Teams shift their focus on 2021 cars at Portimao – Technical news

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Although the undulating Portimao track caused headaches for teams and drivers in terms of finding the best setup for the challenging layout, several outfits were busy with assessing the technical changes for 2021 during Portimao practice sessions.

Ferrari used the entire opening day of the Portuguese Grand Prix to experiment with its troublesome F1 2020 car. After the team failed to bring any updates during the months of August and September, the team commenced an ambitious development programme at the Russian Grand Prix.

The Maranello-based team introduced new parts at Sochi where it debuted modifications to the rear wing, the under-nose cape and the nose profile. The Scuderia continued its development work at the Eifel Grand Prix, bringing new parts for the so far troublesome SF1000 that featured new bargeboards and slight modifications to the front of the floor at the Nürburgring.

The team completed its development programme at Portimao where it debuted further new parts including changes to the floor, front brake ducts and diffuser. The new front brake ducts feature a series of airflow control fins mounted on the edge. The modified floor features three outwardly-angled fins mounted ahead of the rear tyre. This solution was used by Ferrari last year, but they had abandoned it for 2020.

However, the Scuderia did not only bring updates to its current car, but its also brought a few vital new parts that are part of the 2021 machine. The current cars were expected to be carried over to 2021, a move that was motivated by the coronavirus situation, but the FIA decided to make some adjustments to the Technical Regulations in a bid to trim downforce levels.

The new regulations will mainly affect the rear brake ducts, the floor and the diffuser of the cars. It will require that the brake duct fins be no more than 40mm wide and the diffuser strakes be more than 50mm above the reference plane.

Ferrari brought a new experimental floor to Portimao that was designed according to the 2021 regulations. The modified floor features cutaways and a rolled-up section ahead of the rear tyres. McLaren alsotested an experimental 2021 floor earlier at the Belgian Grand Prix.

This experimental package also included modified brake duct winglets and diffuser strakes. The team only completed a few laps with the experimental floor, rear brake duct winglets and diffuser in a bid to gain vital information about the implications that the technical restrictions will have in 2021.

Without DAS

Mercedes also used Friday’s practice sessions to carry out early simulation for its 2021 car. The Anglo-German outfit introduced an innovative system at the start of the pre-season testing, the Dual Axis Steering that alters the front wheel toe angle when the driver pushes or pulls on the steering wheel.

The team uses the system to control tyre temperature in critical situation such as on out laps in qualifying or at the end of safety car periods. However, DAS will be banned for next year as rival teams were not satisfied with the legality of the system.

As Mercedes enjoy a healthy gap in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship, they wanted to check their 2020 car, the W10 without the system. That is why the team spent both Friday practice sessions without the controversial unit to understand the implications of the DAS removal.

Prototype tyres

For the first half-hour of FP2, all the drivers got their first taste of what could be the tyres for next year, trying out different 2021 prototypes in a blind test with the run plan defined by Pirelli. The Milan-based tyre supplier intends to make some adjustments to its current constructions as it expects teams to improve their car for next year despite the development restrictions and the technical changes that are expected to trim the downforce levels by ten per cent.

Each team received three sets of prototypes to test, with one car required to complete a longer run while the other focused on a back-to-back comparison over short runs. Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car racing Mario Isola was encouraged by the information gained through these test runs.

“It was very useful for us to run the 2021 unmarked prototype tyres during the first 30 minutes of FP2 today, as we gathered plenty of data that will be relevant as we validate the tyre specification for next year. A big thank you to all the teams and drivers for undertaking this important test,” he said.

Constant experiments

McLaren also used Friday as a test session by continuing its development programme at Portimao. The team debuted a new nose cone a few races ago at Mugello which is a slightly narrower and more curved solution, moving it more towards the Mercedes and Renault concept. The Woking-based team continued to evaluate its latest upgrades that debuted at the previous Eifel Grand Prix.

At Nürburgring, the team introduced new parts to its car, but the weather meant that they could not test them as much as they wanted. In the end, McLaren decided to put the upgrades only on Carlos Sainz’s car while Lando Norris stayed with the previous configuration of the MCL35. At Portimao, the team gradually reintroduced those updates on Friday to assess the impact they have on the overall balance of the car.