Formula One car development blog

What Williams was really doing with its illegal rear wing

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The Williams team surprised during this week's Barcelona in-season test by coming up with a very special rear wing. The wing, featuring an additional section ahead and above the usual rear wing flaps would be illegal to run in races this year, but it proved to be useful for the team in an attempt to find and remedy some of the weaknesses of this year's FW38. It was run for half a day by Alex Lynn, before Felipe Massa had it fitted on the car the entire second day of testing.

Contrary to reports, Williams have confirmed to F1Technical that this new wing was not designed to simulate higher downforce of 2017, but instead primarily aimed to improve this year's contender.

"The rear wing was to help gather data and a better understanding of the car's aero balance... It's not a prototype of a new wing", a spokesperson said. The latter part should be fairly obvious, as this 1994-style rear wing is entirely out of the current regulations. The first bit is interesting, and a closer look at the car quickly shows that Williams were indeed not looking at higher downforce.

There are quite a few pointers to see that higher downforce was not the target. First of all, the FW38 ran without a monkey seat, something that would be an easy addon, given that the monkey seat attachment was present on the pylon of the rear wing. The central section of the foremost flap also appears to be very neutral, and may just be in place to provide strength for the forward extension, given that the two flaps outward of the rear wing endplate are indeed aimed at generating downforce. This added downforce may be just enough to compensate for the partial opening of the DRS flap. Indeed, it's interesting to note that the upper flap of the rear wing was always slightly open when Williams ran this new wing.

Adding all this together, it is obvious that Williams were running this rear wing only to simulate a car with a more forward aero balance. The team did not want to reveal further details about why they were doing this test, but it may be that engineers have found other, more competitive cars may be running a more forward aero balance and wanted to try a few things out for themselves.

It's interesting to note that while running the special rear wing, the car was also fitted with additional monitoring equipment on the front wing, including a seemingly rigid link between the camera mounting and the front wing.

All things combined, it appears to have delivered quite a lot of information for the team, with Massa claiming the team learned a lot from it.

"We were able to learn a lot," the Brazilian said. "It is the first time we are doing these tests in the proper way, two days concentrating on things which we believe we need to work on the car, knowing where we are losing compared to other cars.

"It's a long project, it's not really things that tomorrow will be completely different specs in the car. I believe we are understanding things to make the car better."

New front wing main item of aero upgrade of VJM09

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Like many other teams, Force India have introduced a major aerodynamic upgrade to their car, the VJM09. Even though the update was earlier announced to make the car look quite different, in essence it's detail changes, which nonetheless could have a large effect on the car's aerodynamic properties.

The car's new front wing, immediately fitted on both cars, is the most important item of the package and features an arc on the inside of the outer footplate, a design element seen on the Mercedes AMG F1 W07 front wing as well. Just like almost all recent front wing changes, this is in the area that plays a crucial role in trying to control airflow over and around the front wheels. The updated design creates a more pronounced channel underneath the wing's elements to expand air, thereby generating downforce while also kicking it around the front wheels as efficiently as possible.

Also marked in the image is the Kingfisher logo, the visibility of which clearly shows the modified profile of the flaps. These now appear to be more aggressive in attacking airflow ahead of the front wheels.

Part of the upgrade package was also the reduction of cooling apertures in the sidepods, mostly visible from the rear, where the openings have been greatly reduced. Also notice that the team dropped the monkey seat behind and above the exhaust pipe, although that is more than likely to return on the car at Monaco in two weeks time.

Williams' shorter nose and new front wing not a bolt-on improvement

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Williams have finally managed to get a shorter version of its car's nose ready for racing, accompanied with a new front wing. Just one item is available at the Bahrain Grand Prix, after the team rushed to manufacture one after finally succeeding the front impact crash test, following numerous failed attempts. With obvious aerodynamic benefit, F1 teams have recently been pursuing this route, with Red Bull also notably having required many crash tests before finally coming up with a specification that met the safety requirements.

In essence, Williams' new nose cone is similar to that of Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, featuring a thumb to meet the regulations while retracting the rest of the bodywork as far as possible. The result are front wing pillars that slope forward towards the front wing attachment point. Such design attempts to improve the quality of airflow that ends up underneath the nose cone, onto the splitter underneath the monocoque. To further enhance this, the underside of the nose is now more rounded as well, enabling a smooth stream of air curving around the edges of the nose.

