Analysis: 2013 F1 Rules and Trends

SF1_2013

With far reaching regulation changes coming onto the sport in 2014, the 2013 season is likely to be a year of consolidation, as few changes have been are written into this year’s rule book. So teams will be expected to optimise their designs from last year, correcting mistakes and adopting some of the better ideas of their rivals.
Some rules will have a small effect of car design and some trends from last year will be more common place. Unusually there have been few leaks or well-founded rumours circulating in the off season. This is probably as teams are expending a huge amount of resources in finding big gains for just one year’s competition, instead focussing on plans for 2014.

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F1 2012: Rules, Designs and Trends

For 2012 we will have a raft of rules changes that will alter the look and performance of the car. For most of the new cars, we will immediately see the impact of the lower nose regulations. Then the big story of 2010-2011 of exhaust blown diffusers (EBDs) comes to an end with stringent exhaust placement rules and a further restriction on blown engine mappings.
Even without rule changes the pace of development marches on, as teams converge of a similar set of ideas to get the most from the car. This year, Rake, Front wings and clever suspensions will be the emerging trends. Sidepods will also be a big differentiator, as teams move the sidepod around to gain the best airflow to the rear of the car. There will also be the adoption of new structural solutions aimed to save weight and improve aero.
Last of all there might be the unexpected technical development, the ‘silver bullet’, the one idea we didn’t see coming. We’ve had the double diffuser and F-Duct in recent years, while exhaust blown diffusers have thrown up some new development directions. What idea it will be this year, is hard, if not impossible to predict. If not something completely new, then most likely an aggressive variation of the exhaust, sidepod or suspension ideas discussed below.

2012 noses

The most obvious rule change for 2012 is the lowering of the front of the nose cone. In recent years teams have tried to raise the entire front of the car in order to drive more airflow over the vanes and bargeboards below the nose. The cross section of the front bulkhead is defined by the FIA (275mm high & 300mm wide), but teams have exploited the radiuses that are allowed to be applied to the chassis edges, in order to make the entire cross section smaller. Both of these aims are obviously to drive better aero performance, despite the higher centre of Gravity (CofG) being a small a handicap, the better aero overcomes this to improve lap times.


A safety issue around these higher noses is that they were becoming higher than the mandatory head protection around the cockpit, in some areas this is as low as 55cm. It was possible that a high nose tip could easily pass over this area and strike the driver.

The front section of chassis will be as high as possible (at 62.5cm) and radiussed into a "V" shape

So now the area ahead of the front bulkhead must be lower than 55cm. However the monocoque behind this area can remain as high as 62.5cm. Thus in order to strive to retain the aero gains teams will keep a high chassis and then have the nose cone flattened up against this 55cm maximum height. Thus we will see these platypus noses, wide and flat in order to keep the area beneath deformable structure clear for better airflow. The radiussed chassis sides are still allowed so we will also see this 7.5cm step merged into the humps a top of the chassis.
Areas below and behind the nose are not allowed to have bodywork (shown yellow in the diagram), so small but aggressive vanes will have to be used, or a McLaren style snowplough. Both these devices drive airflow towards the leading edge of the underfloor for better diffuser performance.

New exhausts

Exhausts must be high up on the sidepod, so cannot blow the diffuser

Having used the engine via the exhausts to drive aerodynamic performance for the past two years, exhaust blown diffusers will be effectively banned in 2012. The exhausts must now sit in small allowable area, too high and far forward to direct the exhausts towards the diffuser. The exhausts must feature just two exits and no other openings in or out are allowed. The final 10cm of the exhaust must point rearwards and slightly up (between 10-30 degrees). Allied to the exhaust position, the system of using the engine to continue driving exhaust when the driver is off the throttle pedal has also been outlawed. Last year teams kept the engine throttles opened even when the driver lifted off the throttle for a corner. Then either allowing air to pass through the engine (cold blowing) or igniting some fuel along the way (hot blowing). The exhaust flow would remain a large proportion of the flow used when on the throttle, thus the engine was driving the aero, even when the driver wasn’t needing engine power. Now the throttle pedal position must map more closely the actual engine throttle position, thus if the driver is off the throttle pedal, then the engine throttles must be correspondingly closed.

Blown rear wing (BRW): The exhausts will blow upward to drive flow under the rear wing for more downforce

Teams will be faced with the obvious choice of blowing the exhausts upwards towards the rear wing, to gain a small aerodynamic advantage, when the driver is on the throttle. These Blown Rear Wings (BRWs) will be the conservative solution and certainly will be the first solution used in testing.
However, it’s possible to be aggressive with these exhaust designs too. One idea is blowing the rear wing with a much higher exhaust outlet; this would blow tangentially athte wing profile, which is more effective at increasing the flow under the wing for more downforce. Packaging these high exhausts may cause more problems than gains. But last year’s exhausts passing low and wide across the floor suffered a similar issue, but proved to be the optimum solution.

A more aggressive BRW raises the exhaust and blows tangentially under the wing profile, which is more efficient

Even more aggressive solution would be directing the exhausts onto the vanes allowed around the rear brake ducts. If avoiding the brake cooling inlet snorkel, the fast moving exhaust gas would produce downforce directly at the wheel, which is more efficient than wings mounted to the sprung part of the chassis. However the issue here would be the solution is likely to be so effective, that it will be sensitive to throttle position and rear ride height. If these issues can be engineered out, then this is an attractive solution.

An extreme but legal solution is to blow the exhaust on the rear brake duct fins creating downforce directly at the wheel.

