Technical updates ahead of the Australian Grand Prix

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The final pre-season test in Bahrain saw the teams continue to work on ensuring their cars run reliably in hotter conditions. These preparations will serve them well not just for the first race of the season this weekend, but also in the sweltering climate of Malaysia in two weeks’ time.

Merely finishing the race on Sunday should be sufficient for a team to score points. Not only are several teams still struggling to make their 2014 cars reliable, but repairs are taking much longer than last year due to the increased complexity of the new power trains.

Reliability – or a lack of it – is the X-factor which should inject an element of unpredictability this weekend. As for performance, the pecking order of the teams is becoming clear following the work observed in Bahrain.

Lotus E22

The E22 was the only car which failed to make an appearance at the first test. However, the Enstone-based outfit had helpfully released some images of the new design with the twin-tusk nose back in January so the F1 public knew what to expect.

As this illustration shows the left tusk (when viewed head-on) is slightly longer to comply with the regulation which requires a single cross section to make up the front crash structure. The right tusk, while shorter, is still part of the crash structure.

Both tusks are attached to the front wing, which then leads to two fins that act as turning vanes. This conditions flow coming off the front wing at the point where it joins the nose in an attempt to reduce turbulence.

The twin tusks presents a much larger cross section area to the airflow than the regulations require (pretty much double) but there are advantages. The airflow over the centre line of the front wing is cleaner, so should be faster when it hits the undernose and floor, reducing the chance of it detaching. Lotus has also raised the chassis as high as possible to maximise the volume of airflow under the car.

The front suspension is a little more angled than some of the other teams’ indicating a slight compromise in mechanical grip to run a high chassis.

The E22’s sidepod inlets are a little larger than some of the others’ on the grid. This could partly be due to Renault’s additional cooling needs as well as a touch of conservatism on the side of Lotus. Inlet and outlet chimneys on the engine cover fin provide additional cooling.

Another distinctively asymmetrical feature of the Lotus is the exhaust, which is positioned slightly off-centre. This allows a single pillar to mount the rear wing, saving a little weight and minimal cost to the car’s aerodynamics.

Mercedes W05

Bahrain confirmed what Jerez led us to suspect about the W05: Mercedes have an edge in terms of speed and reliability. For the two tests Mercedes bought a number of new parts focusing on three areas: cooling, the diffuser and the mid-region.

When the W05 launched it was obvious that the engine cover was among the most ‘shrink-wrapped’ on the grid. It is little surprise given the cooling requirements in 2014 that Mercedes spent a lot of track time in Bahrain testing cooling options. Initially the sidepod edges sported vents to help cooling, but by the final test the engine cover was expanded to allow hot air to vent through the rear wing. This is likely to be Mercedes’ preferred solution only in extreme temperatures.

Perhaps most work was seen in the car’s mid-region. Mercedes ran with double bargeboards and more sophisticated pod vanes to help create vortices to manage airflow to the rear of the car. Also the splitter gained new fences and vanes. These fences create vortices which squirt under the car’s floor, again to control and channel the airflow to the diffuser to optimise downforce.

The overall objective is to run the car with maximum rake (i.e., nose down) as Red Bull have done very effectively for the last few years. This brings two advantages: first the front wing runs closer to the tarmac creating a small ground effect; and second the volume of the diffuser is larger (because it is raised) and it is capable of generating more downforce.

At the back of the car Mercedes positioned a small wing below the tailpipe that connects to the central U-section of the diffuser. This is within the regulations and will be an area of continuous innovation throughout the year.

Williams FW36

Williams have been the surprise package of pre-season testing. Yes, having a Mercedes power unit helps but on paper the FW36 appears the fastest of Mercedes’ customer cars. But Williams have also innovated including, as this illustration shows, at the rear of the car.

For 2014 rules require the exhaust to be placed at the rear of the car to reduce its aerodynamic influence. Williams has positioned a monkey seat directly behind and above the exit. High pressure gasses from the exhaust will create low pressure under the flap, which creates some downforce. Moreover the monkey seat and rear wing work together. The exhaust will be pulled upwards towards the rear wing, interacting with its wake and allowing it (the rear wing) to work a little more efficiently.

Monkey seats have been around for a number of years so it is no surprise to seem them adapted as the new regulations allow. More innovative are the wings above the diffuser floor – coloured yellow in the illustration. This is Williams’s response to the elimination of the beam wing in the new regulations.

The beam wing helped make the diffuser more efficient by reducing the pressure gradient along it. In short the underside of the wing created a low pressure area above the diffuser. This results in a low pressure gradient along the diffuser’s length, and air in the diffuser needs to work less hard to exit the diffuser and is more likely to remain attached. If the air becomes detached it will create eddies which will cost precious downforce.

These wings are much closer to the floor than the beam wing ever was but the intent is exactly the same. The challenge is that as they are lower down it is harder to get high-quality (i.e., faster) air to them. Therefore the flow regimen around the sidepods is critical to their efficacy. Expect to see further innovation around the rear of the car later in the season.