Along with the new nose came a new front wing, which in itself is also quite an evolution. The team added an extra element shading the main plane while also dramatically modifying the inner extremities of the flaps. These now feature a downward curve, instead of the previous curly twist at the end. Such change will have an important effect on the Y250 vortices that come off of the front wing and can have a big effect on the aerodynamic behaviour of the car's rear end.

While all these changes did bring a performance gain, its late addition, in combination with having it only on Massa's car made for a complicated analysis of how it actually worked on the car. Still, the team decided to use it in qualifying and the race straight away, most likely to gather more data as soon as they can.

"We mounted the new front wing and nose this afternoon and the car was very difficult to drive, it was a different balance", Massa said after qualifying. "We had a long meeting after the session, we used the new one and the old one, and the numbers said it gave what it is supposed to give.

Then we changed completely the balance of the car, the set-up, so many things and it was more or less in the correct way in qualifying. Testing new things like that which are not so similar to the other one, it can cause some issues. We need more time though to understand this front wing to get the most from it."

Finally, also a note regarding the nose camera supports. These were also changed with the new nose, with the team creating very thin extension points to have the cameras a few cm away from the car's bodywork, rather than attaching them more or less directly onto the sides of the nose cone.

Exhaust solutions, mickey mouse or snowman?

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In a strange twist of events, fans have actually managed to create a little extra area for freedom of design in Formula One cars. The repeated calls for increased engine noise have made the FIA to request an investigation into what could be done to enhance the noise output of the new V6 Hybrid engines. The result of Magnetti Marelli's investigation, during which the company's engineers repeatedly visited F1's engine supplier dynos was that an additional exhaust pipe could resolve a bit of the problems.

The new regulations stipulate that either one or two seperate waste gate exhaust pipes must be added on the car, with the rules making clear that all pipes must be in promity to each other to avoid another attempt for designers to exploit the gases to their aerodynamic benefit.

Mercedes' engine chief, Andy Cowell, explained this week at Barcelona that the wastegate pipe could work as a silencer on the main exhaust. In particular when the wastegate is closed, its pipe is actually a dead end, making it a dampening chamber on the main exhaust. By removing that dead end, and creating a seperate exhaust pipe for the wastegate, the sound "is more pure, with less distortion".

Mercedes have measured this change on their dyno, and noticed an increase of maximum sound, up from 124dB to 128dB - whereas the V8 engines using until 2013 produced aroun 130dB. He did however also say that those are lab measurements, and should be taken with a grain of salt: "In the dyno, you don't have air passing around the exhaust pipes, which is obviously happening when the car is on track. This can have a significant effect on the sound levels. It also depends on the circuit, the accoustics with the grandstands, so essentially it comes down to perception".

On their 2016 cars, all but one team have chosen have two wastegate pipes. Mercedes put its pipes close together underneath the main exhaust, Red Bull have them a bit further apart from each other, and Williams even more. This setup is already being referred to as the "inverted mickey mouse" set-up. The resemblence is striking when looking at the Red Bull RB12 layout. Renault meanwhile have opted for a single, bigger pipe above the main exhaust. This has been nicknamed the "snowman" layout, again, no comment needed there.

The fact that most teams have chosen to have 2 wastegate exhaust pipes is interesting, especially when you consider that the Mercedes engine only has a single wastegate valve, meaning that teams need to split up the wastegate outlet into two pipes. According to Paddy Lowe, this has all to do with packaging: "It really isn't a big deal what kind of layout you are using. We have chosen two smaller pipes because of packaging reasons".

He also confirmed there is no real aerodynamic gain from the position of the pipes, except of course the packaging advantages of one layout to another, as a more streamlined or compact bodywork can of course have their impact in the car's drag or downforce generation.

It should also be noted that, while the current variety is a nice possibility in the regulations, teams and the FIA are currently still investigating an alternative route to improve engine sound.

Mercedes debuts new 'Nose 1' iteration, including S-duct

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As was expect, the Mercedes AMG F1 W07 was equipped with a new nose cone when it left the pits on Thursday morning at Barcelona. Named 'Nose 1' by the team, it is the follow-up of the 'Nose 0' (inset, top left) that was used in the first three days of testing, and which was essentially the same as last year's nose cone.