Wing ride height and Rake
With rules setting a high front wing ride height and small diffusers, aero performance is limited. So teams have worked out how to work around these rules by angling the entire car into a nose down attitude. This is known as ‘Rake’, teams will run several degrees of rake to get the front wing lower and increase the effective height of the diffuser exit. Thus the front wing will sit closer to the track, than the 75mm when the car is parallel to the ground. While at the rear, the 12.5cm tall diffuser sits an additional 10cm clear of the track, making its expansion ratio greater. Teams were using the EBD, to seal this larger gap between the diffuser and the floor. Without the EBD teams will have to find alternative way to drive airflow into the gap to create a virtual skirt between the diffuser and track.
Furthermore teams have also allowed the front wing to flex downwards at speed to allow it to get closer to the ground, further improving its performance. Although meeting the FIA deflection tests, teams are allowing the wing bend and twist to position the endplate into a better orientation, either for sealing the wing to the ground or directing airflow towards the front tyres wake. Both creating downforce benefits at the front or rear of the car, respectively.
One issue with allowing the wing to ride closer to the ground through rake or flexing, is that at high speed or under braking (when the nose of the car dives), the front wing can be touching the ground. This is bad for both aero and for creating sparks, which will alert the authorities that the wing is not its normal position relative to the chassis. So teams are creating ways to manage front ride height. Traditionally front bump rubbers or heave springs will prevent excessively low ride heights. Also the front suspension geometry runs a degree of geometric anti-dive, to prevent the nose diving under braking.

Antidive geometry in the front suspension is one way to reduce pitch under braking

Last year we saw two additional solutions, interlinked suspension, where hydraulic suspension elements prevent nose dive under braking by displacing fluid in a hydraulic circuit one end of the car to the other end, creating a stiffer front suspension set up. This prevents dive under braking, while keeping a normally soft suspension for better grip.
We have also seen Lotus (nee LRGP) use torque reaction from the front brake callipers to extend the pushrod under braking, creating an anti-dive effect and prevent the nose dipping under braking.

An interpretation of the Lotus Antidive solution, using the brake caliper mounting to operate a hydraulic circuit and extend the pushrod (legally) under braking

These and probably other solutions will be seen in 2012 to maintain the ideal ride height under all conditions.

Front end

A three element endplate-less front wing

Towards the end of last year, front end aero design was converging into a set of similar ideas. Aside from the flexible wing option, already discussed above. The main direction was the use of a delta shaped threefour element wing, sporting no obvious endplate. The delta shape means that most of the wings downforce is created at the wing tip; this means less energy is taken from the airflow towards the inner span of the wing, which improves airflow at the rear of the car. Also the higher loading near the wing tip creates a stronger vortex, which drives airflow around the front tyre to reduce drag. Three wing elements are used, each being similar in chord length, rather than one large main plane and much smaller flaps. This spaces the slots between the elements out more equally, helping reduce airflow separation under the wing. More slots mean a more aggressive wing angle can be used without stalling. At the steepest outer section of wing, teams will mould a fourth slot in the flap to further manage airflow separation.
First introduced by Brawn in 2009, the endplate-less design is used as it’s more important to drive airflow out wide around the front tyre, than to purely maintain pressure difference above and below the wing. Rules demand a minimum amount of bodywork in this area, so vanes are used to both divert the airflow and meet the surface area regulations. This philosophy has now morphed into the concept, where the wing elements curl down to form the lower part of the endplate. Making the wing a homogenous 3D design, rather than flat wing elements and a separate vertical endplate.

Arched sections (yellow) of wing, help drive vortices to divert airflow along the car

A feature starting to emerge last year was arched sections of wing. Particularly near the mandatory neutral centre 50cm section of wing. These arched sections created elongated vortices, which are stronger and more focussed than tip vortices often used to control airflow. In 2012 many teams will create these unusual curved sections at the wings interface with the centre section.

Extending the front wing mounting pylons helps to make use of the middle 50cm of wing

Above this area, the pylon that mounts to the wing to the nosecone has been exploited to stretch he FIA maximum cross section to form the longest possible pylon. This forms the mounting pylon into endplates either side of the centre section of wing and along with the arched inner wing sections, help create the ideal airflow 25cm from the cars centreline (known as the Y250 axis).

Pointing a section of front wing profile at a suitable vane on the front brake ducts is one way gain aero performance.

In 2011 Mercedes GP used a section of the frotn wing to link up with the fins on the brake ducts, this created an extra long section of wing.  Vanes on the front brake ducts are increasingly influential on front wing performance and front tyre wake.
Mercedes GP also tried an innovative F-Duct front wing last year. This was not driver controlled, but rather speed (pressure) sensitive. Stalling the wing above 250kph, this allowed the flexing wing to unload and flex back upwards at speed, to prevent the wing grounding at speed. But the effect altered the cars balance at high speed, and the drivers reportedly didn’t like the effect on the handling. I’ve heard suggestions that the solution isn’t planned for 2012.

Sidepods
With so much of the car fixed within the regulation, it’s becoming the sidepods that are the main area of freedom for the designers. Last year we saw four main sidepod concepts; Conventional, Red Bull lowtapered, McLaren “U” shape and Toro Rosso’s undercut.
Each design has its own merits, depending on what the designer wants to do with the sidepods volume to get the air where they want it to flow.

An undercut in the sidepod is one way to drive good flow around the sidepod to the diffuser

This year I believe teams will want to direct as much airflow to the diffuser as possible, Red Bulls tiny sidepod works well in this regard, as does the more compromised Toro Rosso set up. Mclarens “U” pod concept might be compromised with the new exhaust rules and the desire to use a tail funnel cooling exit. However the concept could be retained with either; less of top channel or perhaps a far more aggressive interpretation creating more of an undercut.

Using a slight McLaren "U" shape to the sidepod may still work in 2012

Part and parcel of sidepod design is where the designer wants the cooling air to enter and exit the sidepod. To create a narrower tail to the sidepod and to have a continuous line of bodywork from sidepod to the gearbox, the cooling exit is placed above the sidepod, in a funnel formed in the upper part of the engine cover. Most teams have augmented this cooling outlet with small outlets aside the cockpit opening or at the very front of the sidepod.

The tail funnel (light yellow) is a good cooling outlet method, as it reduces the size of the coke bottle section of sidepod

To let more air into the sidepod, without having to create overly large inlets, teams will commonly use inlets in the roll hoop to feed gearbox or KERS coolers.

