Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

Ocon suspects set-up change behind difficult Sochi weekend

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In the round-up: Esteban Ocon revealed he pursued a different set-up direction to team mate Fernando Alonso at the Russian Grand Prix.

In brief

Alpine pair differed on Russian GP set-ups

Having qualified behind Alonso and run outside of the points for much of last week’s race, Ocon revealed he had taken a different approach with his set up at the Russian Grand Prix.

“The cars were very similar in terms of set-up in the last three or four races,” said the Hungarian Grand Prix winner. “Pretty much identical.

“It’s been quite a lot of deviation in this race and we don’t have the same comments any more from this race on.”

Ocon said he suspected these changes were why he had a less successful weekend than his team mate, who took sixth in the race. “We have a couple of ideas on what it could be, just looking at fixing it, obviously, for the next race.

Second year on support bill for W Series under consideration

Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says the sport is considering whether W Series will remain on its support bill for a second year in 2022.

“It’s still part of the discussion,” he said in Sochi. “We are preparing the full calendar because as you know, the F1 weekend is getting, thanks God I would say, very intense in terms of action for all the people that are attending to the races. It’s part of the discussion about having to have still ‘formula W’ with us.”

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Comment of the day

Could partially enclosing the wheels be a solution to Formula 1’s wet weather visibility problem?

It’s not practical to have narrower tyres only for the wet, as the aero will be heavily and randomly compromised. And narrower tyres in all weather conditions reduces mechanical grip, increasing sensitivity to aero loss when following other cars.

F1 really must consider enforcing the fitment of aero pods behind the rear tyres, like IndyCar and Formula E used to run about five years ago. I think they got rid of them because they kept being knocked off. What they should have done was simply make them stronger! I think in both series, overtaking became more difficult after the pods were outlawed.

Rear pods have many advantages:
1. Particularly when combined with flick ups in front of the rear tyres, they can massively reduce turbulence, allowing cars to follow much closer without losing downforce.
2. In the event of another car running into the back of another, sufficiently strong rear pods can help prevent the impacting car from flying into the air, as it will contact stationary carbon fibre instead of sticky rubber travelling upwards at 200mph. Monza showed how dangerous this can be at only 30mph. At 200mph, spectators are at significant risk, as fencing is not that high in F1.
3. They will reduce spray kicked up when it’s raining. This enables safer racing in more extreme conditions, which is entertaining, challenging for the drivers, and keeps TV schedulers and race promoters happy.
4. They will reduce the amount of debris flicked up by the rear tyres. We nearly lost Senna in 1987 Silverstone practice when this happened, and drivers sometimes complain of stones hitting their knuckles.

Obviously these have always been outweighed by the disadvantages:
1. They go against the DNA of F1, which has remained completely unchanged for over a century.
2. The cars will no longer be open wheel single seaters, just like IndyCar and Formula E stopped being them five years ago.
3. It’ll be slightly harder to see the wheels go round and round.

The four advantages help address the sport’s most significant remaining safety risks, and make it a much more entertaining sport. This is the answer to Pirelli’s problem and several others.

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  • 19 comments on “Ocon suspects set-up change behind difficult Sochi weekend”

    1. On COTD.

      F1 really must consider enforcing the fitment of aero pods behind the rear tyres, like IndyCar and Formula E used to run about five years ago. I think they got rid of them because they kept being knocked off. What they should have done was simply make them stronger!

      The problem with making them stronger is that that would result in them becoming heavier which would harm the weight distribution more than they already did.

      One of the biggest problems with the Indycar DW12 was that the weight distribution was too far rearward which was part of why the aero kits that were allowed at the time saw so many extra bits added to the front wing with very little further back. They had to pile on as much aero to the front & try & get it as high up as possible to try & get as much load on the front end as possible to try & fix the aero imbalance the rear wheel pods created.

      I think in both series, overtaking became more difficult after the pods were outlawed.

      The opposite is actually true. The rear pods created a lot more turbulence which on road/street circuits made overtaking harder.

      On the bigger ovals like Indy, Auto Club & Pocono the extra drag they created did indeed punch a bigger hole in the air which did create a more powerful tow on the straights, But that also made the cars more sensitive in the corners which is why you tended to see the cars snap around more suddenly or be more prone to pushing straight into the wall when close behind another car.