The new one is a clear evolution of the same Mercedes concept. Rather than switching over to a thumb style nose, the team have retained the small nose box, rounded the tip of the nose a bit more and put the front wing support pylons closer together. The latter change is quite particular, considering that Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari are all putting them as much apart from each other as possible while creating an aerodynamic shape to guide airflow underneath the nose. Perhaps that's not needed on the Mercedes, and it could well be, given the round profile of the underside of the new nose cone.

Interesting is also the team's new S-duct, which contrary to what other teams are doing, has its inlet in the nosebox, closely behind the front wing supports. The common practice here is to have the inlets at the front bulkhead, but Mercedes have made things a bit more complicated still, building a duct inside the removable nose cone to guide air to a small but wide outet. At the same time, the team have gone through the effort to integrate the cockpit cooling air inlet inside the chassis, instead of having the inlet bulge out of the chassis profile. This move is likely due to the S-duct implementation, as the two air fairly close together.

Mercedes' W-floor, end of the bargeboard?

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Having completed more than the targeted mileage on the first day of testing, and actually topping their mileage record from any test session since the introduction of the current engine regulations, Mercedes are again one step ahead of the competition as they have already started to add new aerodynamic components on their car, a single day after the W07 debut.

Named the W-floor by Mercedes, the area ahead of the sidepod now features a number of serrated horizontal and vertical panes, all aimed at directing or contioning airflow towards the rear of the car. The more conventional layout here is to have a barge board, which is a solid vertically standing panel that guides air away from the centreline of the car, and around the sidepods. The thing is that with sidepod undercuts becoming so thorough and smooth, that there is less need for such a panel, forcing teams into the investigation of other things to put in this - largely unregulated - area.

So, instead of pushing air outboard, the 6 new panels allow for air to bleed through the system, into the low pressure area that is behind the "combined bargeboard". The interesting bit here is that each vertical panel attached to a seperate forward extension of the floor. And just like with the vertical items, this used to be a single, continuous panel of carbon fibre.

However, as air is flowing outboard in this area, the slight curve in the floor extensions help "fetch" some of that air, and push it underneath the floor, where it will be worked further downstream by the diffuser to create efficient downforce all over the car's floor.

Judging the complexity of the elements, it looks unlikely that many teams will be able to copy this rapidly, but one can wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the traditional barge boards that have existing on F1 cars for numerous years.

Honda repositions oil cooler on new engine spec

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Honda have spent 3 of its 7 development tokens to resolve some of the most important issues of the carmakers' current F1 power plant, and subsequently made the upgraded engine specification available to McLaren for initial running on Friday at Spa-Francorchamps.

Part of the engine's upgrade include modifications on the combustion chamber, the intake and the exhaust system layout in an attempt to increase efficiency. The team have also reduced mechanical friction by changing the gear train system.

One visible change to the engine is the relocation of the oil cooler, as marked in the image. This cooler was previously and uniquely mounted high up in the engine cover, behind the airbox, and therefore somewhat apart from the engine itself. As the picture shows, this radiator has been moved to above the gearbox, slightly angled upwards to the back. The new location has reduced the length of the connections while enabling aerodynamicists to reduce the volume of the roll hoop and move the central outlet funnel lower down to increase rear wing efficiency. There will of course also be the benefit of the lowered centre of gravity, improving the car's cornering characteristics.

Also note that Honda's upgrades are not all present on the engines introduced at Belgium, with some items to be added and changed at the next two races.

At Belgium only, Jenson Button amassed penalties to drop him 50 grid positions, while Fernando Alonso totalled 55. Both had two new internal combustion engines fitted on their cars, 2 turbo chargers, 2 MGU-H and 2 MGU-K units. The Spaniard in addition took another penalty for the use of the 6th electrical control unit. The strategical solution enabled the McLaren drivers to take the penalties by dropping just 2 grid positions each, thanks to a rule change that made the penalties non-transferable to the next races.

Mercedes re-introduces curvy rear wing

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Perhaps the most obvious aerodynamic change on any F1 car at the Belgian Grand Prix was Mercedes' new rear wing, featuring a curve not seen on any current Formula One car. Rather than a fully horizontal leading and trailing edge of each of the rear wing's elements, the new wing features a curved shape that is lower in the middle, hence creating a wing that generates more downforce closer to the car's centre line.

