Technical review: Japanese Grand Prix

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Guest writer John Beamer looks over the technical updates from the Japanese Grand Prix.

As expected the Red Bulls were the class of the field at Suzuka.

The advantage mostly came in the first sector where the RB6 had a four tenths of a second advantage over Ferrari and McLaren – all three were evenly matched in the last two sectors. As Sebastian Vettel himself said: Suzuka was made for the RB6.

Red Bull’s advantage

A look at the TV footage from Suzuka appears to show the Red Bull front wing running closer to the ground that its rivals’ once again.

With the more stringent load tests for the tea tray and front wing in place it seems increasingly likely that Red Bull’s advantage is in how it ‘lays’ its wing. To make a front wing, carbon fibre is laid in a mould which is then filed with resin. This mixture is then cured in a large autoclave (an oven) to produce a rigid material.

Is the RB6's front wing still flexing?

However, there are a number of variables that a designer can play with to get different load characteristics. Temperature and pressure in the autoclave will affect how the composite cures. The method of laying the wing – the type and thickness of carbon fibre, as well as the resin – also makes a difference.

The new load tests mandate a 100kg weight to be placed on either side of the front wing allowing a maximum 10mm of deflection. There is a similar load test for the tea tray.

At full pelt an F1 car will generate close to 1,800kg of downforce, of which up to 40% (around 800kg) is from the front wing. That’s about 400kg from either side (it will be less given downforce is generated across the wing, albeit less so in the FIA-controlled central section).

That’s a lot more than the load test and the suspicion is that Red Bull makes it wings in such a way as to generate non-linear deformation. In other words, if the first 100kg of load flexes the wing by 10mm, an additional 100kg may do so by 15mm and so on. The result is a wing that runs closer to the ground at high speed.

The advantage of flexing front wing is twofold. First, it runs more in ground effect, meaning higher (and more efficient) downforce. Second, when cornering or going over bumps the front wing will modulate to absorb some of the travel thus meaning the car can run with less stiff suspension yet still deliver consistent aerodynamic performance.


McLaren's unraced new rear wing

Given that Lewis Hamilton had two consecutive DNFs it was imperative that he got a good result in Japan. As such McLaren brought a raft of updates – some new for Japan, and others that were due for Singapore but needed more work.

In total the MP4-25 got an updated front wing, engine cover, rear wing as well as remoulded exhausts. They even flew out replacement components after Hamilton’s crash in first practice, fitting them as the third practice session began on Saturday morning.

The most radical update was the revised rear wing and F-duct, which wasn’t raced because the bad weather prevented sufficient testing. A close look at the rear wing reveals an inlet where air from the f-duct enters. The air then exits from a small slit carved along the underside of the wing disrupting the airflow below the rear wing causing both downforce and drag to fall.

When McLaren first introduced the F-duct it pumped air into the flap (i.e., the second element) so when air exits from the etched slit the flow only disrupts the latter portion of the wing leaving the bulk of the device unaffected.

Recently Force India, Toro Rosso and Renault pumped the ducted air onto the main plane rather than the flap and McLaren, with its update, has copied this solution. Although stalling the main plane sheds more drag it takes longer for air to reattach so it isn’t necessarily the optimal solution.

In addition to the revised F-duct McLaren also changed the orientation of the vents in the rear wing endplate. Rather than being horizontal they are now angled. The purpose of these vents is to reduce the size of the vortex spilling off the rear wing.

The vortex is created when high pressure air on the upward surface of the wing spills underneath. This induces a rotational motion, which is the vortex. Vortices have a downforce penalty hence the venting to try to control it and reduce its size.

The MP4-25 also featured longer exhausts and a slightly modified front wing. The exhausts are curved a bit more outwards at the end and the carbon fibre sheaths protecting them have also been extended. This is a minor change to optimise the flow of exhausts gases over and through the diffuser.

The front wing had a slight tweak to the endplate structure – nothing major.

Red Bull

Red Bull's new rear wing

Red Bull have promised to keep bringing new parts to each of the remaining races. In Japan a revised rear wing and brake callipers were visible.