Other aero
Even without the exhaust blowing over the diffuser, its design will be critical in 2012.
As already mentioned the loss of the exhaust blowing will hurt the team’s ability to run high rear ride heights and thus a lot of rake. Unobstructed the EBDs exhaust plume, airflow will want to pass from the high pressure above the floor to the lower pressure beneath it. Equally the airflow blown sideways by the rear tyres (known as tyre squirt) will also interfere with the diffuser flow.

The Coved section of floor between the tyre and diffuser will be a key design in 2012, as will cold blown starter holes and trailing edge flaps

Before EBDs teams used a coved section of floor to pickup and accelerate some airflow from above the floor into the critical area between the diffuser and rear tyre. I predict we will see these shapes and similar devices to be used to keep the diffuser sealed at the sides.
Last year we saw teams aid the diffusers use of pulling air from beneath the car, by adding large flap around its trailing edge. So a high rear impact structure raised clear of the diffusers trailing edge will help teams fit these flaps around its entire periphery. Red Bull came up with a novel ideal by creating a duct feeding airflow to the starter motor hole; this improves airflow in the difficult centre section of the diffuser. Many teams will have this starter motor hole exposed by the raised crash structure, allowing airflow to naturally pass into the hole. However I expect some vanes or ducts to aid the flow in reaching this hole tucked down at the back of the car.

Tapered flaps and top mounted DRS pods will be a direction for 2012

DRS was a new technology last year. We soon saw teams start to converge on a short chord flap and a high mounted hydraulic actuator pod. DRS allows the rear wing flap to open a gap of upto 50mm from the main plane below it. A smaller flap flattens out more completely with this 50mm gap, reducing drag more effectively than a larger flap.
As drag is created largely at the wing tips, I would not be surprised to see tapered flaps that flatten out at the wing tip and retain some downforce in the centre section. Teams may use the Pod for housing the actuators, although Mercedes succeeded with actuators hidden in the endplates. Having the pod above the wing clears the harder working lower surface, thus we will probably not see many support struts obstructing the wing.

Structures

Variations on William low line gearbox and differential will be followed for this year

Super slim gearboxes have been in vogue for many years, Last year Williams upped the stakes with a super low gearbox. The normally empty structure above the gear cluster was removed and the rear suspension mounted to the rear wing pillar. Williams have this design again for 2012, albeit made somewhat lighter. With the mandatory rear biased weight distribution the weight penalty for this design is not a compromise, while the improved air flow the wing is especially useful in 2012. So it’s likely the new cars will follow the low gearbox and low differential mounting in some form.

Rear pull rod suspension will be all but universal this year

A lot is said about Pull rod rear suspension being critical for success. In 2011 only a few teams retained push rod rear suspension (Ferrari and Marussia). I would say the benefits between the two systems are small; pushrod trades a higher CofG for more space and access to the increasingly complex spring and damper hardware. Whereas pull rod benefits from a more aerodynamically compact set up and a lower CofG. I still believe either system works well, if packaged correctly.
At the front it’s unlikely pull rod will be adopted. Largely because the high chassis would place a pull rod at too shallow an angle to work efficiently. Regardless the minimum cross section of the footwell area, discounts any potential aero benefits. Leaving just a small CofG benefit as a driver to adopt this format.

Undercut roll hoops with internal metal reinforcement will be a common feature to drive airflow to the rear wing

Most teams now use a metal structure to provide strength inside the roll hoop; this allows teams to undercut the roll hoop for better airflow to the rear wing. Even though last year two teams followed Mercedes 2009 blade type roll hoop, for Caterham at least, this isn’t expected to return this year. Leaving the question if Force India will retain this design?

Electronics and control systems
The 2012 technical regulations included a large number of quite complex and specific rules regarding systems controlling the engine, clutch and gearbox. It transpires that these are simply previous technical directives being rolled up into the main package of regulations. Only the aforementioned throttle pedal maps being a new regulation to combat hot and cold blowing.


While I still try to crack that deal to make this my full time job, I do this blog and my twitter feed as an aside to my day job. In the next few weeks I plan to attend the launches and pre-season tests. If you appreciate my work, can I kindly ask you to consider a ‘donation’ to support my travel costs.

Monaco Set up: the misconception of wheelbase

Monaco’s layout presents unique demands to the teams. As we are all aware, it’s all about slow and tight turns, thus devoid of any long straight or fast turns. Other tracks have low speed turns (Hungary) and there are other tight turns (La source at Spa). Monaco combines all of these and adds the issue of public roads. Complete with; camber, bumps and kerbs, plus the ever present Armco barriers lining the trackside.
 
Thus Monaco requires an exclusive set up to cope with these demands. It’s well known that teams run maximum downforce here; the drag that this inefficient aero set up brings bears no penalty as there are no straights to speak of.  With the addition of aero devices limited now with the 2009 rules, teams cannot add the plethora of add on winglets and flaps to add downforce.  This year a few teams will run add-on winglets in the 15cm free zone in the middle of the rear wing, but little else aside from maxed out wings and gurney tabs will be used.  Ferrari have added a small winglet to the tail of their shark fin engine cover this weekend for a little extra downforce. Additionally a floor and diffuser that work well at higher ride heights will be beneficial, although teams do not run Monaco specific floors. Obviously to cope with crowned road and bumps, teams run their cars at higher ride heights around the principality. Added to this softer springs and roll bars will induce more wheel travel and see the aero move through a greater range of attitudes than normal. For Monaco the resulting aero penalty is offset by the greater mechanical grip. 
 
Due to the low average speed, Monaco is much more about mechanical grip than aero; this is an area where misconceptions exist.  Wheelbase, although its a fundamental fact that shorter vehicles have tighter turning circles, in F1 terms wheelbase account for very little at Monaco.  With wheelbases over three metres, the difference in team’s wheelbases is just a few percent and not enough to have a primary advantage over the other factors differentiating the cars.  Long wheelbase cars have won at Monaco and in testing teams and drivers have never found wheelbase a key factor through tight turns.
 
