The key technical developments from pre-season testing

2016 F1 season

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On Friday the field of 2016 will hit the track for the first time since testing ended. Many will run new aerodynamic updates for the first time.

However several of them have already run updates for their 2016 cars during the two pre-season tests in Spain. And the eight days of running also revealed more details which weren’t visible when the cars were first presented.

Here’s a look at some of the eye-catching developments from Mercedes, McLaren and Toro Rosso.

Mercedes S-duct

The S-duct vent exits behind the number 44 on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes

After team team tested a concept design in Brazil last year, the introduction of a fully-fledged S-duct on the Mercedes was widely expected. However the version on the W07 is novel.

The duct is designed to prevent airflow passing over the inclined nose from separating as it flows back over the rest of the car. This is another example of teams seeking incremental gains in overall aerodynamic performance by linking different structures together.

Mercedes’ design cleverly evades the part of the nose regulations that do not allow for openings in the crash structure by opening up a semi-circular slot in a bonded panel underneath. The air is then fed through this slot back to the front bulkhead, underneath the internal suspension components, before rising out of the chassis via a thin horizontal exit. This is unlike other S-ducts on the grid, most of which exit where the chassis and nosebox meet.

Mercedes bargeboards

Mercedes’ aggressive bargeboard appeared in Spain

Serrated bargeboards are not new to Formula One: Lotus experimented with various cuts and slots in this region over the past five years. However Mercedes has taken the idea to the next level by breaking down their previous two-piece design into six standalone elements mounted on a ‘comb’ attached to the floor.

Separating the bargeboard into miniature turning vanes creates a series of small pressure gradients that will in turn force the air into a vortex. This vortex will shield the clean laminar flow, entrained along the sidepod’s undercut, from turbulence generated by the front tyre.

Likewise with the comb, the vortex shed from this arrangement of bodywork will seal off the forward sides of the floor. This will reduce the leakage of the low pressure flow beneath the car, which is key to running a higher rake angle and extracting more downforce from the diffuser.

Mercedes serrated rear wing

Mercedes spent much of the final few races of last year experimenting with serrated tape on the rear wing main plane’s trailing edge. Last year’s car featured similar teeth on the front wing flap, and they are designed to induce tiny vortices that help keep airflow attached to the back side of the wing.

On the final day of testing a new rear wing profile was installed on the W07 to match the design seen on the front wing. It features asymmetrically shaped teeth along the same location that the experimental tape was used previously, and pictures of the rear wing doused in flow-vis reveal how the vortices travel up the top flap above.

The serrated profile should improve the re-attachment of airflow as the DRS is closed, improving braking stability and allowing the driver to keep the wing flap open as long as possible.

Toro Rosso rear wing and monkey seat

Toro Rosso’s STR11 features one of the most sophisticated rear wing designs

The STR11 is a proper eye-catcher in terms of technoology. The rear wing is one area where the team’s approach is strikingly aggressive. It is a total rework over last year’s version, featuring a conventional main plane profile (no lipped centre as in 2015) and a neatly integrated mounting pylon that passes through the exhaust pipe beneath.

However it is the endplates that bound the two wing elements together that are the most intriguing. Their design follows a similar theme to most of the cars on the grid – such as the array of strakes sweeping upwards at the trailing edge and the heavy sculpting to encourage air to flow upwards – but the horizontal louvres are a step ahead of the midfield pack.

Rather than being cut into the endplate, the louvres extend right to the leading edge and form serrations in the endplate. This design will start shifting the air close to the wing tips from the inner to the outer side of the endplate very quickly, reducing the pressure gradient and thus the size of the wingtip vortices shed.

A lot of the themes from the rear wing have also be carried over to Toro Rosso’s intricate monkey seat winglet, placed just above the exhaust to draw the plume up to the underside of the rear wing. This winglet is crucial to linking the airflow from the diffuser and rear wing together as it allows for greater wing angle and more rake angle, too.

With the regulations pinching the teams in so tightly, Toro Rosso appear to be exploiting the little details well compared to their immediate rivals. The winglet is attached to the rear wing’s central mounting pylon via a slender bracket that extends out above the trio of exhaust pipes. It features no more than four elements, with the uppermost element further divided with extra slots at the wing tips. Carried over from the rear wing design are the horizontal louvres – none of Toro Rosso’s rivals is using them on the monkey seat.