The rear wing got the same treatment as McLaren’s with the F-duct linking to the main plane rather than the flap but, unlike McLaren, Red Bull raced the new part. The beam wing was also revised and acquired a reverse delta shape. The beam wing is important because it helps pump the diffuser.

The underside of the wing generates lower pressure and that in turn reduces the pressure gradient that air in the diffuser has to work against. A smaller pressure gradient means there is less chance air in the diffuser will separate, which ensures downforce is retained.

The front suspension geometry was also altered slightly. This was driven by a repositioning of the brake callipers from a horizontal position at the base of the break disc to a more traditional vertical position. The horizontal calliper results in a lower centre of gravity but is more susceptible to movement (under braking and cornering) and hence failure.

There was also a small update to the front wing with an additional slot in the endplate. This allows air to bleed under the wing to keep airflow attached and improve the consistency of the wing. Apparently Red Bull also made alterations to the floor but no changes were obvious to the naked eye.


Despite being in the thick of a championship challenge Ferrari has vowed to focus effort on its 2011 challenger so is only bringing smaller updates to the F10.

Japan saw a slightly revised tea tray and diffuser. The tea tray sports an additional fence at either side of its leading edge – creating an inlet similar to that those carved into front-wing endplates.

This helps guide the air to the underfloor area in two ways. First it keeps prevents air spilling off the top of the tea tray and second it allows the air to be more precisely directed to the diffuser where the benefit of this alteration will mostly be felt.

At the back of the car a small winglet has been added above the rear light. This will produce a little downforce on its own but will also subtly alter the pressure gradient the air in the diffuser is working against giving another small benefit.

Renault and Williams

Renault's revised front wing endplate

It would be a surprise if Renault didn’t bring a new front wing – they did, of course, with the endplate changed yet again. In fact the new wing is essentially the one taken to Singapore that wasn’t raced.

In addition a slot has been carved in back part of the footplate. This does a similar job to the endplate slots – fast air over the top of the footplate flows through the duct to energise the air below the wing that is in danger of stalling.

Few of the other midfield teams brought much in the way of updates preferring to focus on their 2011 cars. The one exception was Williams which introduced a blown beam wing.

The blown wing (not to be confused with the F-duct) was introduced last year by BMW and taken mainstream by McLaren in China. The upper surface of the wing has a couple of inlets which suck in air. This then exits through a slot carved across the underside of the wing (much like the F-duct) and creates a pseudo-flap allowing the wing to run steeper with less risk of stall.

Williams has taken this concept and applied it to the beam wing. This wing now has a 15cm slot across its middle (the regulations specify this as a restriction free zone) with two largish inlets for the air to flow in to. The wing itself it hollow and a slot etched across the lower surface. This construction allows the beam wing to create more downforce. That means the air pressure on the underside of the wing is lower which also helps the diffuser.


After Suzuka the F1 circus heads to Korea and into the unknown. Each of the three sectors of the Korean International Circuit are quite different.

The first is long straights and slow corners where McLaren’s straight-line speed advantage will come to the fore. The second sector is peppered with high speed corners and feels similar to the second sector in Hungary where the Red Bulls smashed the opposition. And the final sector is similar to the second but a little slower.

It’s hard to say who’ll come out on top but given the superiority of the RB6 this year and the fact that there are quite a few medium-speed corners it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Vettel and Mark Webber should contend for the win.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard is the track itself. The top surface was only laid a couple of weeks ago and a number of drivers have expressed concern that the asphalt hasn’t had time to settle.

In particular the oils in the tar won’t have had time to soak in and the surface could be extremely slippery. This could cause the tyres to go off quickly as happened at Montreal.

Also as the track is brand new as the top surface is worn away its characteristics could change quite dramatically over the weekend. But there’s a good chance these fears won’t be realised and, as was proved once more in Suzuka, Bridgstone’s 2010 tyres are remarkably durable.

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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26 comments on “Technical review: Japanese Grand Prix”

  1. Great article John, very informative.

    You mention that Korea ‘should’ be Red Bull territory. Would you go further and say that Red Bull should effectively be strong at the remaining circuits too?

