Spa saw a huge array of tech developments as teams begin to tackle some of the lower downforce tracks of the year. William Tyson dissects the teams’ latest offerings.
The next two rounds on the F1 calendar – Spa and Monza – are two of the toughest circuits when deciding what aerodynamic route to take. Low downforce aero packages have sprung up everywhere along the grid this weekend suggesting that whilst in the past the alternative high downforce strategy was often beneficial, given the spread of the power unit performance this year it is safer to go with a low drag setup.
Of the top teams McLaren and Ferrari have been the most busy during the two weeks available to work in over the summer break, whilst Mercedes and Red Bull have also brought significant updates to improve the efficiency of their cars in a straight line.
The two Ferrari drivers went different ways on aero setup on Saturday morning but due to the wet conditions in qualifying they both elected the same front and rear wing configurations. The low downforce rear wing that Fernando Alonso preferred was a little shallower and featured less endplate louvres as a result.
There were three front wings available during the weekend, two of which are shown above. Below is their normal front wing but the top flaps have been cut down where they meet the outboard elements separator/flap adjuster, forming a wavy profile as a result. Above (coated in Flo-Viz paint) is their medium downforce option, featuring flaps that thin towards the centre of the car.
The final front wing was exactly the same as the latter but the cascade winglets had been removed and in their place were two vertical vanes. The effect of these vanes will be almost identical to the flick-ups on the edge of the cascade winglet but downforce – and therefore drag – will have been reduced due to the removal of the winglets.
Changes were also made to their exhaust insulation, improving overall power output by over 10bhp. Ferrari initially used Marussia to test a number of insulation materials and cases that wrap around the exhaust headers. Since Bahrain they have gone through a number of items before finally bringing a final solution, whereas Marussia have interestingly diverged from Ferrari by installing their own insulation this weekend.
The idea behind the insulation is to reduce the heat loss from the exhaust and increasing the effect of the turbocharger. It also prevents heat exchange to the surrounding radiators and intercoolers, which also opens up the opportunity to package the sidepod internals even tighter and improve the aerodynamics in the future.
Another new rear wing was present on the MP4-29 and it kept with the tubercles theme introduced in Germany.
The main plane of the wing curves upwards as it meets each endplate to form a spooned centre. This is in contrast to what Sauber are doing with their rear wing which has the inverse design. Keeping a deeper profile at the centre of the wing continues to encourage the effect that the Y-lon (the rear wing’s central pylon that wraps around the exhaust pipe) has on the exhaust plume, retaining the airflow against the back of the rear wing much longer before stalling.
As a result of the shallower profile there are only three louvres cut into the each endplate to reduce wingtip vortices. Although the small array of canards that travelled up the endplate have been removed, the leading edge slot has been kept to manage rear tyre wake at high speed. The tubercles along the top flap are still present but the trailing edge ones that corresponded have been deleted.
As well as the rear wing, there were plenty of changes to the rear of the car. The winglet attached to the Y-lon has been deleted to reduce drag a bit more and once again the upper rear wishbone pair of mushroom blockers were not present for the aforementioned reason.
A new rear diffuser was present with clear styling cues from Mercedes. It features the U-bend in the central section, allowing air flowing around the Coke-bottle section of the sidepods to disperse into the path of the low pressure air streaming out of the underside of the car. Nobody really knows how it works (and I have enquired about it) but according to recent reports the U-bend helps balance the rear of the car at high speed.
I’m going to have a stab in the dark and assume that it prevents turbulence spilling in between each side of the diffuser. Low pressure air coming out of the diffuser draws out the air from the top side of the car through the U-bend; the higher pressure air being introduced then acts as a barrier, stopping the low pressure from becoming turbulent as it swirls around the back of the car and encouraging yet more air out from beneath the car as a result to create more downforce. Don’t hold me to this, it’s just a theory and I have been wrong before.
Like all other teams Mercedes came with a new rear wing which featured a rather sinuous top flap and a slightly shallower main plane. The top flap was trimmed at the wing tips and both cars ran without a Gurney tab to further reduce drag.
In addition, the low downforce specification Y100 winglet was also in place and was identical to the one seen at the Silverstone test last month. Whilst its function is to upwash the exhaust plume into the path of the rear wing, its effect will be minimised by the shallower profile of the winglet and will work in conjunction with the equally shallow rear wing.
A more concave nose appeared on the W05 which allowed the team to raise the underside of the nose into an arch shape. The additional room created files oncoming airflow into the path of the under-chassis turning vanes, which now sport a fourth element. I would expect other teams to follow this development path although it depends on how their nose is shaped to maximise this design.
Finally a vertical fin was placed on top of the brake duct, angled into the front tyre at the trailing edge. This will produce a longitudinal vortex around the front tyre which will likely further protect the sidepod from tyre wake.
Much has been said of the rumoured Caterham update and the first stage arrived for this weekend after additional funds were found under the new management. This was initially planned for Spain onwards until the precarious financial situation occurred after previous team owner, Tony Fernandes, refused to pump in the cash following another disappointing start to a season.
Whilst the nose is the most visual change, it is not exactly a major overhaul from the previous edition. The structural part of the nose remains identical – as does the rest of the front wing – but the non-structural vanity panel on top has been streamlined. It is more aesthetically pleasing and its function remains the same as before, only now there is much cleaner airflow coming over the chassis.
The rear of the sidepods were also altered, with the Coke-bottle region being much tighter and the upper bodywork extended to the rear of the car through the suspension in a similar fashion to the top teams.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic