Technical review: End of season

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Guest writer John Beamer looks at the technical updates on the cars in the final races of 2010.

The three-way battle for the championship meant that the top teams had little option but to develop their cars up until the final Grand Prix of the year.

Having said that, teams need to strike a balance. If they began designing their next car the day after the 2010 season finished they’d be in big trouble.

None of the top three team brought fundamental new developments to their cars in these late race. But McLaren made strides with their revised F-duct and Ferrari continued work on their exhaust-blown diffuser.

How did they do this without compromising their 2011 cars? Both Ferrari’s larger diffuser and McLaren’s F-duct were part of an upgrade strategy that was set several months before.


Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Interlagos, 2010

Since the 2010 challengers were unveiled at the start of the year it was rumoured Ferrari were readying a radically expanded diffuser following the arrival of a couple of Toyota engineers with inside information about the TF110.

Ferrari introduced a new, more open diffuser in Spain and periodically upgraded it over the course of the year. In Spa another large upgrade resulted in a far more ‘open’ diffuser. Behind the car it is possible to see significant sections of the track.

This design was tweaked in Korea and Brazil. Some of the central vanes became more curved and the side channels were altered. Also for Interlagos the outer channels were re-profiled and vents were added to allow exhaust gasses to pass under the diffuser to improve downforce.


Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Abu Dhabi, 2010

McLaren, on the other hand, was fixated with its F-duct had been trumped by Renault’s version in Spa. The difference was that the Enstone-based outfit decided to route the main plane rather than the flap.

McLaren’s modified F-duct missed the Singapore update and was pencilled in for Japan. However, atrocious weather and Lewis Hamilton’s shunt in practice meant that the team opted to wait until Korea to race the device.

Friday running was inconclusive with both drivers running the old and new ducts back-to-back, but the team decided to race the device and claimed an improvement.

It was only at the last race of the season when Hamilton declared that McLaren had finally got to grips with the main plane blown implementation. Jenson Button wasn’t convinced and continued to stick with the flap-blown version.

By using the F-duct to disrupt air beneath the main plane, more downforce is shed than when acting below the flap (there is more surface area under the effect of the F-duct). This results in less aerodynamic drag: although the efficiency of the wing decreases the net drag is also considerably lower.

The challenge is that downforce is needed under braking and cornering. A successful F-duct needs to recover its downforce very quickly or else the car won’t travel well under cornering.

By disrupting the flow across more surface area the downforce recovery time increases. It is this trade-off that Hamilton was comfortable with but Button wasn’t.

The McLaren boys were also tinkering with the other end of the car, updating the front wing on a race by race basis. With the advent of the new regulations banning extraneous bodywork the front wing is one of the few areas of the car relatively free of development restrictions.

As such we’ve seen many exotic front wing designs over the last two years (remember the hideous BMW ‘box’ of 2009?). At Silverstone McLaren split the front cascade to compartmentalise flow to the tyre and the floor of the car.

Over the last three races the McLaren endplate continued to be refined. One change was the addition of slots in the front wing endplate (for a total of four). Another was the addition of a vertical gurney on the back part of the endplate for Korea.

Both these changes smack of a mismatch between track and CFD performance. The additional slots and gurney flap act to ensure the flow remains attached to wing and to create more consistent downforce.

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Abu Dhabi, 2010

Red Bull seem to have been able to rely on the raw speed of their RB6 without making any substantial changes to it over the last few races. But Adrian Newey’s design team brought some small refinements.

For Korea the team modified the brake callipers and associated ducts. At the previous race in Japan the callipers were rotated from a six-o’clock to a three-o’clock position – largely, it was thought, to improve reliability.

At Yeongam they were back in their original position and were accompanied by a double brake duct and a semi-cylindrical horizontal vane to create a vortex and help manage flow to the floor.

Red Bull also continued to modify the splitter as teams continue to optimise for the more stringent Monza load tests.

For Brazil the most obvious change to the RB6 was a modification to the beam wing where the delta section was deleted either side of the car centreline. The beam wing plays a critical role is modifying airflow over the diffuser so it is likely that this chance was designed to optimise diffuser flow to create more consistent downforce.

Other teams

Outside the top three team development more or less stopped. Teams focused on areas that were relevant for the 2011 season or were part of current development paths and therefore took up few resources.

For instance, Williams evolved its brake ducts at both the front and rear of the car. In Brazil the FW32 sported a five-vaned duct. One important element of successful F1 design in 2010 has been to integrate the rear brake ducts with the double diffuser, particularly since the advent of the exhaust-blown versions.