Frank Dernie quoted me a couple of perfect examples; “when Brabham were concerned about their 1983 long wheelbase car around Monaco because it was around 12″ longer than the previous car, Nelson said he did not notice it at all” and pulling directly from his experience when at the start of the Eighties Williams were testing the FW07 six wheeler (a standard FW07 with an extra rear axle).  “The Williams 6-wheeler obviously had an effective long wheelbase and one of the first things we tried, before committing to the project, was a tight circuit test at Croix-en-Ternois to make sure it was not a disaster. Jacques Lafitte said he forgot he was driving the six wheeler after a few laps.” 
Mercedes GP are bringing their previous front suspension to Monaco.  This results in the car resorting to its previous short wheelbase set up.  This is not aimed at creating a shorter more nimble car, but simply not being enough long wheelbase wishbones available to the team.  Unfortunately for Mercedes this will push weight forwards in the car, which is counter productive at a track where rear tyre traction is critical.
 

 

So while wheelbase is not a primary factor in rounding tight turns, then what is?  Steering lock accounts for most of the solution, only Loews at Monaco (the tightest turn in F1) and La Source are turns where the driver has to turn the wheel beyond half a lock.  Drivers sometimes having to remove one hand from the wheel, to get enough clearance for their crossed arms.  If the front wheels can turn enough then the car will get around a tight turn, of course a longer wheelbase car will need slightly more lock for the same turn a short wheelbase car.  To allow the front wheels to steer enough a few mechanical alterations are required.  Firstly the steering racks can be altered with a different ratio to the rack and pinion.  But more commonly the outboard end of the track rod is brought closer to the uprights kingpin (steering) axis, resulting in more ‘steer’ for the same rack displacement.  This can bring an extra 5-degrees of steering angle.  To allow a power steering system to have a longer stroke, the teams need to alter the pistons that assist the rack in moving, by also making them longer.  Then at the outboard end of the wishbone, the pivot bearing should have enough freedom to steer the wheel through the required angle, but clearance between the wheel and the wishbone often requires the wishbones to be altered.  This is normally just a notch moulded in the rear leg of the upper wishbone.  Teams do also fit more robust wishbones for brushing the Armco, as well as tougher drive shafts.  Although the latter is as much about accelerating over bumpy surfaces, than the side thrust from a wheel touching the barrier. 

So who ever goes well at this weekends GP, will be as a result of a mechanical set up and downforce that are matched to the tyres. How long their wheelbase is not going to be the deciding factor. Although who actually wins may be as much down to luck as any set up parameter!

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Malaysia: Technical Preview

Just a few hours after the race in Australia ended; the teams were already packing up and heading off to Malaysia for Round3.  Sepang is a circuit that drivers love; it has a wide range of corners from hairpins, to long straights and at last fast turns.   Thus being quite a complex track it demands drivers get a good rhythm and the car works well in all situations. 

It’s quite a technical track; with long straights each punctuated by slow turn required aggressive braking and traction events, the slow turns eat up laptime, so the chassis needs good mechanical grip.  Most importantly the fast changes of direction through turns 5 & 6 at over 150mph; means the car will encounter sustained high speed cornering loads for the first time since Barcelona testing.  However being in Malaysia the track will be hot and this along with heavy race fuel will place huge loads on the tyres.  Malaysia will prove to be hard on tyres if it remains dry.  But rainstorms hit the late starting race last year and are already forecast for this weekend.  We could see the situation where a hot race turns into a very wet race, leading to a strategic headache for the teams, to respond to the changing conditions.  Recall last years race, with the torrential downpour ending the race just after half distance.

If it remains dry the teams will need to demonstrate their aero efficiency as the tyres will need downforce in the fast turns, but the track will penalise those running slower on the straights with lots of drag.  Of course in the heat, the teams need to open up the bodywork tool the engine and electronics, this costs drag and as Bahrain showed some teams needed to be quite extreme in creating sufficient outlet area to cool their car.  Otherwise Sepang is a moderate circuit; with medium downforce, braking and fuel consumption.  Although not to the extent of Albert Park, Sepang is a green track and will rubber in as the weekend progresses.  The track will become faster over the course of the weekend, this will allow the drivers push harder in the fast turns and in the braking areas.  Bridgestone will bring their hard and soft tyre options to Sepang; drivers will need to be mindful to care of them as the cars will work their tyres hard on full fuels loads in both the fast turns and inout of the hairpins.  This might make the driver cautious in the opening laps, but not necessarily tin the hectic first couple of corners.  Once the tyres are settled in, the track does offer overtaking opportunities, especially to those with a straight-line speed advantage or those brave into turn1.

Development-wise Australia was a surprise with several new parts tested up and down the grid.  Malaysia should prove to be a similarly interesting event, several teams are rushing their F-vents into production, so it’s possible we might see other teams test their early prototypes of the set up.  Only Renault and the new teams are expected not to develop such systems in the next few races.

Certainly there will be another debate on ride height adjustment, this was raised in Melbourne and continues through the media in the intervening week.  The argument is that some teams are able to alter their ride height in between qualifying and the race.  Doing this within what is permissible within the Parc Fermé rules.  Just as with the F-vent, the rules are worded to try to prevent this sort of practice, but the actual wording might allow some creative interpretation.  What is clear the teams will have to resort to form of hands off altering of ride height.  They are not permitted to make mechanical changes or adjustments to the suspension, until the car is stationery at the first pitstop.

If teams are running these systems, we can expect other teams to formally protest it and the FIA be more decisive and act to prevent it continuing.

Team by Team

McLaren

After a mixed weekend in Albert Park, where Buttons was confidence refreshed with a strong Q performance and of course a race win, but Hamilton showed their qualifying performance is still a problem.  A good grid slot for both cars will be important this weekend, as this has been a weak point for the MP425.  This might be down to the way the car is set up over the weekend.  It seems that Australia reinforced the level of straight-line speed advantage promised in Bahrain.  Although Bahrain proved that the car was matched on VMax by other cars.  Looking at the Australian speed traps, the McLaren’s were a step faster than these teams and a lot more rapid than the Ferrari but especially quicker than the Red Bulls.  McLaren averaging around 192mph and Red Bull 183mph, nearly a 10mph advantage.   However this equates to easier overtaking in the race, but McLaren could offset more of that advantage with adding more downforce to get a better qualifying time.

