Formula One car development blog

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.


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.


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.


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.