Tech Analysis: Australian GP developments
The inaugural round of the 2014 season kicked off with a bang – a positive, metaphorical explosion that marked the arrival of a new era in Formula One. Far fewer literal bangs came from the power units, unlike what many were predicting ahead of the weekend. The technology is still incredibly raw so for the teams to put on the show they did is testament to the thousands of clever-minded factory workers and mechanics that have worked (and will continue to work) relentlessly over the winter.
Power unit developers will have prepared numerous software updates ahead of the season opener, and this is perhaps the biggest performance factor right now given that the powertrain is now in homologation state. Driveability is key as well as braking performance and this will reap the most laptime at the moment.
However there were a number of external, aerodynamic changes on offer across the grid and now the development race really begins to settle in for the long year ahead.
Playing catch-up is never easy in F1, but Red Bull have turned things around pretty damn well over the past few weeks. Not only were there numerous upgrades surrounding the Renault power unit but also a raft of aerodynamic modifications were made to the RB10, too.
Many have questioned the rear of their 2014 challenger during pre-season testing as it lacked the detail of almost every other team on the grid. For Melbourne, the central rear wing pylon remains but it is a much tidier version compared to its predecessor. It’s integrated nicely into the engine cover and features a rudder-like shape at its trailing edge to control airflow in yaw.
A triple arc of endplate slots also appeared, the design bucking the trend of the common horizontal slots around the upper half of the endplate. Traditionally these slots bleed high pressure airflow above the wing through the slots and out into the ambient pressure passing around the endplate. This reduces the build up of vortices at the wing tips to minimise drag, as the pressure delta is lessened before the upper and lower airflows converge.
Red Bull, however, have gone for the reverse. The trio of cutouts allow airflow to pass from the outside of the endplate to beneath the rear wing. This has the reverse effect of placing the slots above the rear wing profile in that ambient pressure now flows into the low pressure region beneath the wing.
Although it has the same effect, it has a far greater impact on reducing drag as the low pressure region (that produces the downforce) is being disrupted. Perhaps the team feel as if they have enough rear downforce coming from the floor/diffuser that they can attempt to match the Mercedes powered cars in terms of top speed. The speed trap figures from qualifying do little to suggest that this may be the case although it is a possibility.
A new front wing also accompanied the changes to the rear at the car which featured an even more more sinuous, aggressive design. The total number of elements has been reduced from 7 to 6, although 5 of them now span the entire width of the front wing (excluding the 500mm neutral section at the centre).
Not much to report here other than some slight revisions to the front wing cascade winglets, that have been made wider in profile. The small flicks at the end of each winglet therefore give way as a result as the team aim towards peak downforce rather than airflow management.
However I would like to briefly touch on the Jenson Button’s nose breakage during his second pitstop. The tip of the nose was sheared off the front crash structure as the front jack dropped, creating a gaping hole at the front of the car. This also happened during pre-season testing when Kevin Magnussen came in for a practice pitstop.
This is a stark reminder of just how flimsy these front appendage sections are, as they have to withstand less than 10G upon initial impact for the energy to be absorbed efficiently during a crash sequence. The upper nose does most of the work during the crash sequence and the FIA are already aware that the 2014 noses are a liability in terms of safety – the very opposite of their intention. Along with a change in shape for 2015, the non-ideal appendage structures will also be reviewed, perhaps even during the season.
An upgrade package is reported to be coming for the next round in Malaysia, although there have been times (particularly last year) when such reports do not bare much fruit.
The Brackley factory are producing parts by the bucket load at this stage of the season. There were plenty of new bits and pieces at the final test and yet even more extensive treatment was given to the W05 for Melbourne.
Further development around the already-complex front wing was evaluated over all Free Practice sessions, although both drivers did eventually opt for the test specification for qualifying and thus for the race. Similar to the Ferrari, the third element of five that span the width of the wing has been curled over  to amplify the Y250 vortex. The main cascade extension winglet has been deleted in favour of an outwash turning vane , whilst tiny vortex generators  have been added to the main the plane. A single endplate  replaces the two-stage outgoing model which hosts the mounting point for the slightly larger main cascade winglet. They have also retained the downward facing vane on the endplate, its purpose yet to be fully identified.
Mercedes have spent countless hours on developing its cooling package(s) ahead of the season with a number of different solutions trialed during testing over the past month. Changes to the rear bodywork were especially visible and these were coupled to some detail adjustments behind the airbox along the roll hoop.
At the final Bahrain test we saw a small inlet arc over the top of the roll hoop just behind the T-cam. This idea has been taken a step further in Melbourne with the car donning a set of ‘ears’. The ears are for cooling purposes only and possibly link to the gearbox oil radiator or directly to the turbo unit. It is worth mentioning that although they appear to be similar to Lotus’s DRD ears, their function couldn’t be more contrasting.
Like McLaren, I have decided to put something brief in here about Caterham and their nose. If ever it were a good thing to have a visible demonstration of a racing incident involving a collision, then the Australian GP was the day to have it. Unlike the McLaren nose, Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham number stayed very much intact as it ploughed into the back of Felipe Massa’s Williams. The upper green vanity panel broke away cleanly and it left us the view of the main crash structure beneath.
My main concern however is the way that the low nose dug beneath the Williams’s crash structure and forced it upwards. This is exactly what many were predicting and, had it been at even higher speed, could have sent the car over the cockpit area or at least over the top of the chassis. This is an issue that must be resolved for next year and it must include adjustments to both the noses and the rear crash structure area.
Just for reference, Kobayashi’s incident was caused by an MGU-K failure which, coupled with the brake-by-wire interaction and smaller rear brakes, forced most of the braking force to the front, locking both front tyres in the process.