Japanese Grand Prix technical review

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Mark Webber used a new front wing at Suzuka

F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer looks at the changes to the cars at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Japanese Grand Prix saw F1 make its long-awaited return to Suzuka, which demands a fundamentally different style of car to Fuji.

Fuji has few high speed corners and in quite twisty, especially in sector three, before the start-finish straight. Set-up must balance high downforce for the twisty sections and low drag to avoid being overtaken on the straight. The compromise is to sacrifice downforce to avoid being passed.

Suzuka on the other hand has some spectacular high-speed corners. High downforce is required but cars operate in a different part of the aero map. This gave the advantage to Red Bull as its car is supreme at generating downforce at high speeds.

Given that Suzuka was a flyaway race following Singapore few new parts found their way on the cars. Also it being the end of the season more teams choose to focus on their 2010 machines. That doesn’t preclude us from having an interesting discussion though.


Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Suzuka, 2009

It wasn’t a surprise to see Toyota at the top of the timesheets in FP3 and during the race. For a start Toyota always seems to pull out a bit more at the Japanese Grand Prix and the track suited the car.

Like the Red Bull, the TF109 is particularly adept in high speed corners. Unfortunately the car doesn’t have the mechanical grip and to optimise for lap time more wing is required which reduces straight-line speed. At Suzuka the Esses demanded high-speed downforce, which is what the TF109 provides in spades.

The TF109 didn’t change much between Singapore and Japan. The front and rear wings were marginally updated after the low-downforce races of Spa and Monza. Also the the brake ducts sported a vane to divert air towards the bargeboards and sidepods which helps seal the floor and optimises cooling.

Force India

Adrian Sutil, Force India, Suzuka, 2009

Being a relative minnow few words are penned about the Force India’s technical march forward. Given the leap the team has made it is worthy of a mention. For both Singapore and Japan the VJM02 had revised pod wings that doubled up as wing mirrors. Many teams up and down the grid have adopted this innovation. Ferrari originated the design but many teams were reluctant to adopt it because the placement of the mirrors compromised driver visibility. The limitations of the 2009 regulations means that there is more aerodynamic benefit by moving to outboard mirrors.

The benefit of combined podwing/mirrors are obvious. A drag-inducing object is moved away from the main bodywork. Actually drag is only reduced marginally – after all the device is still there – but the attachments are deleted. The main benefit is that airflow over the top of the car is less disturbed. This creates more consistent airflow to the rear wing which both increases downforce at the rear and optimises the diffuser (by creating lower pressure above the diffuser, which acts to pump air through it).

To further refine airflow Force India also introduced some shark-teeth fins by the cockpit. These will create micro-vortices which improves airflow to the rear of the car. For a small team the aero updates and innovations are impressive.

The remaining races

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull dominated in Japan by virtue of being lightning quick through the Esses in sector one. Can the RB05 repeat this advantage in Brazil and Abu Dhabi and steal the championship from Jenson Button’s gloves?

The odds are low. Out of the two circuits, Interlagos is more likely to play to Red Bull’s strengths – it has a couple of high-speed turns but the slowish sector two means that the track isn’t that aerodynamically demanding.

Having said that, at Suzuka Mark Webber’s Red Bull managed to set the fastest lap with a prototype of the front wing designed for Interlagos. Red Bull continues to push development of the RB05 hard so expect it to be competitive in a week’s time. Hopefully the push by the design folks this year won’t compromise next year’s car when larger fuel tanks and smaller front tyres will mean a reasonable change in how the cars aerodynamics work.

Yas Marina, on the other hand, looks like a classic McLaren ‘point and squirt’ track. There are few very (if any) high speed corners. That coupled with a long straight, which is a boon for the KERS cars, means teams will need to carefully offset low drag with high downforce. I’d be astonished if Red Bull held a significant advantage – look for the RB05 to be mid-pack unless Newey can weave some magic in the wind tunnel.

Other news

One under-reported rumour sweeping the paddock during the Japanese Grand Prix is the possibility of McLaren buying BMW’s engine division – probably because Martin Whitmarsh formly denied it. Nonetheless, the rumours claim that only BMW’s racing team has been sold and the engine unit is still up for grabs.

Given Mercedes’ desire to buy into Brawn and McLaren’s push into the supercar OEM space it makes sense for the Woking-based outfit to develop its own engine. And the BMW power unit will be a scalp. We know from last year it is quick and reliable and would allow McLaren to sever its relationship with Mercedes early. Watch this space.

More F1 technology

27 comments on “Japanese Grand Prix technical review”

  1. A McLaren BMW partnership for 2010? How very interesting. Obviously they have history, as it is a BMW lump that sits in the back of the F1 Road Car.

    1. I think the end result will be all-McLaren. Dont think BMW name will be mentioned.

      1. definitely, but have doubts of McMerc partnership being severed before 2011 at the earliest.

        Dennis wouldn’t want a BMW relic in his car, he will be buying the factory perhaps to produce a whole new engine, possibly based on the BMW, but that wont happen until the engine frenzy is lifted… by then, I’m hoping Force induces V or Flat Sixes to be ushered in instead of V8’s

  2. Superb analysis John!

  3. I’d be very surprised if McLaren are able to buy the BMW engine department. Maybe they can buy the engine itself and build it as a rebadged McLaren-engine in Woking, but BMW’s engine department is located at BMW’s headquarters in Munich (as far as I know, at least) and I’d be surprised if they let McLaren fool around there…

    1. However, if BMW do pull out of F1, and are not going to supply engines to any of next year’s teams, then they will have a complete F1 engine production line doing nothing – unless maybe they are going into DTM as some rumours have it, and could use it for those cars instead.
      I think McLaren using ex-BMW engines could be possible, as the last time they worked together it spawned the F1 supercar, and McLaren engineers might still have knowledge from then…..