    Also, being that Ferrari and doing little to no developments on the F10 for the remainder of the year – using your crystal ball, do you still see them as being ‘competitive’ for the remaining races?….or do you think they’ll be lucky just to get on the podium?

    1. I see Yas Marina as playing slightly more towards McLaren personally, those long straights, some fairly slow corners etc.

      1. I’d rather say Ferrari on that one though. Their speed is up there with Mclaren but way better through slow corners as mechanical grip is probably Ferrari’s excellence this year.

        1. Good point, let’s not forget the Ferrari won in Monza and Singapore so no question the Ferrari can perform well in Abu Dhabi on the long high speed straights and the slow sections also..

  2. i think that korea will be mclaren territory,

  3. I think Red bull will dominate qualifying, but how about the race? the first sector seems like good for Mclaren and Ferrari and once they pass, even faster Red bull cannot easily pass through whole race. a half of the first lap would be very very crucial.

    1. My thinking exactly. Webber can’t afford another bad start either, his rivals are hoping for a low score from him and there’ll be less chance of a Safety Car to save him like in Singapore.

      1. The first lap will be very crucial. In the 1st sector we have the long straights, and the Mclaren and Ferraris will try to get off to the best possible start, in order to overtake the Red Bulls at either of the hairpin turns.
        If they can make the move stick then it will be an interesting race.

      2. Even with a good start, the Red Bulls could be in trouble. It stands to reason with the McLaren’s superior straight line speed that they’ll be able to overtake in the first sector, and as we all know there will be no overtaking in sectors 2 and 3, so if Red Bull lose their lead in the 1st lap, it’s highly unlikely that they’d be able to get it back.

  4. John, would it kill to ask? how do you know all these technical details? do you tell by the Photos and video? or do you have access to detailed drawings and data?

    great stuff in any case.

    1. A few sources …

      1/ Scour the sites for close-up photos and look to see what has changed from previous races

      2/ I have a couple of F1 engineers/design contacts who I will chat to every so often who will give a few pointers and answer a few questions

      3/ Listen to what others are saying … BBC tends to talk about developments for instance

      Definitely not got access to detailed drawings – don’t think any team would give that!!! To be honest photos are the best bet.

  5. Great review John, suprising developments at Williams, it seems they are getting to bring new ideas into play again.
    And i am suprised, RBR did race their version of the updated F-duct/rear wing, although they did get more milage on it then McLaren on friday.

    Mercedes did not bring anything significant we know of, but still had pretty solid speed, so maybe something not visible from the outside?

  6. My theory on the Red Bull advantage – look elsewhere.

    First we had “adjustable suspension”, then the blown diffuser and now the front wings. Sure these 3 would inter relate to each other, but everytime the opposition discovers, tests and then runs Red Bulls innovation something new comes to light as to why they are so damn fast.

    1. But in this case it’s obvious the front wing flexes. It’s not the sole reason for their speed, but it seems to allow them to remain one step ahead of McLaren and Ferrari whatever they bring that’s new.

    2. Hamish is right that the other teams are chasing ghosts now.

      Whatever it is that causes this combination of low(ering) front wing/tea tray, lowered ride height for qualifying, and extreme amounts of downforce, we don’t know. We fixed the wing test, McLaren went to the FIA on the lowering system and had it “clarified,” Ferrari and McLaren now have EBDs—but RBR still have a massive advantage on mid-highspeed corners.

      Since the Honda double fuel tank, and arguably the Ferrari rear-hinged floor, no one has tried running a car that was patently fully in the grey, but you have to wonder how the smart people at Paragon and Maranello just do not get what’s going on with the RedBull car.

      When you look at history, with a totally dominant team, there was always some gimmick that later came to light that was not really totally cricket: e.g., hinged-floors, mass-dampers, secret traction control, secret extra brake pedal, etc. What will it be this time?

      1. Well the other teams DO understand that the RB6 front wing is flexing in a way that theirs don’t. What they DON’T understand is HOW Newey is getting it to flex in that specific way. So I don’t think it’s a mystery why the RB6 is dominant, the mystery is in how they’re able to get the carbon to do exactly what they want it to. I think by next year if the rules aren’t changed to be more strict on wing flex, Ferrari and McLaren will have tested different carbon layups until they get similar kinds of results.