McLaren MP4-29

McLaren started off testing in a position of strength but appeared to fade as Bahrain came to a close. Similar to the works Mercedes team the Woking-based outfit spent a lot of time evaluating various cooling solutions. Given how bulbous the rear of the launch spec car was this was somehwat surprising but oversize exit may be to aid the ‘mushroom’ suspension.

In the first Bahrain test a series of vents were etched around the rear of the car. Although the regulations only allow for a single opening to allow the suspension arms to connect it is possible to make hairline joins between vents for cooling purposes.

Also it seems as though the mushroom suspension is here to stay as McLaren moved away from the 3D-printed components that appeared at the first test and arrived with proper carbon fibre suspension fairings. However, given McLaren’s relative pace versus the other Mercedes powered teams there doesn’t yet appear to be an arms race to replicate the suspension set-up like there was in 2009 when the double diffuser was clearly worth a large chunk of lap time.

McLaren’s simplistic front wing of recent years are gone. The wing on the new car is more in line with the multi-element wings that are fast becoming ubiquitous.

McLaren continued to evolve their wing throughout testing. At the final test in Bahrain a vane appeared on the outside of the endplate. This is to help control the wheel-wing interaction.

The new regulations require the front wing to be narrower than last year. This means the endplate now terminates at the centre of the tyre, not the outside, meaning teams need to find new ways to optimise the wheel-wing interaction. The motion of the wheel forces dirty air over the wing harming performance and anything teams can do to control this interaction is welcome. The vane on the McLaren will create a vortex that is designed to shape the tyre wake to benefit the front wing.

Ferrari F14 T

It is hard to accurately gauge how fast the Scuderia’s new challenge is – we’ll have to wait until the weekend to find out for sure. The call to bring performance to the car for the last test didn’t seem to materialise, though as ever in testing you can never rule out the possibility that a team is disguising their pace.

Ferrari bought a raft of upgrades to the final test including an updated diffuser, front wing, engine cover as well as upgrade in the car’s mid-region. The purpose of these updates have been explained earlier and are not worth repeating.

One area where Ferrari appear to have out-innovated the competition this year is the turbo housing. It involves the interpretation of technical regulation 5.18.5, which states: “Measures must be taken to ensure that in the event of failure of the turbine wheel any resulting significant debris is contained within the car.”

As a consequence of this Mercedes and Renault have covered their turbo housing with a ballistic cover intended to contain debris in the event of a failure. Ferrari have omitted such a cover and save roughly 3kg in weight. This represents a considerable saving, particularly given the location of the housing and the imperative to lower the centre of gravity.

The FIA is satisfied with Ferrari’s design. Ferrari have likely argued that the turbo housing itself is sufficient to comply with this regulation – maybe they have reinforced it as well in which case they’ll have given back some of the weight saving. It will be interesting to see if the other engine manufacturers decide to tweak their designs, but with the deadline for homologation having now passed their options will be limited.

Red Bull RB10

Red Bull were the only team that didn’t bring a raft of new components for the Bahrain tests. Instead the team focused on solving their chronic overheating problems.

They clearly face severe difficulties which are likely with cooling the Energy Recovery Systems and the battery. Over the course of both tests holes were added to the sidepods to direct fresh air in and channel hot air out – all very rough-and-ready and certainly not in Adrian Newey’s original specification. Even then the car refused to complete more than 30 laps at a time.

Inevitably rumours already abound of a B-spec car in the works as a full cooling overhaul is required. Either way the current concept needs sufficient rethinking in order to make sure the energy store doesn’t overheat and that it is unlikely to be resolved before the European leg of races gets underway in May.

When the RB10 did run its raw pace seemed good. The danger is that by the time Red Bull has fixed its cooling problems the other teams will have a four-month head start on development which will be difficult to catch up.

What can be said of the Red Bull is that it has one of the most visually pleasing nose treatments, as shown in this illustration.

The crash structure drops from the tip of the nose forming a pod that then blends back in to the nose in an elegant tear drop shape. The nose itself contains an airflow inlet for drive cooling but also to bleed high pressure away from the crash structure. Versus the Mercedes implementation it also maximises the volume of air flowing under the car.

The other teams

All the other teams bought new parts to test as they dial up performance to try to score points at the opening grand prix.

Toro Rosso sported one of the more visually striking changes when they introduced a revised front section. The nose is now M-shaped which creates an arch either side of the nose. This increases air volume under the nose versus the previous solution. The sidepods have also been more steeply undercut and the rear of the car raised to allow air a freer path to the diffuser.

The other team with a raft of upgrades was the Sauber, which appeared some way off the pace after the Jerez test. Sauber brought a brand new front wing to Bahrain which was clearly its 2014 specification wing as it was a major departure from what has been seen on the car for the last 12 months.

The wing consisted of four elements with a series of cascades. It lacked the detail of some others in the pitlane but will be a baseline design from with Sauber can work with over the course of the season.