Although Sepang has its long straight and if McLaren continue to focus on the straight-line speed advantage given by their powerful engine and f-duct, they might struggle in the fast corners.  Equally we have seen the McLaren uses its tyres and brakes quite heavily, again Malaysia will not reward a car harsh on these, especially in the opening laps when the driver needs to take care and not race off for the car immediately ahead of it.

Mercedes

It seems the team are still working towards better pace.  Melbourne saw the team make more steps forward in set up, but I expect new parts are required to get the W01 working.  Despite the urgent need, the team haven’t announced major updates for this race.  Instead the diligent work to get what they have working better over a lap and balanced between qualifyingrace will be their focus.  Something the two drivers appear to be working very well together in doing. Although not challenging the leading three teams for lap time, at least the car has been reliable and getting to the finish and in the points, leading several of their rivals in the championship, will help offset the cars lack of pace at this point in the year.

Red Bull

Australia proved to underline the pace that the RB6 has around a lap.  Increasing comments from other drivers about the cars balance and grip show the car has an advantage over its rivals.  Red Bull seems to have more downforce than other teams and this has lead to its speed.  However this does not come for free, Red Bull were the slowest through the Melbourne speed traps. It might be that the team are protecting their tyres with an excess of downforce, at tracks without long straight and a flat aero map, they can get away with this.  In Malaysia with the importance of the long straights, their high downforce approach might not pay off so well.  Still, there’s is no reason not to expect Red bull to take pole and race win in Sepang.  Also the teams other issue, despite their denials is their reliability.  Although clearly not a single intrinsic fault with the car, the team have failed to finish three time out of four, twice with a problem leading directly to the loss of a win.  It may not be a cause for concern for the team, but points are being racked up by their rivals at point when Red Bull could be dominant.

Ferrari

Proving to be the most consistent and reliable team so far, the F10 has yet to excite with Red Bull beating pace.  Small changes to the front wing for Albert Park were a step forwards, but the team much rumoured major update is due for the European season.  This step will need to be a greater gain than their rivals find in the mean time, if the team are to compete.  The period spent waiting sees their rivals develop their car at each race.  Malaysia should again see Ferrari competitive, their Barcelona testing on long runs were fast and without the tyre degradation suffered by others, but its doubtful they have the cornering potential, to that of Red Bull to really set fast lap times.

Renault

Renault have so far proven to be best of the rest with two races with strong results, underlining their inherent pace.  We can point to the two recent upgrades t the car that have resulted the teams position relative to their midfield rivals.  As more detail emerged of the R30, with its complex diffuser treatment and ever more intricate front wing development.  There are further developments planned for this weekend.  What initially looked like an under developed car is turning into a much more serious contender.  Regardless of these performances the team are cautious about their pace in Sepang, feeling that they lack downforce.  Malaysia will be a true test to see if the car has got the potential to lead the midfield pack.

Williams

Points for one car in Australia were welcome reward for Williams, Having one car punted off the track was not.  Still the team have not shown the promise in the car, being very much middle of the midfield after two races.  Technical director Sam Michael is pointing to the next few races as a period of focused development.  Three areas have been cited; naturally the cars the aerodynamic, but interestingly the engine and gearshift.  It might be the case the lack of pace for Williams could be the loss of Toyota power and the shift to the Cosworth engine.  Having stepped aside from developing their F1 engine, other engine suppliers have worked through many iterations of their engine to bring the maximum possible performance within the limits of the regulations.  Cosworth may have some catching up to do.

Sauber

Their promise shown in testing is ebbing away, the team still head the design race as the second team with an F-duct, but they have failed to deliver strong performances.  Track time and a race result were lost in Australia with the front wing problems.  Not strictly wing failures as the wings had been damaged on the preceding corners in both cases; the team will run with a reinforced front wing in Sepang.  They have also confirmed their testing the F-duct again, but it might be a few more races before its race ready.  Other aero development is going on at Sauber with new bargeboards in Melbourne, so we might see resurgence over the coming races.

Toro Rosso

Some promise was shown in qualifying for Buemi in Melbourne, but then being taken out in the Kobayashi incident was a disappointment.  As was the other car failing to progress for most of the race, when points could have been taken in the disrupted race.  Sepang offers no great glimmers of promise, but the 2009 RB5 based cars pace around the more technical track should set it apart from the new teams.

Force India

Joining Renault as the leaders of the midfield, one car continued to get into Q3 and there were also positive race performances.  The Australian race retirement was a missed opportunity for the otherwise reliable Mercedes powered team.

Lots of development is evident with new parts at each race and an f-duct in the pipeline or should that be in the ductwork?.  This should aid what is already one of the fastest straight-line cars, by allowing the team to run more rear wing for greater downforce, without giving up their speed advantage.  Also aiding the team at last, is a front wing adjuster.  This made its debut over a year later than other teams.  Legally allowing the driver to adjust the front wing by 6-degrees each lap, the driver can now tailor the cars handling to the tyres and lessening fuel load.  Malaysia should be a good race for the team, as long as the heat doesn’t ruin their aero; they were conspicuous in Bahrain as having a lot of openings in their sidepods.

Lotus

With its Malaysian owners Sepang will bring a lot of pressure on the team. Especially after the disappointment of the non-start for one car in Australia.  Lotus are working hard to get a good race car together, the team may not always have the pace of the Virgin, but as a package its outperformed all the other new teams.  Sepang will be quite a test for the short & nimble t127.  To aid stability we can expect a return of the shark fin engine cover once more.  As with all the new teams they are short of downforce, which will hurt them in the fast turns.