The technique was used on several older Formula One cars, such as the McLaren Mercedes MP4-19B with which Kimi Raikkonen won the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix. Interestingly however, since the introduction of the DRS system, no team has ventured out on track with a curvy wing like on the Mercedes F1 W06, most likely because of the complexity that comes with creating such a wing.

It's well known that in recent years, teams have updated their rear wings with an eye on maximising the DRS effect, thus allowing the wing to cut as much drag as possible while the DRS (the upper rear wing flap) is open. This is all reasonably well understood for invariable wing profiles along the span, but becomes difficult with curved edges.

The whole purpose of the curvy wing is, just like it has always been, to create an optimal solution for a given track. A curvy wing like this should help cut drag, as it focuses on creating downforce in the middle, while on the outer extremities reduces the strength of the vortex that originates from the top of the rear wing endplates (due to the pressure difference between airflow in the inner and outer sides of the end plates).

Please also note that Mercedes have opted to assist the wing's efficiency in its central part by adding a single-element monkey seat, further making it clear that this change is a way to search for the right balance between downforce and drag, rather than simply reducing drag to attain higher top speeds (as other teams have done to keep up with Mercedes on the straights).

It is unclear at the moment if this wing will be seen again (since it likely generates more downforce that Mercedes wants for Monza), but one can expect that, if not this year, many other teams will have a go at a similar design for 2016.

McLaren relieved to get data on short nose

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Only just validated in an FIA crash test, McLaren brought its new shorter nose to the Austrian Grand Prix, with the single available item to be fitted on Fernando Alonso's car. As was publicly stated by several teams in winter testing, short noses do have their advantages, particularly due to the mandatory neutral central section of the front wing.

Red Bull Racing is the other recent example of reducing the car's nose, even though it wasn't as radical a change as McLaren did, replacing its very long nose by a short version that hardly overlaps the front wing. The trick here for the team, as well as for Red Bull, turned out to be the frontal impact crash test, which this year specified a deceleration minimum for the first 150mm of the nose cone. While good for safety, the rule change was made to get rid of last year's finger noses.

McLaren's new nose cone is very similar in concept to that of the Williams FW37 or the Red Bull RB11, with a central section to meet the regulations, and as big as possible apertures left and right of that bulge to reduce aerodynamic blockage and increase under-nose airflow.

Alonso's first lap crash at the Austrian Grand Prix however didn't provide any useful data for the team, so McLaren continued on with comparison tests, both with Vandoorne and Alonso behind the wheel of the MP4-30 on Tuesday and Wednesday, resulting in two satisfactory days for the troubled outfit.

Alonso underlined after the test analysis at the factory still has to show if the new nose is an improvement: "I think we finished the test with some good information. Now, we need to go back to the factory and analyse everything, but we definitely have a lot of data to go forward with. I’m pretty happy with how the test has gone."

Along with the new nose, McLaren also introduced an updated front wing and new tyre squirt slots in the floor ahead of the rear wheels. The team is also understood to race a lighter monocoque at Silverstone, enabling engineers to have more ballast to move around the car as needed.

Red Bull's pride fails to bring major improvement

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Red Bull's Christian Horner was proud as a monkey at Barcelona, where his team finally showed up with a short nose, following 14 internal and 4 FIA tests (as reported by AMuS), until at last a design was found to match the regulatory requirements. 2 days later however, the same Horner was quoted as saying "we'll have to look at 2016", effectively writing off the 2015 campaign after another disappointing race.

As mentioned by the team, the new nose is considerably shorter, having quite a big impact on the car's overall efficiency. There is consensus among teams that the shorter nose design is probably the best in the current regulations as it is the best solution to cope with the flow structures coming off of the standardised central part of the front wing.

With under-nose flow still very important, Red Bull arched the front wing supports backwards as well, creating a bigger aperture on each side of the "thumb" to get air pass underneath the nose cone and onto the splitter further downstream. The new nose similarly retains the tapering underneath, something that is also seen on the Mercedes F1 W06, also in an attempt to get more air underneath the centre of the car.

The new design is undoubtedly an improvement for the RB11, but their main problems continues to be the Renault power unit, and how that copes with the packaging restrictions in the RB11 chassis.