Toro Rosso S-duct

Toro Rosso’s S-duct is more typical of the rest of the field

Like Mercedes, Toro Rosso have also exploited opening channels along a belly-shaped panel beneath the nose’s main crash structure to feed their S-duct system. The STR11 features four NACA slots along the belly of the nose – two provide air to the duct and the remaining two cool air for the driver into the cockpit.

This S-duct differs from W07’s in that it exits in the traditional spot where the nosebox and chassis meet. This is easier to manufacturer for a team with a smaller budget as it does not require additional work inside the monocoque, with all the plumbing housed inside the nose.

McLaren front wing

Expect more updates from McLaren soon

McLaren have admitted to being behind schedule on the development front. Their full 2016 package is expected to run for the first time in Melbourne this weekend.

On the final day of the second test, however, we did get to see their brand new front wing. Its core remains similar to the outgoing version, with Red Bull-style sweeping elements branching across the entire width of the wing before diving down at the extremities to meet the footplate. The cascade winglets – the small devices that branch from the endplates of the front wing itself – are new and are have been downsized from their predecessors.

Following in the steps of Toro Rosso, the small winglet is accompanied by a vane that curls upwards from a horizontal position to form a vertical fin. This will flick the airflow over the endplate and around the front tyre for improved aerodynamic efficiency.

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21 comments on “The key technical developments from pre-season testing”

  1. The STR really shows that James Key could well be one of the guys to step up when Newey leaves. Nice to see how they can develop new bits with the money and stability they get from being part of Red Bull

    1. Yes, I think they have a lot going for them, especially at the start of this season. These sort of details suggest they are independently minded and aren’t content to be considered as a “B team”, and they are right, they shouldn’t be considered as a B team. They may have the same parent company providing sponsorship, but they are an independent team. You don’t get the “Woa is us” feeling from STR. I hope they (and their drivers) play their cards right and are fighting with Ferrari and Williams for Podium’s, at least for the first few races anyway.

    2. James Key seems very underrated, never usually mentioned in the same vein as Newey, yet quietly managing to over achieve in the midfield teams. The Sauber C31 finishing second in Malaysia with Sergio Perez in 2012 and potentially going for the win. Also, the Force India VJM02 achieving pole and second place at the 2009 Belgium Grand Prix without the use of KERS. In a front running team he would certainly guarantee success.

  2. If Merc have been able to seal the floor to the point where they can run as much rake as Red Bull, then everyone else is in trouble.

    I agree about James Key – star. Does Mark Ellis belong in the engineer elite too?

    1. Everyone else is already in trouble ;-) Rake data from AMuS: only three cars at 1.9°- Red Bull, Force India, McLaren.; Ferrari 1.4° and Merc 1° I think Nick Chester is in the same league as lads you mentioned above. I’m keen to see how Renault develops.

      1. Merc are likely to be the fastest of those you mentioned, Ferrari 2nd so better to have 1 degree rake than 1.9, theres an instant improvement for McLaren to work on.

        1. are your relating speed to the rake angle? merc are obviously fastest whatever rake angle, because power unit performance dictates over aero performace in this era.

  3. I’d love to see a maximum down force rule in F1 – which would stop all this micro design of ridiculously expensive carbon aero bits, which clearly 2/3rds of the field can’t compete with. Its also impossible to appreciate, because we can’t actually see the air!

    1. Yeah if Red Bull want equalised engines then down force should also be equalised and why we are at it so should drivers it’s just not fair when someone is better than others at any performance related parameter, the podium is ridiculous and so are points, everyone should get the same, everyone’s a winner.

    2. a single eequal car/engine formula would be the best thing for f1, and allow the millionaire teams and engine manufacturers only small amounts of development – the best will come out fair and square.

      1. It would be near impossible to get equal car/engine! Unless all made by one which will be specs race! Which will make it drivers race, rather than manufacturers… Why would manufacturers involve if they are only allowed to use their power unit to its potential rather than have to limit if their engine is superior… only thing that is spec used in F1 is ECU supplied by McLaren?

  4. Good and useful article!

    1. ColdFly F1 (@)
      15th March 2016, 8:15

      Agree! Great article, like the other technical articles this year.

  5. It’s crazy how many teams have added something innovative to their 2016 cars. Mercs, Ferraris, Toro Rossos & Red Bull have really put on a lot of new bits. Williams, FI, Renault and Sauber seem to have fewer new elements, and look a lot like slight improvements over the 2015 challengers. Manor seem to finally have a completely new car!

