Technical review: Canadian Grand Prix

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Toro Rosso trimmed out their rear wing for Montreal's long straights

Tyres, not F-ducts, provided the talking point in the Canadian Grand Prix. Guest writer John Beamer reviews the technical developments in the last round.

At Montreal conventional wisdom was proven right. McLaren’s straight-line speed advantage, driven by a fully working F-duct and the Mercedes engine (worth up to 30bhp) allowed it to secure a one-two on the Gilles Villeneuve circuit.

Before the race weekend many believed F-duct efficiency would be the main technical talking point and specifically whether how effectively Red Bull adapted the device to its car.

In the event Red Bull didn’t even bring an F-duct to Montreal deeming that the downforce cost was too excessive for the small saving its wind tunnel figures were showing. And after FP1 one thing was abundantly clear – tyres were going to be talk of the paddock.

Why were tyres so important?

Remember Montreal 2008? If so you’ll recall the constant breaking up of the tarmac around the hairpin. Repairs had to made before the race despite which the cars continued to rip up the tarmac.

To prevent similar problems this year the organisers re-surfaced the track with finely-grained asphalt. Finer aggregate allows the bitumen to bond much more tightly, making it less likely to break up under the strong lateral forces of 96 F1 tyres every lap. This is a particular problem in Montreal because of the extreme temperature variations between winter and summer which loosens the surface.

To understand why this is an issue it’s important to know how tyres grip the road. There are three main friction forces acting on a tyre: adhesion, deformation and tearing/shearing. A soft racing tyre is designed to be sticky (at race temperature) and to deform so it ‘digs’ into the asphalt. In short finer-grained tarmac reduces tyre deformation and therefore grip.

Last week the surface adhesion was lower than expected, making life more difficult for the teams. As with all non-permanent tracks the tarmac wasn’t rubbered-in. Typically the asphalt has a layer of sticky rubber on it put down by many hundreds of race cars. Normal car tyres are far less visco-elastic than racing tyres and don’t put down rubber. In addition temperatures were lower and heavy rain on Friday night washed away what rubber had built up. These factors combined to produce an ice-like surface.

This was all compounded by the long straights and tight corners demanding a low drag-downforce set-up. The more downforce a car runs, the higher the tyre load, and the more likely it is to get to the right operating temperature.

The consequence of all these was extreme graining even on the medium tyre. Drivers couldn’t get heat into their rubber. As a result it was slipping over the asphalt creating a shear force. As the tyre shears over the tarmac the rubber collects in balls on the surface of the tyre. This temporarily reduces the contact patch between the road and the tyre as well as reducing the coefficient of friction – and grip falls off massively.

Aero set-ups

McLaren's rear wing was far deeper than Toro Rosso's

Previously at Montreal teams have run low-drag set-ups similar to those seen at Monza.

As a result many teams brought revised front and rear wings. Drag increases as the square of speed so a steep wing leaves cars susceptible to overtaking on the straights. Traction out of the hairpin is also key and may necessitate some (relative) softness in suspension set-ups as it isn’t uncommon for cars to slide on exit.

However, the tyre grip problems led to many teams increasing downforce for qualifying – this was done by ratcheting up the wing angle. If you look closely at the rear wing of each of the major teams you’ll see that McLaren ran substantially more angle (see picture). However, the wing was still shallower than at previous races so McLaren opted for a narrower outlet slot for the F-duct in the wing.

The Woking-based outfit is the only team that has perfected the F-duct – its competitors see an unacceptable fall off in downforce when the duct is ‘off’. The other clue was that the MP4/25 wasn’t the fastest car through the speed traps. To keep the balance right the steeper rear wing also meant that McLaren ran a slightly more aggressive front wing. It was this extra downforce that allowed McLaren to secure a 1-2.

Brake ducts

McLaren's brake duct

The other feature of Montreal is the need to large brake ducts. The long straights with sharp corners mean that the brakes do a lot of work. To compensate teams bring oversize ducts to ensure the get enough air to cool down. It is a fine balance as the expanded ducts significantly increase drag, which on a low downforce track needs to be avoided at all costs.

Ferrari even went as far to change its brakes to Carbone Industrie, which uses a harder material to withstand higher temperatures. Every team on the grid without exception ran with larger ducts.


