Red Bull started the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers test with a mass of aero testing equipment fitted to the RB7. Although the test is supposed to be to assess young drivers, this is the first open test since the season started and teams make use of this time to gather data from the car. In Red Bulls case this was a repeat of tests from last year, where the front wing ride height and wake is being measured by a range of sensors.
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Airflow around the front tyre is critical with the post-2009 wide front wings. The ever more complex front wing endplates direct the airflow around the tyre. This effect varies greatly with front wing ride height, so that when the wing flexes down under load at speed, the airflow changes. I have learnt from F1 aerodynamicists that the effect of the endplate on flow around the wheel as the wing flexes down, is perhaps more important than downforce gained the wing being closer to the ground. So the Red Bull and also Ferrari tests are critical to understand how the airflow passes around the tyres with varying wing ride height.
Clearly the gains from flexible front wings will be an ever greater performance factor next year. Even though the FIA rules amended for 2011 were even more stringent than in 2010.
In Red Bulls the case the set up consists of three main elements; the aero rake, ride height sensors and the cables holding the front wing.
My interpretation of how the rig works is: the wing is allowed to deflect at speed to a specific height, this is controlled by the cables from the hump on the nose. By limiting droop, a number of wing ride height settings can be assessed during the runs. Laser ride height sensors both in the centre and at the front and rear of the endplate will confirm the actual ride height and wing angle being tested. Then the rake will take measurements of the airflow. The driver will then run at a fixed speed along the straight, keeping a consistent speed will ensure the data is consistent and the amount of wing flex can be predicted for each run.
This will create an aero map of flow across the wing and with the wing at different attitudes. The data from the tests will be used to confirm CFDWind tunnel results and direct the team in deciding how the wing should flex in 2012.
We can now look in detail how the rig is made and how it works.
Cables holding the front wing
During some runs we saw the cables lying loose between the wing and the hump. Which confirms they are cables and not solid rods, as with the rake mountings. Being cables they could not be for measuring wing position, as not being stiff, they would not be accurate enough. With the size of the nose hump and the other equipment to measure ride height, I now believe they are to control the droop of the front wing. Perhaps the test wing is more flexible than the usual race wing in order to achieve more attitudes under load. Its possible the hump contains hydraulics to adjust the droop of the wing to different attitudes during each run. The 2009 Red Bull used hydraulics in the nose to control the then legal adjustable front wing flap, so it’s a proven approach to fit more hydraulics into the nose cone. Being able to alter wing attitude on the move would greatly improve the amount of data gathered from each run. With there being two cables for each wing, one mounted on the main plane and the second on the flap, the wing could be controlled not only in droop but also the angle of attack. So that the wing could reproduce different beam and torsional stiffness of a future wing.
Ride Height sensors
We have seen laser ride height sensors fitted to cars through Friday practices and extra units fitted for testing. For the front wing rig Red Bull ran five ride height sensors on the wing. The central unit is fitted to the neutral centre section of wing. This would measure true wing ride height, as the centre section is relatively stiff and is not part of the deflecting structure of the wing. Then two ride height sensors are fitted to front to the front and rear of the endplate. These would measure the ride height of the wing tips. Using the centre ride height sensor as a base line provides the amount the wing tip is deflecting. Just as with the double cable arrangement supporting the wing, the two endplate ride height sensors would measure any change in angle of attack, the delta between the front and rear sensors showing the wings angle of attack.
With the wings attitude controlled and measured by the cables and sensors, the wake of the wing is then measured by the aero rake. This is an array of sensors measuring air speed, velocity and perhaps even direction. Two rows of rakes are employed and these are securely mounted to blisters on the nose cone. Just as with the wing mounting cables these struts may be attached to hydraulics to raise the rake over a range of positions, to map a wider area behind the wing. A slightly messy part of the mounting system if the bundle of cables exiting the rake and passing up into the nose cone to be attached to the cars telemetry system.