    Mclaren really look like a step backward to be honest. Their 2015 chassis (especially the rear of the car) looked far more impressive than their 2016 challenger. Overall, I think they have been the most disappointing of all the teams

    1. what you think is innovative might not be optimal to the overall package or provide much speed improvement. the biggest indent into Mercedes domination will be in the development of Ferrari, Renault and Honda power units, and not these “innovative” aero mods. the best times from last years Barcelona test and this years are similar, meaning not much has improved at the front, but Ferrari has closed in to Mercedes with engine development.

  6. I think all the chassis development give .1% or so if they work – and I am not convinced Mercedes is the best in aerodynamics. the biggest technical development of the offseason is Ferrrari’s engine development. reported that Ferrari might have changed their ICE to run compression-ignition, so no more spark plugs, they will probably still use spark plugs in low temperature (like in the cold morning testing at Barcelona). hot tracks could see them have a real whip of an engine that might better Mercedes. the thermal efficiency of the ICEs has improved a lot in the last 2 years, with compression and fuel improvements, that is about the only thing really able to be improved in the stupid token development system – so manufacturers are pouring millions for small gains. the engine development is definitely the deciding factor in this series still, all those cosmetic outside aero parts are nothing now, just look at Redbull, fastest car with underpowered engine in 2013 to 4th fastest because of far more underpowered engine – yet their chassis is probably still the top of the field, this happened overnight basically, while Mercedes went from 4th fastest with perhaps the best engine in 2013, to 1st fastest by 1 second a lap because of a far far better engine then the rest. Ferrari catching up to Mercedes in the engine development is THE key technical development of the off season. hopefully next season Renault and Honda can catch up too, as they have obviously made gains but not enough yet.

  7. No plugs? They really are deisel engines…..:(

    1. I consider these engines even with spark plugs to be diesel or to be more precise Sabathe cycle engines. If what kpcart says is true we do have ‘diesel’ engines or at least one engine, Ferrari’s. Expect great developments on fuel engineering front. Self ignition at 15000rpm? Maybe. Injector spark plug integration? Possibly. It would be great to have injector-spark plugs and turn any petrol engine into GDI engine!

      1. self ignition at around 15:1 compression ration, not 15000rpm. Hyundai and GM are 2 manufacturers working on this technology for road cars at this minute, but it is said to only work best at warm temperature, so spark plugs and lower compression can still be used at lower temperatures. the combusition chamber has to be made to withstand much higher pressure, but unlike diesel injection, only about 1/4 the pressure is needed to direct inject petrol then diesel. Hyundai are designing an engine that can run either petrol or diesel, so they are far ahead of what f1 manufacturers and their pseudo “road relevance” which is just a marketing excuse. Mazda are already doing 14:1 petrol engines with their skyactive-g motors on road cars, so are ahead of F1 technology aswell. Mercedes got the just on the field in this new engine formula, but Ferrari hasmade the most gains since 2014, and this year could prove to be ahead of Mercedes.

        1. Kpcart thank you for sharing interesting informations. I find especially interesting what you said about 15:1 compression ratio: “but it is said to only work best at warm temperature”. Russian tank T-34 worked very well with 15:1 compression ratio. I’m sure you’re aware of extremely low temperatures in Russia. That thing fires up like a land mine. Awesome! Usage of all kind of fuels is one of T-72 tank characteristics, introduced in early seventies. Russian machine as well. Nothing new under the sun to be honest. And, I agree with you that best end most advanced technologies are not used in F1 any more.

          1. but the Russian tank probably ran bullet proof heavy-as-all-hell engines that cant blow up at 15:1 with petrol – and don’t need to propel the car with fast acceleration. while road cars have pretty light engines, and f1 cars even more lighter engines, so for the technology to work in small motors new materials/technology needs to be made, but the end result is increased power and fuel efficiency. Mercedes has been increasing their ICE thermal efficiency, and fuel technology is playing a part, Mercedes has been working with their fuel partner, while Ferrari are working with shell. I think Mercedes is getting like 50% thermal efficiency now from the fuel burn, and Ferrari must be around there too and perhaps better this year if no spark plug compression ignition is actually being used, with the old era engines, they were like 30%, but that doesn’t make this engine formula any better, the fuel flow rate could have been applied to the v8 engines, and these developments would have happened with whatever configuration the engines would be. I believe these ICE improvements are bigger technical developments then the aero Mercedes and Ferrari are doing, BUT they are not seen, and not talked much about, well Mercedes has been talking about their thermal efficiency, but overall we cant see the engine and cant analyze how we do with the visual aero parts.

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