse a specific development pioneered by Mercedes to improve the front-end of its W08 chassis, something not seen before in F1.
Arriving in pre-season testing ahead of the 2017 season, Mercedes seemed to struggle relative to the team’s previous three years of F1 dominance, and it’s considered that Ferrari arrived at Barcelona with a stronger car.
While Ferrari’s new SF70H chassis was balanced and user-friendly, the Mercedes seemed to endure a number of struggles with handling over the early rounds, and was famously described as “a bit of a diva” by team principal Toto Wolff.
Naturally, Mercedes’ engineers had to make some drastic developments if they were to overhaul the early advantage of Ferrari.
Mercedes’ splitter design
To combat the front-end instability and improve airflow to the increasingly intricate bargeboard designs, Mercedes arrived in Barcelona again – this time for the fifth round of the 2017 F1 championship – with a colossal upgrade package.
Keen to readdress the balance of the early championship fight with Ferrari, Mercedes had returned to Spain with an innovative new splitter design, combined with new front nosecone geometry.
The new nose was more dramatically tapered in towards the bulkhead mounting point, retaining the initial crash structure but maximising the area available for the splitter to work.
With the mandatory low noses in the current cycle of regulations, keeping airflow attached underneath presents a great challenge to F1 designers, and any failure to do so creates pockets of turbulence which can increase the amount of lift present underneath.
Any lift effects dull the effectiveness of the downforce-generating components of the front end, reducing front tyre loading and hence slashing the front-end responsiveness.
Mercedes’ addition of the splitter helped the team to accelerate the airflow underneath the nose area, and does so with a clear guidance of flow towards the components behind the suspension wishbones.
Accelerating the airflow simply produces a greater pressure differential underneath, recouping a smidgen of any lost downforce produced by circulating wake under the nose, and the subsequent direction of the airflow towards the front of the floor assists with maximising the effectiveness of the bargeboard section.
As is often repeated within F1 circles, the front wing and associated parts are the most important aerodynamic pieces of the car as they conduct how airflow interacts with everything behind. The addition of the splitter buys into that ethos, and allowed Mercedes the chance to further manipulate the flow of air before reaching the rest of the car.
Along with a raft of other components introduced at Barcelona, Mercedes’ splitter enjoyed a perfect debut as Lewis Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel to victory.
While it didn’t turn the tide on the slower circuits – Mercedes’ comparatively glacial pace on the slower circuits were a result of its inherent design characteristics – it gave the Brackley-based team the chance to reignite its ultimately-successful championship charge.
It will be interesting to see whether this is an avenue that the teams will pursue next year. Save from the Toro Rosso team, the rest of the field opted for the thumb-nose solution last year, but Mercedes’ splitter design might just prompt a greater variation in front-end designs for 2018.