Abu Dhabi Grand Prix technical analysis – and a look ahead to 2010

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Williams were one of few teams to change their car for Abu Dhabi

F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer examines the technical updates from Abu Dhabi and gives his early thoughts on the major changes for 2010.

As evident from my recent musings on the technical side of F1 every team has focused its development resources on 2010. Suffice to say there is little to report from Yas Marina save a few minor tweaks from Williams and Ferrari.

The long straights and myriad second-gear corners suited the MP4-24 to a tee but it also was no surprise to see Red Bull up at the front. Since Singapore, where the team introduced a major upgrade, the RB5 has been the best car in the pitlane.

The technical team at Red Bull has a phenomenal understanding of the aero characteristics of the 2009 technical regulations – this team will be at the sharp end of the grid next year.

Abu Dhabi

Williams used revised brake ducts at Abu Dhabi (click to enlarge)

Many teams started off the weekend with a Singapore set-up. Track conditions were expected to be similar to Bahrain and dust was thought to be a problem.

However the new tarmac was exceptionally grippy and most teams spent Friday practice trimming rear wing to extract more pace. Higher downforce results in more drag and a lower top speed. This led to many teams running lower downforce set-ups to prevent being overtaken on either of the sector two straights.

Although the race was a day-night event the air and track temperatures were high, which required teams to think through cooling. To this end Williams introduced a slightly more open brake duct to prevent disc overheating bounded by fins above and below the opening.

The area around the brake ducts is mostly free from aerodynamic restriction which has allowed teams to use fins and vanes to improve airflow into the braking system and around the tyre. Tyres create a lot of drag as they punch a hole in the air. By placing fins ahead of the tyre air can be directed around the tyre reducing drag.

Cast your mind back to the race and you’ll recall that Ferrari suffered cooling problems – in fact KERS was overheating for most of the weekend which was part of the reason that the Scuderia was off the pace. The only option is to cut holes in the floor towards the back of the car as the technical regulations prevent piercing the bodywork with holes as would have happened in previous years.

The problem is that this severely compromises aerodynamic performance as drawing air from the floor through the engine reduces flow to the rear of the car and hence downforce. Remember the faster the flow through the diffuser the lower the pressure and the higher the grip.


Keep an eye out for a series of articles during the off-season about the 2010 cars. Even though the technical regulations will remain largely stable some fundamental design changes are required.

For a start, most constructors made severe design compromises for 2009. Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Renault built their cars with KERS in mind. This shifts the weight aft and forces aero compromise.

Brawn shoe-horned a Mercedes engine in a car that was designed for a Honda. And every team bar Williams, Toyota and Brawn had to design the double diffuser into cars set up for a single diffuser. This is the principle reason that Ferrari stopped development of its 2009 challenger – an overhaul of the suspension was required for the double diffuser to work properly.

Expect constructors to steal the best innovations for this year and base their new car around them. Most teams will likely adopt the Red Bull nose rims. Front wing endplates and footplates will be ever more complex and more aggressive diffuser implementations are likely. In all downforce may rise by extra 10-20%, and will only be a smidgen shy of 2008 levels.

The two biggest changes that teams have to contend with are no refuelling and narrower front tyres. Bigger fuel tanks will call for cars to have a longer wheelbase. All else being equal this makes them less nimble but more aerodynamically efficient. Weight distribution during the race will also have to be solved for as the constant depletion of fuel will shift the centre of gravity more than in previous years. Look for teams to shift more away from longitudinal to transverse gear boxes to move the wheelbase to an optimal point.

Narrower front tyres will mean design departments need to rethink the front wing assembly. The advances learned in 2009 are still relevant but the application is different. The narrower tyre means it is easier to divert air around the wheel – teams will optimise the positioning of the myriad vanes in the endplate region. The smaller wheels also generate less drag so teams will gain theoretical lap time. However, this is more than offset by a reduced surface area which creates less grip.

Unlike 2009, 2010 probably won’t see a revolution in the running order. Red Bull, Brawn, Ferrari and McLaren will almost certainly vie for top honours when the new season kicks off in Bahrain. See you there!

F1 technology

48 comments on “Abu Dhabi Grand Prix technical analysis – and a look ahead to 2010”

  1. Thanks John. As usual, a very well written and clear article.
    I was wondering if you can also comment on the wheel fairings ban for 2010. Do you share Sam Michael’s opinion that this decision will help improve overtaking?

    1. Thanks. In my view fairings don’t add much to the downforce envelope although turbulent air does prevent them working properly.

      Removing them will do more to contain cost (i.e., stop expensive aero development on the devices) that encourage overtaking. So, no, I don’t think removing fairings by themselves will improve the show. Other things planned for 2010 (like the fuel tanks) will make tyre management more of an issue which could help. Fundamentally the wake needs to be reduced much further to have a significant affect on passing.

    2. Sam Michaels a clown…removing wheel covers wont do anything significant.
      Remove their illegal DDD and that will produce the most dramatic effect this millennium.

