Formula One car development blog

Mercedes kicks off the development war

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The Spanish GP is usually the venue of the introduction of the first significant development packages of a season. This year, Red Bull was expected to launch a heavily upgraded car after its woeful start to this year’s campaign. The energy drink-owned team brought some aerodynamic changes to its challenger, but it was Mercedes that drew most of the attention to itself by a major front end aerodynamic update.

The biggest change visually is the car's narrow nose, which obviously had to undergo a separate crash test before it could be used on track.The narrower version means there is a well-marked transition at the front bulkhead, where the detachable nose cone meets the front end of the chassis. Under the nose section, there is a very elaborate turning vane, already nicknamed 'teddy cape', to manage the turbulent wake of the front wing.

The way Mercedes engineers are paying attention to the details is clearly showed how the camera mountings were updated for this race. The construction of those mountings, and the exact position of the camera hubs are tightly regulated, but Mercedes still found a way to create slender mountings that provide the least possible obstruction to airflow passing aside and just on top of the nose cone.

Similarly at the front, the brake ducts evolved, with a different 2-element winglet now present on the suspension support arm, along with a revised shape of the inlet fairing.

The car's floor also underwent considerable changes, with the barge board getting a similar upgrade to work together in front of the sidepod. Together, they manage the vortices coming off the front wing and attempt to cleanly direct airflow underneath and around the sidepods. The complexity with serrated extension has made it nearly impossibly for teams to introduce modified barge boards without also adapting the floor, as both are extremely dependent on each other.
For the Spanish GP, the bargeboards got even more sophisticated. Three vertical vanes are now placed on the horizontal plane of the bargeboards. There is no other bargeboard which is close to the Mercedes’ solution in terms of complexity and serration.

Further back, the floor also features an additional small vane directly ahead of the rear tyres to direct air away from the turbulent area. That section of the underfloor was already rather complex with nine cuts along the side-edge. And for another extra bit of downforce, Mercedes also added a monkey-seat after running the W08 without one so far.

Mercedes also worked on its engine. It brought an updated power unit to Barcelona. The upgrade is aimed to improve the reliability of the Mercedes W08 EQ Power+. It can, however, have an impact on the power as well since it can allow the drivers to use the power unit closer to its maximum for a longer period of time in race conditions. Both drivers got new internal combustion engines, turbochargers, MGU-H and MGU-K units which are all only their second of the season. However, Valtteri Bottas had to revert to its previous ICE before qualifying. He later blew that engine, which was used in the first four races of the season, during the race.

Still, that's not the end of the story. Having been overweight at the start of the season - partly due to an overweight gearbox - the team focused on shedding some of that. 3kg was reportedly shaved off with the Barcelona update. That's only part of the way however, as Hamilton admitted after the race he did not have a drink bottle onboard for weight saving.



Mercedes S-duct evolution

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While other teams have been busy copying Mercedes' S-duct inlets in the nose cone, the championship team itself was busy further developing its own device. The team have certainly taken inspiration from McLaren's solution of 2016, with an outlet ahead of the kink in the nose cone, and split up by the fairing around the pitot tube.

An image taken today by f1today also shows the clear evolution that Mercedes have done, making the outlet clearly a lot larger than it was on the F1 W07. On last year's car, the slot exit was located aft of the pitot tube, and quite far behind the front bulkhead as well. This year, the outlet was moved considerably further forward. This is particularly noticeable when you take into account that the pitot tube has not moved relative to the front bulkhead.

Today's image also shows how the front wishbones connect to the monocoque, with the upper ones connecting to the chassis at the highest possible point. It appears as such that the S-duct exit was made as wide as was possible while ensuring rigidity for the suspension. The steering arm enters the chassis ahead of the front bulkhead, with the steering rack also screwed onto the chassis, ahead of the front bulkhead, but protected inside a carbon fibre housing. The latter should also make a quick nose cone change easier.


2017 design trends: adoption of the S-duct

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Having been tried, used and developed by several teams in recent history, 2017 finally looks to become the year in which (nearly) all teams add some form of S-duct on their cars. It is a solution which was first pioneered by Ferrari back in 2008. Back then, it was aimed at improving their airflow underneath the nose cone at a time when front wing development was possible in the central section of the wing as well.

The major regulation changes of 2009 removed the possibility for Ferrari's nose ducting. A further restriction came after Mercedes used the front wing stalling double-DRS system. The FIA then stipulated that apertures more than 150mm ahead of the front wheel centreline could only be for driver cooling.