Renault M-shaped rear wing

One surprise of the season has been Renault’s development rate. After being sold by its parent company after the Singapore scandal many predicted the demise of the Enstone-based outfit.

Instead the aero team has upped the ante and produced new parts at every race. Montreal was no exception with a more extreme M-shaped rear wing and a more obvious cascade-less front wing.

Renault front wing endplate

In addition to the loss of the cascade the lower flap grew out and a third vertical vane sprouted just inside the endplate to condition flow around the tyres. The genesis of the endplate design gives insight as to what the cascade is doing.

If you look closely at the cascade (compare it to the wing they used in Turkey) you’ll see it has a twist that directs air through the suspension. Although removing the cascade will reduce drag it messes with the carefully-crafted airflow characteristics. The addition of the vertical vane corrects this.

The more extreme ‘M’ rear wing reduces the effective angle of attack of the wing which reduces load and cuts drag.


Williams also brought a significant update to Montreal, albeit one that was overdue after development was disrupted after both cars crashed heavily at Monaco.

The most obvious change was the addition of Red Bull style vanes under the nose. These prevent dirty air from the wheels polluting air under the nose, which allows the floor to be fed with cleaner air, which in turn results in a more consistent diffuser. More consistent air flow to the diffuser means it is less likely to stall during cornering when the airflow may slow or change direction. Any stall at this critical moment will result in less rear downforce.

Also the endplates were updated with the addition of second, small outboard vane attached to the footplate. This works in tandem with the larger footplate vane to twist air away from the wing and around the outside of the wheel.

Interestingly Williams abandoned the semi-circular footplate venturi, which is designed to create a vortex that prevents air above the footplate spilled underneath – it effectively seals the wing. This is likely because the outermost section of the wing has more to do with tyre management than downforce generation. Look just inside the endplate and a venturi channel is evident on the lower side of the wing.


Ferrari's front wing flap is the little white fence on the inside

The Scuderia’s rate of development has been disappointing so far this year. That’s partly because it got distracted with its F-duct development, which still isn’t working as well as intended.

As a result Ferrari was over a second a lap off the pace in Turkey. For Montreal Ferrari produced a revised low-drag front wing. It had visibly less angle but supported a surprising number of subtle additions such as the fence on the inner most part of the flap to prevent airflow spilling onto the main place compromising downforce. Even in low-drag mode efficiency is important and this fence effectively allows the wing to run more efficiently.

The next races

Expect the major teams to produce some significant updates at Valencia and Silverstone. In particular, watch for Red Bull’s rivals adopting their low exhausts that blow into the diffuser. Many aerodynamicists now believe the RB6 gets its high downforce from its unique exhaust system. The exhausts blow gasses into side channels in the diffuser. Since diffuser downforce is highly dependent on volume of air flowing through the device the exhausts naturally increase grip.

However, engineering this correctly is a challenge. For a start exhaust gas velocity is dependent on throttle. As drivers lift the throttle through the corners the diffuser could stall if airflow isn’t consistent. In addition it’s also important to manage the lag between the exhaust gas and exit. Finally exhaust gasses are super hot and can damage the suspension of tyre unless the gas flow is well managed.

Blowing exhaust gasses through the diffuser isn’t new. Teams used to do it in the 1990s but ultimately couldn’t handle the inconsistent downforce. McLaren also tried to achieve it on their un-raced MP4-18 in 2003. Red Bull has found a way, perhaps by feeding the exhaust gasses into the coke-bottle zone. We’ll see if the other teams can replicate its advantage.

Retrofitting new exhausts and suspension will not be easy. The failure of teams to get the same kind of performance McLaren have from their F-duct is a case in point. Also, Red Bull is likely to understand the airflow characteristics at the rear of the car much better than its competitors so will be in a better position to refine and optimise the solution.

The noises coming from McLaren and Ferrari are encouraging. Wind tunnel tests are apparently very good and it is believed the low exhausts could be worth up to half a second a lap, which would cut Red Bull’s ever-diminishing advantage. In addition Ferrari is thought to be moving to a pull-rod rear suspension to try to create a tighter coke-bottle zone and improve flow over the floor and diffuser.

With the banning of double diffusers next year blow exhausts could be a fleeting development and potentially another example of poor cost control in the sport.

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41 comments on “Technical review: Canadian Grand Prix”

  1. another great article john! really enjoy reading these as they give a very clear idea of what the teams are doing to improve performance.

