John Beamer?s tech review: Interlagos

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McLaren spent a reported ??4m on Interlagos-specific upgrades

Guest writer John Beamer of F1 Pitlane takes a final look at technical changes on the cars of 2008.

The denouement of the Formula 1 season was certainly spectacular. As a story, the emotional roller-coaster and intense human drama of Interlagos easily eclipsed the technical innovation.

The last Grand Prix of the season typically brings few technical innovations as teams gear up for the next season. This was especially true this time round given that the 2009 regulations represent the biggest overhaul of the sport?s technical rules for over 10 years.

Despite this McLaren spared no effort in its attempt to see Lewis Hamilton over the line. Estimates put McLaren?s Interlagos budget at around ??4m, which went on checking and double checking components for reliability and also an upgraded aero package.

McLaren?s aerodynamics package

The new rear wing and T-wings on the McLaren at Interlagos
The new rear wing and T-wings on the McLaren at Interlagos

The biggest change to the MP4/23 was a revised rear wing where the edge of the flap sported extensions along the endplate that reached over the main plane. The rear wing produces a large vortex which induces a lot of drag. McLaren tried to reduce the effect of this vortex by allowing some air to bleed across the natural pressure gradient. The net effect is a more efficient wing. Indeed McLaren captured this benefit by running the flap at a lower angle to allow for more top speed. It was one of the reasons why Heikki Kovalainen was repeatedly fastest in the speed traps all weekend.

The other noticeable innovation was a change to the T-wings. McLaren used a single element T-wing, which produces less downforce that the usual double element version used in China. There is no real reason for this except the team in Woking believed a lower downforce set-up was better.

The net gain of these was 0.15s – Ron Dennis described it as the most expensive 0.15s in the history of F1. Although Lewis crawled home in fifth that was more because of poor decision making by the Woking-based outfit than lack of pace. Q2, which is the best measure of outright speed, had the McLarens ahead of the Ferraris.

Ferrari

Unlike McLaren, Ferrari opted for only a minor upgrade. The one visible change was to the inner fairing of the rear wheel, which completely covered the rim. Wheel fairings help to manage the airflow leaving the wheel by venting it properly (in a similar manner to a car?s exhaust) and can result in a 2-3% downforce gain. Specifically the inner fairing reduces the turbulence under the rear wing so making it more efficient.

Williams

The only other major change was a slightly altered front wing on the Williams FW30. At the extremities of the outer section, close the endplate, the profile tapers up as opposed to staying parallel to the ground. The taper reduces downforce but makes handling more predictable as sensitivity in pitch and yaw is lower.

2009: all change

And that?s it for 2008. Over the course of the off-season I?ll do a series of articles on what the new technical regulations mean for the look and performance of a 2009 F1 car. But, quite frankly, if the 2009 season is half as exciting as the 2008 who cares how the cars look?

2 comments on “John Beamer?s tech review: Interlagos”

  1. Yes one reason Mclaren went for the lower downforce setup was to reduce the strain on the engines, especially in the case of Lewis. Mclaren could not afford to see his engine stressed for long or blow up so they turned the revs down pretty early on in the race. The low downforce was to somewhat negate the need to turn the revs down.

    I’m really going to miss these cars come next season. I had come to appreciate the way in which the modern F1 cars have evolved. The regulations of the past few seasons have giving us some very intresting designs of wings and sidepods, paddles, chimneys, you name it. One aspect of the current cars I do appreciate, and lately too, are the curved front wings. Initially the front wings used to be a very bland area of the cars. But it seems we are heading back that route with the ,for 2009, regulations and the “earth mover”, style front wings. Serious consideration will have to be given to kerbs by the drivers come next year, for in seasons not so long gone, it was very easy to destroy those low hanging front wings on some circuits by using the kerbs aggressively.
    I also think a driver trying to overtake will now have to move much earlier away from the slipstream of the car ahead, as the geometry of the new front wing will increase the close in distance by a few inches.

  2. Thanks John,

    It seems that all of the work that McLaren did was virtually wiped out by the weather conditions.

    With the wet conditions everyone was going a bit slower than normal for a lot of the race anyway and a bit more down force would have helped the handling without stressing the engines too much.

    Looking forward to the next article John, I can’t wait to see how the new cars look & handle as I’ve been waiting for years for them to reduce aerodynamic grip in favour of mechanical grip.
    The possibility of multiple design solutions for the new KERS systems as well as their phased introduction by the different teams could really throw up a very strange season.

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