F1 2014’s Technical Conundrum
The Canadian Grand Prix could well be a telling weekend on a technical level, as William Tyson explains.
This weekend’s 2014 Canadian GP could potentially be rather revealing. Whilst it does not take a genius to know that the fastest car is silver with a three-pointed star on its engine cover – and will no doubt be the favourite again on Sunday – the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s unique characteristics could tell us a lot about the level of performance this generation of machinery hold.
The cars are not as fast as in previous seasons due to the latter reasons: they weigh at least 50kg more than last year, have less downforce and the tyres are a lot harder. The additional weight and harder tyres have unfortunately nullified the opportunity to compare downforce levels like-for-like with previous years. While it is possible to calculate the laptime offset from the aforementioned factors, it is still not concrete evidence as to how much the loss of the exhaust blown diffuser and wider front wing have affected performance.
Most teams have – apparently – been running pretty much maximum downforce at every race this year. So what does that tell us? Yes, they have less downforce but not necessarily drastically less than last year. The power units produce three times more torque than the V8 predecessors and the tyre compounds are far harder. This means that tyre surface temperature is easily generated under acceleration, which is good for a race start but not really what you want in the corners.
The teams will be looking to boost core temperatures as this allows the driver to lean on the car a lot more, increasing cornering speed. The best way to increase core temperatures at the rear is increasing rear downforce and, because the torque levels are so high, this is no surprise. However to balance the car you need to ramp up the front wing angle or find performance at the front end, otherwise you will just have heaps of understeer.
This is evident on a number of cars, except Red Bull who probably have the best chassis – just. Mercedes has a hint of understeer which shows that they still have performance to find from the front wing area. By contrast, McLaren have been having big issues with front tyre temperature all season and this is why the drivers want more front downforce because they can’t balance the car by reducing rear downforce as this decreases core rear tyre temperatures.
It is a bit of a cat and mouse situation that appears to be affecting the whole grid and this is probably why we see Ferrari requesting Pirelli to soften up the tyre compounds. Mercedes and Red Bull are producing more front downforce than the field and that is why they are succeeding.
Canada could finally be the weekend to fully clarify this technical uncertainty. Traditionally, teams bring low downforce rear wings and de-clutter the front wings to increase top speed. The circuit’s corners are all slow/medium speed chicanes so core tyre temperatures are not as critical as somewhere like Barcelona or Shanghai. If the teams do bring a bespoke aerodynamic package for this weekend, perhaps this tells us that the only reason why the teams are cramming on rear downforce is because tyres are the limiting factor. On the flipside, if we still see fairly large wings then it could all but confirm the current crop’s apparent lack of downforce.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic
William Tyson - a Mechanical Engineering student at Swansea University - has been writing about the technical side of Formula 1 since February 2013. After joining the Richland F1 team for 2014 he has continued to establish himself as a more rounded technical analyst whilst maintaining a healthy following on his blog.