    1. Sorry but I dont understand how come the ‘lack of grip’ attributed to the thrilling race.

      In Singapore where the drivers always complained of the dirty track, the racing was not so good as they said it was so dirty to go offline to overtake.

      1. My guess there would be that in the Singapore race perhaps the racing line had good grip, and if the grip level off the line was significantly worse than that would make overtaking much harder. In Canada, since the lack of grip was caused more by tire issues, I’d guess that the grip levels were more consistently bad, whether on or off the racing line.
        Hopefully someone will have more insight or a better answer.

  2. Sush Meerkat
    21st June 2010, 10:23

    If the numbers from the blown exhaust are correct, Red Bull are in big trouble, the advantage they had at the start of the year was immense and they didn’t capitalise on it.

    Shame really, it would have been nice to see Renault power at the top of the championship.

    1. I think Red Bull will have this advantage for some races to go.
      Finetuning it on track will not be as easy to the other teams. If Ferrari really changed their suspension, it explains what they have been working on for the last months, but it will make driving the car a whole new experience with a lot of work going into setting it up.

      1. From this it is hadly possible to see the suspension, the exhausts are visibly changed to the back and lower than before

      2. here is a picture from showing a clearer picture of where the Ferrari exhaust is now:

        1. That makes more sense than the pictures I saw yesterday where it appeared almost the same height but further back.

          This picture is where you would expect it.

    2. It’s not over yet Meerkat! As the article pointed out, replicating a rival’s technology is no guarantee of replicating their results.

      And who says Red Bull don’t have more tricks up their sleeve for later in the season? By the end of 2009 they clearly had the fastest car, so they are no slouches in the development race.

      1. Sush Meerkat
        21st June 2010, 11:33

        Good point NitPicker, they managed to leap frog everyone last year with a much more modest budget.

        But their advantage has definitely been cut.

      2. @Nitpicker

        I would have said that Maclaren had the fastest car by the end of last season. Even if it wasn’t the Redbulls were not clearly ahead. And remember just how far Maclaren were lacking at the begining of that season! Non-of the top teams are slow at development but I would say Maclaren are phenomenal when it comes to increasing performance over a season.

    3. they are also developing their cars…

      they are not eating ice cream while the others do all the work. Red Bull proved last season that they can develop their car as fast or faster than the rivals. Remember they catched Brawn’s performance and started to beat them midway through the season. And they ended it with 3 wins at very different circuits (Suzuka, Interlagos, Adu Dhabi)

  3. Nicely understand why Renault were the quickest car in the straight. Thanks John.

  4. Great work again John. Your explaination of the tyre situation was superb! The science behind tyres really is fascinating.

    The big winners in this years development race seem to be McLaren, Lotus and Renault. McLaren are developing the MP4-25 at a furious rate, and are now within striking distance of Red Bull. Renault have, as John pointed out, come with (at least) a revised front wing at every race this season, keeping them hot on the heels of Mercedes (and arguably now putting them in front of the Silver Arrows). And as for Lotus, well what they have done is nothing short of astonishing. They have managed to extract an aweful lot of time from the T127 and are now within striking distance of Sauber. No mean feat given the predictions in preseason. Any thoughts?

    1. But Mercedes are probably working on something interesting as well. It has been a few races, since they had a more substantial update, so it should be worth it.

      But i have not seen much information or even speculation on that.

  5. Thanks for the tech review John, i was looking forward to this one.

    Do you have a picture somewhere where we can compare the Williams with and without their “semi-circular footplate venturi”?

  6. Wasn’t the stillborn MP4-18 designed by a certain Adrian Newey?

    1. Yea, anyone know where that bloke ended up?

      1. There was mention of him going off to build speedy boats, I think?

        1. That was Gordon Murray.

      2. uhhhh, red bull.

  7. Its Hammer Time
    21st June 2010, 11:08

    What a fantastic article. Thanks

    1. I’m with you on that, very interesting read. Keep ’em coming.

  8. Seems Renault is bringing a new floor and updated front wing to Valencia:

  9. Matt G (lotus fan)
    21st June 2010, 12:34

    In regards to teams changing their exhaust system. How much can a team change their chassis? considering that the teams are not allowed to change it from the start of the season the amount of changes teams make to their chassis seems to be a bit extreme some times.

    Also nice article very concise and informative.