      The wing height on a 2009/2010 car is that high it really doesn’t interfere with the front wing of the car behind at all.

      1. Remove their illegal DDD

        Is your real name Montezemolo?

        The double-diffuser rules loophole should have been closed for the 2010 season, but that doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

        1. it does seem very odd that they’re allowing the retension on the DDD. It would have been easy to close that loophole for this year. Especially considering that before the DDD we had overtaking up an down the feild. The DDD has a direct affect on the front wing of the car behind. Ban it of course.

          1. Overtaking early in the season (notably in Australia) was caused by the supersoft tyres.

            The cars were developed even when they did have a DDD so all cars became more aero dependent during the year.

            Maybe the FIA should ban all development on the cars? Just keep them the way they were at the start of the 2009 season. Put them all on supersofts and we’ll have overtaking galore.

      2. illegal DDD??? DDD is Legal!!!!

    3. The Article was too complicated for my dimwit brain, but enjoyed reading it though.

  2. Great article as always. My only question is in relation to fuel tanks.

    As refuelling is banned next year do you think the teams will just stick a massive lump of a fuel tank in the car or is there room for innovation here too? Would the use of, say two, smaller fuel tanks assist the weight distribution and balance of the cars?

    I remember reading somewhere that one of the early 1990’s Ferrari’s had multiple fuel tanks. I stand corrected though.

    1. The 2010 technical regulations appear to rule out multiple tanks although there is always innovation when it comes to interpretation of the rules!

      According to article 6.1.1:

      The fuel tank must be a single rubber bladder…

      and 6.1.2:

      … a maximum of 2 litres of fuel may be kept outside the survival cell, but only that which is necessary for the normal running of the engine.

      1. The fuel tank must be a single rubber bladder…

        Of course there’s nothing there to stipulate what shape the single rubber bladder must take…!!

        1. Shape of prostrate gland? :P

          1. Max. The gland is a “Prostate.”
            your word is…..
            a. 1. Lying at length, or with the body extended on the ground or other surface; stretched out; as, to sleep prostrate.

            Could apply to F1 I guess, as in Grovel

  3. F1 teams will have a young drivers program in December 1-3 in Jerez where they will give opportunity to young drivers to test the car.Can anybody answer me
    1.Will they run 2010 spec car?
    2.Will new teams like Campos,USF1,Manor,LotusF1 join?
    3.Will teams like Toyota & BMW participate?

    Hope Fanatics have some time to answer me.

    1. This is form what I now.

      1. No
      2. No
      3. BMW yes, Toyota not sure

      1. Does anyone know if Williams are involved in this testing session what engine they will be using, do Cosworth have anything ready and if they do will Williams make an interim car for it, or will they just use a Toyota engine?

        1. The Sri Lankan
          13th November 2009, 3:09

          i hope they try out both Toyota and the cosworth engines. imagine the feedback from that

          1. That is a very good suggestion. They could also try the old honda & renault engines from the 80’s & 90’s.

    2. new team car still in development…so no new team at jerez.

      1. I think Williams will be involved at the Jerez test, so Hulkenberg can start getting some laps in an F1… that’s what I heard from brazilian press anyway, who stated that Barrichello will go to watch his rookie teammate.

  4. What are the rules for the adjustable front wings next year?

    Is more adjustment allowed, to encourage drivers to use them? Or are they being quietly dropped – the whole idea seemed like a waste of time and money to me.

    1. I’m not sure about this one. I don’t think the drivers were using them anyway.

      1. Some drivers didnt use them, but a lot of drivers did use them. I think both Button and Barichello said they used them on every lap.

    2. I think they have to ban front wings, just like during the early 80’s.

  5. Thanks John very informative and well written. Your articles always make me feel like I can go out and design the cars (thankfully noone would be daft enough to let me) but I do feel I have a greater understanding after reading your work.
    I read that Ferrari are designing a Brawn type nose. Is this true does anyone know?

    1. Guilherme Teixeira
      12th November 2009, 11:09

      I believe it is a Red Bull type nose, with that “v” shape. Massa used a 2010 spec nosecone on the German Grand Prix friday season, look for the pics ;-)

  6. Thanks John. Another well written article. These are the hidden bits of the sport that I like.
    I’ve always wondered what would happen if I was let loose on a car design. How many times would it get bounced back from the head designer for not meeting the current FIA regulations?

  7. HounslowBusGarage
    12th November 2009, 10:19

    Fascinating article, John.
    Do you know if Bridgestone are makig any radical alterations to their tyre rubber compounds to deal with the extra weight next year?

    1. Bridgestone aren’t involved in F1 next year

      1. Bridgestone are still in F1 next year, it is after the 2010 season that they leave.

      2. Guilherme Teixeira
        12th November 2009, 11:34

        Yes they are, until the end of 2010

    2. One school of thought, mid-seaso,n was asking whether the tyres Bridgestone were producing had reached saturation point, and could not provide any more grip even if more downforce were generated. Has any more been said on this?