If these components can work as one the air flow at the rear of the car is likely to stay attached (air, by this stage, has already been worked pretty hard, so ensuring it stays attached becomes more of a challenge).

In a future article I’ll take a closer look at the implication of the 2011 rules changes, plus the return of Pirelli to Formula 1.

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Images © Ferrari spa,, Red Bull/Getty images

19 comments on “Technical review: End of season”

  1. How different could the 2011 cars look?? I am curious about how the moveable rear wing and the application of sudden KERS power will change the way the cars enter and exit corners. Teams with existing KERS technology (from the 2009 season) will certainly have an advantage over the “mobile chicane ” 2010 teams. Also any knowledge about how much surface area the moveable rear wings will be allowed?? Close racing between teams as they enter and exit corners will make the next genration of cars much more interesting. I imagine that some drivers will most certainly stand out against the their rivals. As David Hobbs often says “we will see who has the bigger of attachments”…

  2. Im my recollection, the major technical firsts for this year are the F-duct, EBD and “flexible” wings.

    Since the rules put finite loads on the tests, I think the smart guys should be looking at non-linear deformation for all their “fixed” aerodynamic bits next year.

    1. EBD are quite an old idea. There is nothing new about them apart from how refined they became.

      1. And I guess the flex wings are also far from new as an idea. What is new in both these cases is the implementation though.

        1. load test’s proved none of the wings flexed, apart from maybe just maybe, McLaren who decided to strengthen the car at the point where the zero keel was just in case

          1. The tests implemented though didn’t prove that they don’t flex.

            They prove that the parts don’t flex under the force tested, which is nowhere near what it’s under in a fast corner: and it’s very easy indeed to make something bend in a non-linear way.

  3. Thanks John! As always, fascinating details! Keep up the good work.

  4. What annoys me is a technological advancement built on controversial interpretation of new rules. I’m afraid this story to happen again next year with so much changes to come.

    1. Well given that teams are so limited in what they can develop, I find it much more interesting than optimizing CFD or wind tunnel analysis to add a widget or two to the front wing or enhancing the brake ducting.

      Finding interpretations are often what is done in R&D anyways. Look at the F35 and Lockheed’s lift fan versus Boeing’s concept. Fantastically clever solution to the RFP.

  5. Not much was said or at least broadcast as to the effectivness of the flexible front wing. If it made any difference little was said of it. I hope one of the teams will take a chance on something new , maybe even radical. Lets see something clever and different. If it works then everybody can copy it next year. Seems like we are going to see a bunch of Red Bulls in 2011.

    1. Seems like we are going to see a bunch of Red Bulls in 2011.

      That was the sentiment of many last year, but it thankfully didn’t happen. I believe we will have a grid as varied as 2010. There ia a lot of clever engineers & Aero guys out there and whilst Newey is regarded as one of the most skilled; innovations like the F-duct show he isn’t the only one who can interoperate the rules in a unique and innovative way.

  6. Can anyone explain to me what the huge circular opening is on the back of the red bull? You can see what I mean here:

    Above the double diffuser there’s a hugh opening that none of the other cars have emulated in the same way. Throughout 2010 nobody has seemed to have mentioned this or speculated on what it’s for. Is there a huge fan in there or what?!

    1. It’s just to allow hot air out. They used a smaller sized one at cooler races.

      1. Did the hole get bigger after Turkey or Silverstone? It seemed like there was more hot air than normal at Red Bull around those times.


      2. great, thanks Keith. I thought maybe they were doing Ground Effect ala the BT46B!

    2. It’s where WEBBER puts his broken shoulder during a race…

  7. Thanks for the technical roundup John. It was really a season full of developments this year, which all had a big effect on who ended on top between the first 3 (or at least between nr. 2 and 3).
    For me it was a bit of a suprise to see Torro Rosso working on their F-duct right until the last race. If they cannot use it next year, what would have been the benefit of putting so much effort in getting it right? Is it about refining design processes or some kind of preparation for the moveable wing next year?

  8. Thanks as ever for your analysis John. I wouldn’t have had a clue as to half of what was going on this year without your regular contributions.

    As an aside, I have this theory that the base characteristics of the McLaren made it more sensitive to the negative effects of the EBD, because it had inferior mechanical grip compared to red Bull and Ferrari. Is there any actual basis in reality for this theory, or am I over-simplifying?

  9. pretty sad seeing that the Toyota wasn’t used up this season as im sure it would-have been part of this list

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