Virgin

Problems with manufacturing parts lead to the teams early season hydraulic woes, a new team with lots of parts to be made many out of house, this will Quality Control nightmare.  Revised parts for Malaysia should solve these problems, once and for all.  Also already well discussed is the fuel tank issue, so Wirth Research has their work list full for several months.  Hopefully the QA improvements and new chassis development can run parallel to the performance upgrades.  At Sepang their cars need a clean weekend, without loss of track time and both going all the way to the finish.  No doubt fighting with Lotus all

Hispania

Qualifying less than half a second behind the Virgins and a race finish should be seen as a strong result for the Hispania team in Australia.  Always taking care to avoid the leader when being lapped obviously cost Chandock lot of time, as he was four laps down at the end two more than the lotus.  More steady progress over the next two race weekends should see Hispania arrive in Europe with some confidence that they can start to develop their car.

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Australia: Technical Preview

 
 
 

From a race out in the middle of the desert, F1 now hits town for Round2 in the city centre of Melbourne. Although not strictly a street race, the track is a semi permanent circuit set amongst parkland. Also the track does not conform to a street race layout, being relatively open and no tighter or slower than a lot of permanent circuits. As with Bahrain the track is made up mainly of medium/slow corners interspersed with short sharp acceleration and braking events. Only turn eleven and twelve are regarded as fast, thus they are the only heavily aero dependant corners. As a result the cars set up demands high downforce, but not the extreme set ups as seen in Monaco or Hungary. On most other statistical measures Albert Park is an average circuit, only its heavy demands on brakes set it out at any one end of the spectrum. Fuel consumption is also average; so teams will start with somewhat less their maximum of 150kg fuel.

 
 
 

Due to Albert Parks layout, we’ve still seen no fast turns to highlight the most aerodynamically efficient cars; this has been a season to show off mechanical and low speed grip so far. With its multitude of right/left complexes, Melbourne is regarded as a ‘front end’ circuit, prone to inducing understeer and graining front tyres. Thus any team with out their tyre warm-up and aero/weight balance sorted will struggle this weekend. The tyre situation is also exacerbated by the green track. As the track is not used inbetween F1 events, the surface is clean of rubber build-up. This of course improves over the course of the weekend, so teams will have compensate for the increasing grip as they set up the car over the opening sessions.

Teams and drivers alike will be glad to be rid of the extreme bumps of sector2 in Bahrain, but Melbourne is still regarded as a bumpy track and the corner exits are lined with ridged kerbs, so the cars tends to run over these a lot over the course of the weekend. Thus teams set up options for ride height and spring rate will need to be carefully considered. At least Bahrain provided the teams with some real experience with heavy fuel and the new tyres, so they now better understand what is required to get the car working over the weekend.

Race strategy will be tricky as the soft tyre will be preferred for qualifying, being 1s per lap faster, but was degrading rapidly in the race last year. Thus the soft is better suited to a late race stint, when the tyre will work better on the rubbered-in track. An early stint with the soft option could cost 5-6 seconds, making a tough call for the strategists with cars qualifying in top ten and starting on their qualifying tyres. Despite the short pit lane, race strategy is expected to follow Bahrain with a single stop to switch tyre compounds. Unless of course a safety car is deployed, this is likely due to the street circuit nature of the track and in particular turn1 on lap1. Even more than one safety car period could be likely, reacting to any event is likely to pay dividends for any teams getting the calls right. Especially if the option to get off the soft tyre in the opening stint arises, leading to a long stint on the more durable harder tyre. However this will be an ideal early season view of which teams are easy on tyres. Last year Brawn were able to run the soft tyre over two stints, but suffered with tyre warm up later in the season at races in colder conditions or on harder tyres.  In contrast to Red Bulls greater tyre warm up, but worse degradation in 2009.

The weather will play its part too, rain could be expected. But more likely it will be hot and get cooler through the race as the sun starts to set, creating visibility problems for the drivers. A least the teams will be able to run more efficient bodywork compared the extreme cooling set ups used to meet Bahrain’s demands.

The cars were freighted direct to Australia from Bahrain, thus they haven’t been back to the factory. More parts will have been shipped from the teams’ respective bases, but we can expect to see only a few developments in Melbourne. Under the skin the cars will probably feature more detail upgrades to attend to issues raised on the ‘fix lists’ created over the opening GP. Additionally four teams have had to amend their diffusers to meet the clarification on the starter hole size. McLaren, Mercedes, Renault and Force India all have to amend their floors. This could either involve a new floor entirely or simply a revised section bonded onto the original floor. Performance wise the changes would not be expected to be noticeable.

 

 
 
 

Team by Team

Mercedes

Strangely Mercedes seem to be behind the curve on adjusting to the new tyres. As the W01 does not seem to have the same levels of grip and balance, as its rivals. A continuing belief is that the car carries too much weight, too far forward in the chassis. While it’s true that the Mercedes still carries its huge slab of ballast in the front splitter, switching to a more rearwards weight split is relatively easy. It’s certainly easier to shift weight backwards than forwards, as there is more space around the gearbox for ballast. So perhaps the problem is the front to rear aero split, which tends to be a few percent off the weight split. Creating more rear downforce, costs drag if done with the rear wing, so a more powerful diffuser is required. One option is that the cars created the ideal weight balance and matches its aero with less total downforce, but a correct split front to rear. If these are indeed the problems then the car will need a new floor and front aero to correct the issue. This will probably take until Spain certainly china at the earliest. this issue resolved I can see no weakness in the car that prevent it taking race wins, it will just be that several races have passed by and their rivals championship leads will be extended. Melbourne may not suit the car with its dependence on front end grip, the team may have some workarounds, but it’s likely its Spain they are most looking forward to.

Ferrari

Despite a race win, a warning call went out Ferrari that Red Bull are at least their equals. Whether Alonso could have overtaken Vettel if it were not for his reliability problems is debatable. However Ferrari are at least on the pace this season and testing and Bahrain have demonstrated the team reliability. cooling was of course an issue for the team and two engines changes before qualifying shows the teams, ran in several sessions with non-optimal cooling before they had the set up correct. But Bahrain is an extreme case for cooling and the problem should not be overblown. Bahrain also showed the Ferrari to handle the bumps well, a sign that the mechanical set up is good, and this will pay dividends in the bumpy braking zones in Australia.