Still, that enabled Sauber and Red Bull, and later also McLaren and Force India to use the commonly known S-ducts, featuring apertures underneath the nose cone and guiding air through an S-shaped duct through the nose to exit on the upper side, usually just ahead of the front bulkhead.

In 2016, Mercedes and Toro Rosso implemented further improvements to the system. By carefully designing small inlets left and right of the underside of the nose cone, inlets were made possible within the scope of the regulations. This enabled much more straightforward internal ducting, and a more beneficial inlet location. The result is that this year, Toro Rosso modified its inlet design to resemble that of the Mercedes F1 W07 and Ferrari, McLaren and Williams following the same route. Red Bull Racing and Renault seem to have stuck with apertures less than 150mm ahead of the front wheel centreline.

S-duct designs on McLaren MCL32 and Renault RS17

On the outlet side, teams seems to be following a route initiated by McLaren in 2015, where the air exited ahead of the transition from the steep upper nose profile to the flat upper side of the monocoque. Toro Rosso and Mercedes notably chose this route, and also split the outlet by putting the pitot tube in the middle. McLaren interestingly chose to the move the pitot tube out of the way this year and ended up with a similar solution to Renault.

Now it's only down to Haas and Force India to add S-duct on their 2017 contenders...


Shark fins and T-wings to be banned on safety grounds?

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Following the launch of the first few cars in launch week, voices were raised that shark fins, engine cover sails, or whatever they would need to be called, should be banned from Formula One. F1 teams themselves didn't agree however, as Red Bull's attempts to get them banned last summer failed, most likely because some teams were already happily exploring the aerodynamic possibilities of such engine cover extensions.

Now, with testing underway, and literally every car underway with one shark fin or another, and in some cases with additional T-wings attached to them, some in the paddock expect that the fins may well get banned ahead of the start of the season. Such short notice regulation change is possible, but only on the grounds of safety.

Footage shot during today's testing at Barcelona, in this case without a T-wing on the VJM10, shows that there may indeed be a risk of wings breaking off. It would of course be possible to make them more rigid, but such footage could be used by Charlie Whiting to get rid of the appendages.


Blown wheel hubs continue to be tricky business

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Blown wheel hubs have been adopted by a large number of teams this season, but the feature continues to keep aerodynamicists busy.

At Monza for instance, Red Bull Racing briefly tested an alternative to the open wheel hubs by putting a conical cap inside each front wheel's axle. The cap did appear to have small apertures to still allow some airflow to get through, but clearly much less than what would otherwise be possible. Both cars however were running the usual open hubs in qualifying and the race.

The test is particularly interesting as it comes just one week after the Belgian Grand Prix, where Ferrari also did some running with the front axles covered up.

Difficult to get right

Open wheel hubs already date to 2013, as they were first seen on the Williams FW35 with Red Bull using a similar system that same year. Modifications to pitstop regulations, requiring a safety pin to be fitted to prevent wheels coming off, saw the system disappear in 2014 before redesigns reappeared on various cars at the start of 2015.

It works by sending part of the airflow caught by the front brake ducts through the axle, where it exits through the aperture to manage airflow in the wake of the front wheels. As this obviously requires larger - and more draggy - brake ducts, the system is, as always, a tradeoff between more airflow alongside the inside or the outside of the front wheels.

The system is generally speaking fairly difficult to get right, not least because its downstream effect is influenced by the rotation of the front wheels, yaw and pitch. This makes it complext to simulate reliably in the wind tunnel.

While many teams are using it, the fact that Mercedes isn't shows it's not a straightforward solution. Paddy Lowe confirmed during winter testing his team is looking at it from time to time, but have found that other development routes are more beneficial.

It's interesting how Red Bull's and Ferrari's tests came at circuits that require relatively little downforce. This suggests that the design is less of an advantage on high speed circuits, and instead helps downforce with some drag penalty.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves, and if Mercedes will ever decide to implement this design on their dominant cars. It may be that next year's wider tyres will make this system less, or even more interesting as well.