  10. I thought that, thanks to the homologation rules, it would not be possible to switch from push-rod to pull-rod mid-season…

  11. Brilliant article.

    Bit off-topic, but how great does the middle of the Ferrari look with the red and the black of the floor of the car. I don’t like the shape massively, but it would look fantastic if the white areas were replaced with the same metallic black. If anyones good at photoshops, that would be a great thing to see.

  12. Great Article John,
    Thanks again for a very interesting read and looking forward to the next.

  13. That last sentence about cost control I don’t agree with, the teams have hundreds of engineers, and they’ll work on which ever part of the car brings the most gains, wether it’s the wings, diffuser, or new exhaust exits. You can ban any number of bits off the cars, but there will always be something else that can be optimised.

  14. Great article. Re: the exhausts, there is one part missing, though. The shape and length of the exhaust system has a profound impact on the output and torque curve of an engine. You can’t just take the pipe, curve it this way or that and call it a day. I imagine that very much dyno work also goes into this issue.

  15. I totally disagree with the cost argument. The more things are banned the more difficult it is to find performance gains, and these gains cost proportionally more, but its not like teams are paying more money for each ‘new thing’, no, they simply have a budget and they work with it. And its a shame when a minority of teams comes up with a new innovation that the other majority of teams can point their finger at, and give the ‘cost cutting’ propaganda to simply take away performance advantage other team might have, having come up with it with their budget, and innovative thinking.

  16. Nice article.

    Even if the secret of the RB6 is the exhausts I wouldn’t be surprised if just like McLaren’s F-duct other teams can’t get it to work as efficiently as Red Bull do.

    1. Quite possible. Maybe Newey has been thinking about that exhaust set up since the DDD showed up to make it worth his wile again to fiddle with exhaust-feeding the diffuser. Since the start of the year Red Bull have been refining that part of the car.

      Of course, everyone can see their latest updates, but it might not be so clear how that translates to their own car.

      But Newey must have known since those stickers were put on that it was a matter of time before rivals would adopt it. I wonder if he has given himself time to work on the F-duct until they did!

  17. So are S Softs noticably softer than hard tyres? I always imagine the engineers being able to stick their thumbs through the soft compound even though that can’t happen :S

  18. To add some colour to development routes and barring others from copying your ideas look at this link about Red Bull having their team stand around their backend each race.

  19. Keith, you should know that the Moto GP was in Silversotne few days ago, and therefore testing the new circuit that was changed months ago. Unfortunately, although the revised layout has received applause from all the pilots detected an unexpected problem: excessive undulations. Many people came down the bikes after the free practice on Friday quite angry – including Casey Stoner, which he said was almost impossible to guide the Ducati in certain stretches of asphalt, such is the amount of curl.

    It’s a shame that the organization of the circuit did not attempt to detail so trivial when finished the track. Now, there is no time to promote resurfacing the entire stretch of the arena, but if I were one of those responsible, jot down all the MotoGP riders have to say and attack the most critical points. After all, when the F1 get there, the negative ads will gain far greater proportions.


  20. finally someone explains blown diffusers for the layman! thanks John.

    that first pic of the torro rosso trailed by a ferrari is brilliant btw

  21. Excellent article as always John.

    Can I ask has anyone compared the surface area of the brake ducts for each team? I suspect that the Red Bull needs a little bit more cooling (after last year’s Singapore failure perhaps) and hence more drag on the straights. Would be interesting to find out.

  22. hi john, very interesting article chock full of good stuff. i would take issue with this bit however:
    “At Montreal conventional wisdom was proven right. McLaren’s straight-line speed advantage, driven by a fully working F-duct and the Mercedes engine (worth up to 30bhp) allowed it to secure a one-two on the Gilles Villeneuve circuit.”

    red bull was beset by gearbox woes and lost out a bit in the tire strategy dept. and so weren’t able to show as strongly as i think was possible. same goes for renault. as a mclaren fan i was elated with the outcome, but given the results of the free practice and qualifying sessions, i think it was quite evident the alleged merc motor peak hp advantage is much ado about nothing. the renault lump is obviously very, very good.

  23. STRFerrari4Ever
    22nd June 2010, 6:41

    Great article John!
    On the Renault subject the rear wing is in fact the W Wing not the M Wing.

    1. Looks more M shaped to me than W (at least the main plane)

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