      2. Red Bull’s secret may not even be as complicated as some magic gizmo. Take away flexi-wings, EBD and pull-rod suspension, the rest is downforce, downforce, downforce. This is why Horner is always moaning about the Renault engine – it’s a smokescreen for the sheer amount of drag the RB6 produces, plus an equal engine would make them nigh on invincible – but Renault themselves aren’t.

  7. Its interesting that RBR have modfied their front caliper position, to a normal vertical-orientation, trading the lower-CG of the old version for increased reliability. Is this a sign of a problem area they are addressing for Korea—or are so comfortable with their chassis’s advantage that they are trading performance for extra insurance of the title?

    Also, John, is it the case that McLaren’s wing blows both elements now, or just the lower one now? It would be surprising that they would have switched to the style of their immitators blowing only the main plane, given that their F-Duct appears to remain more efficient than others now.

  8. what’s the tea tray?

    1. The section of the floor that sticks out under the nose and extends the floor forward required beginning of the flat floor.

  9. Getting the carbon layups for the flexing wing is nothing new. Having flex in carbon mountain bike frames has been around for a while. The reason that McL and Ferrari dont have it is because its outside the rules! No areo part is allowed to move!
    The FIA must stamp this out quickly! Even Bernie is saying that “If they get an advantage because somebody designs a better car or they have a better driver or strategy, then super. But they should not try to devise things so that they can go in knowing that they have an advantage.”
    Gotta agree with the old boy!

    1. That **. Strictly speaking, the f-duct is outside the rules aswell, but it was allowed by the FIA.

      What really stings is that Newey just puts something on his cars, and if there are complaints, there are retrograde tests to see if it complies with the rules. This is opposed to having a technical development going past Whitmarsh first and having him say it’s OK.

      What I wonder, is if the mass crowds would have spotted the wing’s flexing at high speeds if it weren’t for the wing-issue in Silverstone. Some had picked up on the flexing on the straight in China, but it only became a big issue when they hit Silverstone. It was completely blown out of proportion in Budapest. After all the more stringent tests, the RB6 is still ca. 0.5s loose in S1 at Suzuka.

      I do not for the life of it understand how the engineers at McLaren and Ferrari haven’t got close to figuring this out. Surely these are all well educated and trained members of a team that functions in one of the most tech-oriented environments? Maybe we tend to overrate their possible development-rate, by judging how fast they went in the free testing days.

      1. Strictly speaking, the f-duct is outside the rules aswell

        Which rule does it break?

      2. You can bet both the Maclaren and Ferrari engineers know fully what is happening with the red bull front wing as non-linear deformation is quite a mature method used in other fields. The problem is that they can’t really put it on their cars after accusing Red Bull of cheating and the FIA don’t seem to be able to get past putting weights on the wings as a test. It is entirely possible that they could keep upping the weight and the wing will still not flex like it does on the circuit as the deformation could be triggered as much by the drag force as it is by the downforce (ie twisting motion). It is seen as against the rules as the rules clearly state that the wings should be pretty much rigid. It may pass the tests but the tests are supposed to be there to satisfy the FIA that the rules are being adhered to rather than a definitive answer in themselves. The evidence is clear though as the red bull wings certainly flex far more than other teams wings. How much time this gives them is uncertain but it is very possible that other parts of the car are designed to make use of the effect and some think that it could give them anything up to a second per lap (although obviously it could in reality be much less).

        1. It is interesting that altho the FIA can punish teams for transgressions using video fottage eg. wheels flying off or pitlane incidents, it doesn’t seem they can when it comes to issues like this. For anyone with eyes it is obvious that RB are breaking the rules, yet why can the FIA not make a ruling based on the video evidence alone?

  10. “Despite being in the thick of a championship challenge Ferrari has vowed to focus effort on its 2011 challenger so is only bringing smaller updates to the F10.”

    Didn’t they do this last year?

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