Haas revives double-waved rear wing at Monza

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The Haas F1 Team drew a lot of attention with its new double-waved, M-like rear wing, a completely unique shape for a modern rear wing in Formula One. It's rare these days to see a rear wing that has a different shape along its entire span, and hardly a surprise that Mercedes have, or at least had the most varying profile with its spoon rear wing, as the ones used at Monza and Spa-Francorchamps. Apart from the need to test it under yaw, such designs are furthermore made difficult by DRS, as the DRS trigger and flap usually needs appropriate redesign as well.

Still, Haas pulled it off, with an M-shaped profile of the main plane and the leading edge of the moveable flap. The team did not use the wing at Spa, but it could possibly been seen again at other venues this year, as it still offered more downforce than some other wings seen at Monza.

In the top speed charts, both Haas cars were, in qualifying, around 5km/h down at the speed trap at Variante della Roggia on the factory Ferrari cars, who raced the same, upgraded Ferrari engines. That's pretty much at the bottom of the ranking. The team's drivers however were happy with their car's balance - thanks also to a modified front wing -, and eventually only missed out on points due to other factors than pure pace.

While the rear wing does look refreshing, and very different to what other teams are using, the idea is still not entirely new. Renault for instance - with James Allison as its Technical Director - fitted an M-profile rear wing to its Renault R30 as well. While clearly more simple in shape and without a moveable upper flap, the team ran this rear wing in the early races on 2010. Once they finished their own version of McLaren's F-duct - a much more efficient way of cutting drag - the team reverted to a conventional horizontal profile.


Sauber making strides with new aero package

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Sauber have at long last introduced an upgrade package for its low key C35. With the team's future secured, money has become available to produce what had been designed in the first half of the season, allowing the team to recover some of the deficit that it had built up since the beginning of winter testing. The team's new package is indeed extensive, with a new, shorter nose much along the lines of what other have been been doing last year. The front wing supports feature a curve on the trailing edges to try to accellerate airflow underneath the nose cone. On first sight, it does look to be more extreme than what other teams have on their cars.

Combined with that is a brand new front wing, featuring an additional flap. The general shape of the flaps now makes the wing look more and more Red Bull inspired, which shouldn't come as a surprise, given that team's obvious agility this year. Additionally, the stacked elements have been completely redesigned, with now just a single vertical support, and 3 flaps, rather than the previous 2. All this works in combination with the modifications done on the endplates in an attempt to better control the airflow that is to be diverted around the front wheels.

Further to the back, the car also features new sidepod panels. These are now one continuous item from the floor to where they connect on the chassis, therefore removing the vertical dead end that was there and used to be common practice in earlier years. It appears though that the vortex coming off that standing element was unwanted, making the new design more efficient. One can also see how the outer part of the horizontal section will generate some lift as it diverts air downward, onto the surface of the sidepod. Again, this is also common practice with a lot of cars, but a step change from what Sauber had previously.

At the very back, a new front wing is also present, resembling a lot the design that the team used at Monza last year - note that at Spa-Francorchamps 2015, the team used a regular rear wing with a horizontal main plane. The main plane's curve is similar or identical to that of the Monza wing, but the flap itself is not trimmed down as was the case last year. As such, we may expect to see this wing return at Monza this year, perhaps then with a smaller flap once again.

Not highlighted, but also part of the team's new package are optimised brake ducts and a new floor.

All in all, the team seemed to be more competitive on Friday as well. Even though it was early days, and the team was still analysing the various configurations, both drivers reported to have noticed clear improvements.


McLaren opts against racing new rear wing endplates

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McLaren have turned up at Austria with a dramatically different rear wing end plate than the previous versions, including three new long vertical slits. These are positioned downstream of the two slits that were already present along the leading edge of the end plates.

All vanes are aimed at directing airflow inboard, hence allowing air to stream into the low pressure area that is induced underneath and behind the rear wing's downforce generating elements. The resulting reduced pressure difference between the inside and outside of the endplate will help reduce the strength of the trailing edge vortex. All in all, this essentially counters the original purpose of rear wing endplates, but as our analysis has shown, a large part, if not all of the recent development in this area were focused on reducing drag without sacrificing too much downforce.

McLaren's sporting director, Eric Boullier said after Friday the team were still looking into the effects of the new component.

"The morning’s session was spent undertaking a number of aero tests as we work to introduce new components. Both drivers were satisfied with the car’s balance, despite the lack of running, but we still need to make some improvements if we’re to challenge for Q3 tomorrow and points in Sunday’s race."

However, with the rain intervening with normal running, the team have now opted not to use it in the race, instead aiming to try it again later on.


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.