One of the most fascinating pre-seasons in F1 history is now over and the real business of racing starts this weekend. Expect the developments to come thick and fast as the Renault teams chase reliability and the rest try to exploit the advantage to get a head start on improving the performance of their cars.

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, McLaren/Ercole Colombo

24 comments on “Technical updates ahead of the Australian Grand Prix”

  1. superb as always. the aerodynamics are so complicated – it’s like high art, just invisble!

    with all the talk of F1 having to be road relevant it’s actually quite refreshing to focus on an aspect of the sport that is pure competition. notions of ‘providing the diffuser with quality airflow’ must be far from any road car designer’s mind.

    1. unless they are designing some gimmicky hyper car i guess.

      1. Why gimmicky? Designing a modern hyper car without thought for aerodynamics sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  2. It is possible that teams may skip 3rd practice to prevent last minute problems before qualifying

    1. They should also skip the race in order to save fuel & to prevent problems for the next race.

    2. I guess it’s possible, yes. But it wouldn’t make any sense. Whatever problem they would’ve had in FP3, they would have during qualifying. Better to have it earlier and at least have a chance to fix it before Q1. And if nothing goes wrong, it’s more mileage under the belt.

  3. So Red Bull are behind on Reliability, pace, milage, and upgrades. Wow, just wow. They might not even start the race and as @ean suggested, maybe they might sit out FP3. But then the problems would hamper them in Qualifying, I guess.

  4. Now what I want to see is fire comming out the back of the exausts. The turbo era ain’t back till someone spits fire.

    1. Oh I think SV will be spitting fire all right!

      1. @robbie
        He’ll most likely just be throwing his toys out the pram throughout the season.

        1. Yes, we saw how Lewis handled it when things went sideways for him (and I’m a LH fan, mind you) and it wasn’t pretty. Now let’s see how SV reacts when suddenly the world starts questioning: Is it really the car or is it Seb? Hmmm, Ric outqualified him at xxxx race, perhaps Seb can’t handle these new cars? Seb doesn’t seem to be able to deal with the new specs, he’s had more mechanical failures than his team mate…perhaps his style only worked with EBDiffusers? yada, yada.

          Never forget, the only thing the press loves more than a hero is a chance to tear that hero down and trample on him later.

          It will be interesting to see how SV deals with it now.

  5. That toro rosso is really hideous to my eye. Loving the macca though.

    1. What about your other eye?

      Or do you have just one? :D

      1. Probably got poked out by the Force India nose, or something :P

  6. Is it just the phot angle or does the Ferrari have a very broad forward section between the cockpit and nose-cone.

    1. @hohum
      It’s due to a lens used. That’s the same reason why cars on TV never look fast. It kills the depth and the distance. In reality, the front of that Ferrari should be much smaller compared to the back, than it is on that picture.

    2. It probably just looks that way because the nose falls away so soon and so suddenly.

    3. I think Ferrari took their queue from nature and modeled their new nose on nature. That rather strange “hump” mid-nose reminds me of the nose of a Dall’s porpoise or killer whale that had to be extended out to meet regulations.
      I’m surprised that someone with the “finger noses” didn’t actually emulate the lines of a bottle-nose dolphin to allow more air to get under the front nose. It seems like that “groove” along the beak of the bottle-nose dolphin would have been perfect for the Williams nose design.

  7. A better article than the rubbish Scarbs et al generally produce. “The motion of the wheel forces dirty air over the wing harming performance” – is this to say the endplate is wholly immersed in the stagnation field of the wheel, in which case it would be interesting to know where precisely on the tyre the vortical structures propagate and at which point the breakdown downstream in comparison to last year.

    1. scarbs et al

      Er, Al who?

      1. et al means “and others”… so the sentence meant scarbs and other contributing authors to his site

    2. This is an interesting article on wheel-wing interaction

      1. yes, thanks I have read the thesis too. Ironically even with simplified geometry I would say it is too complex to understand the fundamental aerodynamics. It’s also a massively complex thing to test experimentally. Even PIV has its limitations with visualising such a sensitive flow. May I ask what is your background with this stuff?

  8. Hello John,

    I have the question. In the early issues of Race Tech and Race Car Engineering Ian Bamsey writes
    and also Harvey Postlewaithe states that putting a funnel shaped intake at the front of on F1 car would not get more air to flow under the car. They stated that the air has to be pulled through by the diffuser. My understanding is that they were implying a high nose is of little use unless the diffuser configuration is somehow
    “matched” to the high nose ? Do you know anything about this ? What do you think ? In an issue of F1 Race Technology magazine (highpowermedia with Ian Bamsey as the editor) Bamsey stated/wrote that
    the higher or more arched the nose of an F1 car the higher the rear downforce potential at the expense of front downforce (presumably the high nose can cause lift ? ). How does the arching of the nose help ?

    Also does the high nose enhance front wing performance because
    the air over the top of the wing where the old style nose would be
    sort of “sucks/sticks” (due viscosity) the air under the wing along ?
    What speed do they meet up at or do they have different levels of momentum ?

    Many thanks in advance and keep these fantastic blog posts coming.

    All the best,


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