Despite the fact that the Spanish GP, a race renowned for the reveal of large-scale technical developments ahead of the European leg of the season, is only a matter of weeks away, it was of great surprise to see the vast amount of components turn up in China this weekend. With the teams making the ultimate compromise between drag and downforce, there were a number of changes that reflected this target with the aim of nailing the in-field, twisty section and blitzing the final drag back towards the pits. Let’s see what they had in store…
China was the host nation to reveal another poorly kept secret in F1, that secret being Mercedes’s new nose. Originally planned to be introduced way back in Melbourne, the new design failed 4 crash tests so its arrival to the F1 circus has been postponed repeatedly for some time.
An evolution of its previous design, it still features the inverted ‘u’ shaped tip to meet the single cross section regulation. However this time the ‘u’ is a little taller (not lower as rumoured) to encourage more airflow beneath the car, whilst retaining its centred point of 185mm above the reference plane as required. The position of the nose tip has been offset rearwards, in-line with the trailing edge of the front wing mainplane, to encourage the rest of the wing to perform better.
As we saw in post-Bahrain testing, Ferrari have developed their version of the blown wheelnut concept which was first introduced last year by Williams but has since been out of the spotlight as it failed to consistently appear across the grid. In a bid to reduce drag and aid tyre management, Ferrari have sought after creating their own version.
The system is simple: duct clean airflow from the inside of the wheel and push it through to the outside of the wheel, interrupting airflow passing around the front tyre in the process. This slightly reduces the turbulent flow that builds up behind the front tyre as the car travels at high speed, reducing drag and increasing the efficiency of components surrounding the tyre such as the leading edge of the floor and sidepods.
An additional vane was added behind the already existing one on the front wing endplate, both of which form pressure gradients across their profile’s to pass airflow more efficiently around the front tyre. Other small areas of modification were tiny refinements to their ‘mushroom’ rear suspension fairings (interestingly, the team chose to run them throughout the weekend despite extensive testing without them in Bahrain two weeks ago) and some software improvements for their Mercedes power unit to boost driveability. This correlates to what Jenson Button said about the team’s poor performance in qualifying, blaming a lack of downforce rather than driveability related issues. Expect a big update in Spain.
The Enstone-based outfit are playing things down a little but there have been some solid improvements to the E22 in just two weeks, somewhere between 0.6-0.8 seconds per lap is the assumed performance boost. This is again a combination of power unit tweaks from Renault (a huge software update received by all Renault customer outfits to increase the power output from the ERS) and further aerodynamic gains.
Lotus have copied Red Bull by installing numerous vortex generating fences just before the upward rise of the central section of the rear diffuser in a bid to keep airflow attached to its surface. Previously the starter motor hole would do this job but regulations have been tightened in this area, forcing teams to get inventive. A new front wing was also introduced, including modified cascades and slight alterations to the outboard region of each element.
A solid two days of testing has meant that Force India have been able to bring forward numerous parts ahead of Barcelona, including a new variation of rear wing endplates as seen in the post-Bahrain test. These feature 7 vanes that all angle upwards, inducing an upwash effect at the rear of the car. These were accompanied by a new set of drag reducing gills, now lying horizontally (a conventional layout) compared their previously angled design.
The sidepods have also received some treatment, shrink-wrapping much closer to the bodywork than before. This is to create as much space for airflow to reach the top of the rear diffuser as possible, as well as reduce drag by presenting less surface area to the oncoming airflow.
The sidepod airflow conditioners were re-profiled, with their base now forming an arc and attaching to the leading edge of the floor rather than vertically a bit further behind as it was before. This encourages air that’s fed inside of the front tyre to pass along the sidepod’s undercut and thus extract more performance from the rear of the car.