McLaren

After the promise in testing and the furore over the stalling rear wing, Mclarens actual pace over the Bahrain weekend was a disappointment. The car appeared stiff and lacked the team’s usual supple suspension over the bumps in sector2. McLaren put this down to set up errors and a direction taken early in the weekend regarding the unexpected bumps out of turn5. With a different approach and less bumps in Melbourne McLaren should be able to demonstrate the potential in their package. In the latter stages of the Sakhir race the team were fast, so an early sign of pace will be critical this weekend.

Martin Whitmarsh has been quoted that the car will have new parts this weekend, but only “a number of smaller components” presumably in addition to the revised diffuser starter hole that Whitmarsh claimed was the same size as Brawn had last year, a view in contrast to my observations of the current McLaren floor. Continuing to use the f-duct (the snorkel fed rear wing slot) pictures of the cars cockpit seen on autosport.com showed the duct appears to pass the drivers elbow affixed to the left side of the cockpit. Sakhir demonstrated no obvious speed advantage for the mp4-25 so perhaps the car is set up with extra downforce for the corners and the stalled rear wing only maintains the same top speed possible with a smaller rear wing.

Red Bull

Having kept under radar in testing and Bahrain Free practices, it was only in qualifying that RBR showed true pace. Lewis Hamilton’s comments should be taken with a degree of scepticism, but it’s true enough to say the Red Bull does have an advantage over many cars, Ferrari excepted. This sees their pace from 2009 carried over into the new season. If the rb5 shows well in Melbourne then perhaps the team have also added the grippy mechanical set up to the team’s well-known aero advantage. It’s likely that other teams will be closer to Red Bull this weekend, as they get to grips with heavy fuel weekend set up.

So far the only chink in Red Bull armour is reliability; this was suspect in testing and continued to be through the Bahrain weekend, a race victory lost will be additionally high with this year’s points system. Red Bulls aim this weekend must 100% track time and nothing given up to frailty with thin the car or its engine.

Renault

Renaults upgrade package for Bahrain clearly paid off, with a successful weekend for the team. with a strong qualifying in the midfield and showing better race pace the team are reopen the rewards of the wind tunnel upgrade over the winter, the downtime now being offset with a more aggressive development programme. This aggressive approach is underlined with another new front wing this weekend in Melbourne and what Alan Permane described as “a new part on the rear wing, which improves our overall downforce”. not just the chassis but also the engine as Renault announced several upgrades to their engine which have been given FIA approval, which despite the engine spec freeze, still fits in with the framework that allows reliability upgrades to be made, if that results in more power then the team are onto a double win from the changes. One other mechanical area that needs addressing, but will not be ready for Melbourne is the front suspension that saw a failed front pushrod for Petrov in Sakhir. His preferred ride height lead to parts fouling and the pushrod loosened where the titanium top section meets the carbon pushrod.

If the team can improve their qualifying and get through the first laps in position then they can expect points from the Australian race.

Williams

A flat performance in Bahrain must have disappointed the team as the winter showed more promise from the compact FW32. With Renault and Force India on-form, the team will need to put in a better result in Albert Park to stand clear of the midfield. To help achieve this Technical director Sam Michael said that some development will be tried on the car on Friday. 

Force India

After a good qualifying performance from Sutil in Round1, only his inherent ability to get involved in tangles with other cars upset the team’s race. In its effort to get the bodywork to cope with the Bahrain heat, the car appears to have been handicapped by excessive drag from all the bulges and openings in the sidepods. With lower temperatures the team should performs relatively better in Australia. As well as the announced changes to the front and rear wing, there are suggestions that another new nose will be ready for this round show that the team are really focussing on the chassis and getting developments made and on to the car. This rate of development will be important in the tightly packed mid field. 

BMW Sauber

Bahrain was not the fast starting performance the team would have wanted. The car struggled on the bumpy track more than their rivals. Sauber like a very low ride height, with this comes compromises with stiff suspension and grounding over bumps. Unable to get the grip and control they needed the poor qualifying performance hindered their race. However like McLaren their race performance was far better than q suggested. However both cars retiring with unrelated hydraulic faults are another warning sign for the team both at the track and with the design and production people at the factory.

While the reliability is suspect the design innovation apparently isn’t as Sauber are rumours to have their own version of the McLaren F-Vent ready to race. Its not clear how accurate this rumour is, or whether the development is a reaction or parallel development to McLarens set up. Keep a close eye on the rear wing over the course of free practice!

With a demand for more downforce and less bumps in Australia, along with revisions to their set up and weekend strategy should see Sauber in a closer fight with their rivals. Weekend preparation started early for the team with Kobayashis’ debut in Australia being eased by the drivers using the ex-Toyota f1 simulator for practice.

Toro Rosso

The promise shown by the team in 2008 seems along time ago now; it seems the old Minardi days are closer than Vettels’ win in Monza. The Toro Rosso designed and produced ST5, is only lightly revised STR4, which in the teams hands struggled to get off the back row last year. All the other teams have moved on the double failure to get into Q2 showed. It’s hard to see that the team will lift its pace at a greater rate than their competitors.

Virgin

Despite the lead time for the project the VR01 still struggles with reliability. Through out testing the car was stymied by a hydraulic issues and the race saw issues for both cars, one hydraulic failure and an overheating gearbox. Virgin confirms they have diagnosed and now have parts to resolve the issues, adding “Every effort is being made to ensure there isn’t a repeat of these issues.”. But still wheels falling off in free practice is not acceptable at this level. When running the car has shown promise, even overtaking a lotus in the race. But we need to see a long run from one of the cars to prove if the progressive design has the potential is promises.