    2. Even BMW’s racing engine department. Good point though.

      1. Great article Keith! Brilliant as usual.

        They dont necessarily have to buy the whole of BMWs engine line, it could be a strategic investment cum partnership. Nothing wrong in having a Mclaren BMW now would it?

        From BMWs point of view, wouldn’t this be a boon for their sports car lines? They could produce a rival to the Mercedes SLR Mclaren or something along those lines. BMW has everything to gain by partnering Mclaren.

        Their recent history is rather unfortunate as we know. Thier partnership with William didn’t bring the success they craved which led them to buy their own team, that hasn’t settled too well either. Teaming up with Mclaren as partner or engine supplier will finally give them a chance to realistically win the World Championship.

        Like many of you have said, BMW and Mclaren’s previous working relationship resulted in an icon, who’s to say that it would bear the same fruit on track?

        I’m not a Mclaren supporter, but it would be a shame to see BMW leave the sport completely. I sincerely hope the deal goes through.

        The next question is…what can Ross Brawn do with the full financial and technical muscle of Mercedes Benz at his mercy?

        1. And a McLaren-BMW would be a nice “poke in the eye” to Mercedes

  4. Force India engineers back in Northampton deserve big praise for their efforts in turning car from back-markers to midfield, and even front running in some races.

  5. One under-reported rumour sweeping the paddock during the Japanese Grand Prix is the possibility of McLaren buying BMW’s engine division – probably because Martin Whitmarsh formly denied it.

    So was Whitmarsh’s denial cause the rumour to be under-reported, or cause it to sweep through the paddock? He’s not had much luck denying rumours to the BBC commentators lately!

    McLaren making their own engine sounds fantastic. They are obviously starting their own kind of deep sportscar heritage, in the mould of a certain historic F1 team…

  6. This is the first true analysis of the Force India car I have seen anywhere. Great work from the team.

    However, the Force India has done well only on the low downforce tracks – Spa and Monza. The modifications you mentioned reduce drag thus increasing effectiveness of the downforce-producing elements, diffuser and rear wing. Then, why weren’t they a bit higher in Japan?

    It seems that the car is good at reducing drag but bad at generating downforce. Is that a correct conclusion?

    Also, on the official website, there was a lot of mention about usage of brake-ducts as aero devices (http://www.formula1.com/news/technical/2009/820/704.html and http://www.formula1.com/news/technical/2009/820/705.html), could you throw some light on that, John?

  7. Very useful analysis. Yas is a torque and braking circuit, RedBull’s weak points. I expect to see Hamilton and, if it’s hot, Brawn up front there. Interlagos will be similar—whatever efficiency advantage Vettel has will be mooted by those two uphill accelleration events. Vettel has his work cut out for him.

  8. McLaren are already making their own engines, they said a while back that the new sports car lines will be all McLaren, with no parts from other cars.

    All the parts of the McLaren MP4-12C are bespoke and unique to this car. Everything from the engine right down to the tailor-made switches and buttons is pure McLaren: nothing has come from another manufacturer’s parts bin.

    The 12C is powered by a bespoke McLaren `M838T’ 3.8 litre, V8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600bhp, driving through a McLaren seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG).

    link here

    more info

    1. Thank for the links :) These are exciting times for McLaren supporters!

    2. if koenigsegg can create their own motor, it should be well within mclaren’s means. i’ll guess they have had the means, but not the desire, for some time.

  9. Red Bull should buy the BMW f1 engine plant…

  10. Hey I really want to get into sport but I don’t really know anything about it. The sports and hobbies site, Clubbz.com is good, but are there any others? JB

  11. Just as a sidenote, where can i get the results of the Suzuka prediction poll ?
    Is there some page with the results ?

  12. Another off the post comment, but this is really funny:


    1. ROFLMAO

      Karma… Yes it called Karma.

    2. That’s an advertising campaign for Phillips I guess… He didn´t lost it i suppose.

  13. I don’t want to appear to be a bootlicker…but these articles and analyses are just one of the reasons why a like this site a lot!

    Thanks guys.

  14. Isnt engine development banned untill 2012, that would mean that McLaren would just buy mercedes engines like Brawn and Force India, instead of having the engines given to them by Mercedes.

    We wouldnt see a McLaren engine car untill 2012 at least! why would McLaren give up the Mercedes engine? they know they are good and reliable and Mercedes still have a large stake in the McLaren group. so why would Mercedes want McLaren to go running around, holding hands with BMW, i thought that Mercedes and BMW had a huge riavalry, being German and all.

    Next year Mercedes will see that there money is more safe with McLaren than Brawn

    1. I really don’t see McLaren buying BMW’s engine shop, the technology perhaps but not the factory. Dennis has spoken about becoming the ‘British Ferrari’; it would hardly be logical to have a German engine under the bonnet (whatever badge you put on it). If McLaren are struggling for viable engine technology, Cosworth would appear to be a possible target.

  15. They could be interested in the BMW engine shop as another revenue stream. With the engine limits imposed by the FIA they would be in a good position to know their costs without any surprises popping up. Offering up an established engine to customers, at a reasonable price, would fit very well with McLaren’s attempt to make as much money as they can from F1.

  16. Mclaren all the way! I agree Morpheus Mclaren will/are always looking to make as much money where they can, but for the awesome cars they put round the track you really can’t blame them for trying


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