  8. Great article as always. These technical articles are what makes F1Fanatic website the best.

    One query. We saw in 2007, 2008 that cars tried to divert the air flow around the tyres to inside of the body of the car. In 2009, however, the wings were meant to divert the air to the outside. But also, a lot of “brake wings” (http://www.formula1.com/news/technical/2009/820/704.html, http://www.formula1.com/news/technical/2009/820/705.html) came up in many cars throughout the season. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Brake wings would have been far more effective in 2007, am i right? And will teams continue using these break wings next year?

    1. I think this is a case of less aero freedom this year – it means that there is more gain from doing aero work around the brake ducts whereas is previous years it would have been on the bargeboards or various vanes. Also fairings had a bigger impact than the ducts so that was a logical place to start development.

      As I recall in 2007/8 some teams were absolutely experimenting with the ducts – just not as aggressively as this year.

  9. Red Bull should have a head start on the competition in 2010 car design…It was one of if not the longest wheel based car this year, so designing the evolution of the aero package will or should be an easier step than say Mclaren, who had one of the shortest wheel bases this year and then they went and made it even shorter mid season in search of downforce.
    Mclaren haven’t used a long wheel base car for more years than I can think. Ferrari were a surprise this year going short WB as they normally had longer WB cars.

    In saying that you expect the old suspects to come thru so it looks like a good year coming up with 3or 4teams in the hunt and good drivers in the right teams….looking forward to RBR 2010 WDC & WCC….

    1. I said it will happen and it will. RED BULL ROCKS!

  10. As insightful as ever John. Even I am of the opinion that most of the teams will ape Newey’s aero design. I think we’ll see a lot of teams going for a combination of Brawn-Red Bull nose.

    Even though the technical regulations will remain largely stable some fundamental design changes are required.

    I am confused here. I remember Martin Whitmarsh telling in one of his interviews that the fundamental characteristics of the car will remain the same & with KERS gone & addition of larger fuel tanks, the only issue will be weight distribution.So developing the 09 car will pay dividends for 2010. With this in mind McLaren had gone ahead with the current car development & stopped it by Singapore.

    But Ferrari on the other hand seem to have taken the opposite route. They stopped development ages ago.

    Which do you think was the correct way forward? And why do you think so?

    1. Personally I think that the approach McLaren have taken is the better one.

      Yes the cars will be different next year, but the aero regs are the same, so what is learnt this year is still relevant next year and if it has been run on this yearsr car already then you have a baseline to work from.

      If you think back to the Schumi/Brawn days at Ferrari, all their successful cars were evolutions of the previous years, even when there were changes to the regs such as the raised front wings in (IIRC) 2005…

      Starting with a clean sheet can sometimes work, but equally can lead to an uncompetitive car (just ask anyone who saw the Honda RA108 or the McLaren MP4-18).

      I think Ferrari will be up there next year, but as someone else has said, it will be thanks to their drivers rather than having a class beating car.

    2. I dont think that there is any single way forward. My guess is that ferrari shifted all development to the 2010 car early because of fundamental flaws that they had with the F60, which meant that there wasnt much mor development they could do. I have read elsewhere that the F60’s double diffuser is one of the most compromised of the field due to the rear suspension layout constraints. Ferrari is probably thinking that they need to do a fundamental redesign on the mechanical side of things. McLaren, on the other hand, was able to develop the MP4-24 very extensively throughout the season, leading one to believe that the car simply had more potential for development and fewer fundamental flaws. We should see a radically different car from ferrari next year, whereas I imagine the McLaren could be largely similar to this year’s(at least as far as aero goes).

  11. Although it may be inevitable, I hope all teams don’t just copy the RB5 for next year. One of the things I liked about this year’s cars were that although the lap times were relatively close most of the cars looked a more different to each other than usual.

    I believe there is an old joke in F1 that if all the cars were painted the same colour you would have a hard time telling which was which, but this season I think the cars have looked more varied than usual, granted that has meant we have had some ugly looking cars, but I prefer it to having every car look the same, but with different liveries.

  12. I have a feeling that Ferrari will be competetive next year due to their drivers, but I don’t think that their car will be that great. I can’t see them finishing ahead of Red Bull, Brwan or McLaren in the standings.

  13. Thank you John for that fantastic article.

    I have a question – why have the FIA made the front tyres narrower?? As you mention, this reduces mechanical grip and gives more oppurtunitues for aero having more effect… how does this tie into any OWG recommendations at all?


    1. It’s about weight distribution. The aero changes as well as removal of groves meant teams must have front weight distribution at all costs. That makes the cars oversteer and the rear tyres are worked too hard – remember many teams had rear tyre issues this year.

      A narrower front tyre will address that issue.

      Here is a helpful primer: http://www.racecar-engineering.com/articles/f1/321860/f1-to-run-narrow-front-tyres-next-year.html

      1. Thanks. Much appreciated $:)

        1. why have the FIA made the front tyres narrower??

          That is because people in the FIA are dumb & have very little understanding of the sport ;)

          1. Thank you Max for that piece of insightful analysis…

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