Hispania

A new team with a new car making its first run in free practice on a Friday is tough debut for a team. Having got one car out on track and just scraping the second through in qualifying must be seen as an achievement, but is this really the level we expected the new teams to operate at? Especially, as the team with the longest lead in to the first race and the backing of experienced car constructor Dallara. With their baptism of fire out of the way it will be interesting to see how the team fare on their second race weekend. There are signs of greater resources available to the team as Chandock commented before the race he “was able to work on a team’s simulator” although this is likely to be a third party simulator than the teams own.

Lotus

Shading their new team rivals with a reliable run through free practice and race, lotus two car finishes and qualifying result were a good sign for the team, especially considering they had the shortest lead time to deliver the car. Equally the presence of new aero parts shows the team are progressing rather than just bedding in. The new rear winglet and shark fin made debuts in Bahrain. The winglet made it to the race but the shark fin was just for testing. Additionally the team have new parts ready for this race, with a new beam wing and front bargeboards. With their head start the team mow need to start consolidating this position and working towards reducing the gap to Toro Rosso, which for lotus and perhaps virgin is a potential scenario by mid season.

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

Bahrain Technical preview

Four months and eighteen days after the engines fell silent in Abu Dhabi last November, the F1 seasons finally kicks off again in Bahrain this weekend. 

With the much talked about rule changes of banned refuelling, narrower front tyres and no wheel fairings, the teams are packed into a tightly competitive bunch.  Or perhaps its fairer to say three bunches, as Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull fight for the front positions, the new teams will bring up the rear, sandwiching a mid field almost too close to separate on pace.  Certainly a bumper year for F1 and no doubt some bumping going on over the opening laps as the drivers vie to make their mark early in the season.

Looking to the opening race, the teams will have a challenge with the revised Sakhir track.  Its not that the track layout is particularly demanding, indeed the tracks previous character of medium speed corners has been dumbed down with a new twistier section added.  Instead it’s the heat that will punish the teams, who of course have only tested pre-season at cold or wet Spanish tracks.

This year the track has been revised with a new section after turn4, adding nearly a kilometer of slow twisty turns before rejoining the track at what was turn5.  Making the track totally incomparable to last year and offering no particular excitement in terms of added overtaking opportunities.  .  Thus the track remains a typical modern F1 track; long straight, lots of mediumslow turns and no fast corners to speak of.  This change brings down the average speed and the percentage time spent at full throttle.  Plus sand blown onto the track surface will compound the new narrower front tyres tendency to understeer.  As result teams may opt for slightly higher downforce to gain lap time, but the straight remains at one kilometer long and provides nearly the only scope for overtaking in the race.  Set up is going to be a tricky balance between race and qualifying, especially if the wind is variable and bearing in mind the added question of set up compromise between qualifying on a light or heavy fuel set up.

Even if the long straight demands a low drag set up, teams will be forced to trade aerodynamic efficiency for cooling.  Plus the new infield section will see the cars at lower speed for a longer period, which will reduce airflow through the radiators, especially coming not long after the long main straight with the engine flat out.  Already in testing we have seen teams running outsized cooling outlets in preparation for the heat of Bahrain.  These bodywork sets may be put away after this race and brought out again in Malaysia, after running in Australia with a more efficient set of bodywork.  Typically teams will run larger outlets, cut back ‘coke bottle’ bodywork and supplementary panels around the sidepod front and cockpit to gain every possible square centimeter of cooling exit area. 

Braking is considered heavy at Bahrain and although brakes are less susceptible to ambient heat, they will demand larger ducts to cope with the slow down from 300kph off the main straight with a 5g deceleration into the first turn.  Additionally the new in field section will not allow the brakes to cool as much around the lap.

As the first race of the year, Bahrain will also see the first of many new ‘firsts’; new teams, new tyres and Cosworths & Xtracs return to F1 racing.  It will also be quite exciting to see the sub-3 second pit stops during the race.  More technically interesting, Bahrain will see the first chance for the FIA to inspect all the cars at scrutineering and there is a possibility McLaren rear wing may provide the controversy having been bubbling up from winter testing.  For the spectator this will also be the first opportunity for the cars to be seen in race conditions.  For us technical fans this not only means on track, but also the cars being parked in their garages unprotected by roller screens, that are curiously allowed in testing  but barred from races for safety reasons!  It is normal practice that wings and bodywork are left on trestles in the pit lane, open for all to see (although so far McLaren have been hiding their shark fin top body section in the garage).  Equally new homologation rules this year mean that the design of the; tubs, crash structures and wheels used at this race will remain on the cars until the final race, safety and reliability issues aside.

From a competitive point of view this will be our first chance to look at the cars in actual race conditions, although relative pace will not be clear until qualifying is over, even then the teams differing qualifyingrace set up strategies will not be clear until the race end.  Even then the Bahrain track and the other flyaway races are not fully representative track. Spain and turkey are more conventional but by then we will be seven races into a nineteen race season.  Raising the question what is a conventional circuit these days, if the classic European tracks are in decline?

Updates are expected from many teams for this weekend, perhaps the most hotly anticipated is the Mercedes definitive 2010 bodywork.  Having run 2009 Brawn wings an floor for the winter tests, internet rumours abound about what is expected.  A controversial diffuser has been touted, while I have even heard noises about a switch away from the now bulbous nose.  The team conducted a straight-line test at the UK Rockingham track, allegedly with the new set up fitted.  Sadly no pictures merged from this test.

McLaren’s Jonathan Neale commented they have some upgrades due too, including a more conventional rear wing to counter any possible scrutineering issues.  Additionally the team have some diffuser tweaks and an option on which sidepod fins to fit.

Renault have announced an aero upgrade, no doubt including the dramatic Front wing and ‘faired’ wheels seen on the last day of testing.

Of course for the new teams the race will be a learning experience.  With Lotus running reliably, unlike Virgins whose Hydraulic problems cost them any chance of longer runs in testing.  Clearly Hispania Racing will hard pushed to get two completely new untested Dallara chassis out of the garage enough to make any impact and sadly no USF1 cars will race this year.