      They also didn’t do much as far as reducing spray in the wet & there was a wet race in that era that was abandoned due to spray & aquaplaning, One of the races at Toronto in 2014 for example was rescheduled due to poor visibility caused by the spray down the straights.

      1. @gt-racer Agree with all the downsides you pointed out except this part:

        The opposite is actually true. The rear pods created a lot more turbulence which on road/street circuits made overtaking harder.

        On the bigger ovals like Indy, Auto Club & Pocono the extra drag they created did indeed punch a bigger hole in the air which did create a more powerful tow on the straights

        I think you’ve got it backwards. The rear pods did indeed produce less turbulence, which is why the racing was much closer on the superspeedways with them. Now that they are gone, there is a stronger slipstream effect on big ovals, but that is mostly negated by the increase in dirty air and difficulty in following — and also by the equivalent of a DRS train, with everyone getting a tow from the car in front, except for the leader. That’s why the last few Indy 500s have seen decent battles at the front, but nobody in the back can make up places except on restarts (which is also something of a safety issue as it incentivises drivers to take an inordinate amount of risk on restarts).

        The improvement in overtaking on the road courses — despite the removal of the wheel pods — was because the switch from the manufacturer aero kits to the universal aero kits significantly reduced overall downforce in road course trim. (Of course that didn’t happen on the ovals because the OEM oval aero packages were already running as little downforce as possible, and were highly efficient to boot.)

      2. Don’t agree with the point entirely, but good COTD

    2. When he was in a Lotus next to world champion Kimi Raikkonen, Romain was beating Kimi

      …..What ?

      1. I’m guessing he means the latter half of 2013 season.

        1. Right, the time when the team decided to stop making payments and the strategist became too big for his britches, leading to Kimis “back issues” and missing a few races… now i remember.

    3. I’m not sure there actually needs to be a “solution” to wet weather running.

      The conditions at spa were extremely rare, where there was persistent heavy rain coupled with almost no wind. It was the lack of wind that was a huge part of the problem, because wind is needed to disperse water thrown up by the tyres.

      Why are we so fixated on a situation that in recent years has happened only once? Surely with the massive number of races per year as single washout once in a blue mood is not really going to be an issue.

      Another example of trying to fix a problem that isn’t a problem. Certainly allow for earlier start times, but that’s about all that is required.

      1. @dbradock, I agree. A rare occurrence anyway, so a non-issue in the big picture.

    4. As we are still on the wet race visibility, I’d like to add another direction to solve this.

      The ‘solutions’ so far all had drawbacks:
      1. More bits on the car to reduce the spray: heavier cars; not F1; might not work.
      2. Smaller tyres dispersing less water: technically not feasible.
      3. Accept not running when too wet.

      Maybe the 4th solution to solve the visibility challenge is to just make the rain lights brighter.

      1. You forgot another solution which is having all circuits covered with transparent roofs.

        1. Much easier is using water absorbing asphalt.
          Lots of years experience with it on highways. So it really works.

      2. Coventry Climax
        3rd October 2021, 18:42

        The FIA making a calendar that takes into account the rain periods of the countries to race in. There’s a period of the year where Spa has a significantly lower chance of rain, but no, the FIA scheduled Spa in the period where it rains most heavily.

    5. Hopefully, next year’s F2 schedule will be more condensed. I wouldn’t mind if Middle Eastern circuits didn’t feature as doing so would only help this aspect, i.e., start in Montmelo end at Sochi Autodrom or perhaps Jerez as a separate from F1.

    6. Sorry Zak but Palou winning Indy after failling to win any other single seater championship is what makes one discount the championship.

    7. I know this question is from someone who does not have the technical expertise to understand the implications, but could the wider wet tires be designed (different groove design, etc) to only displace/lift the amount of water that the narrower tires displaced/lifted? The narrower tires gave sufficient grip under wet conditions. I’m sure the knowledgeable persons on here can explain why I’ve got it wrong!

      1. Pretty sure that you’d just introduce aquaplaning if you cleared less water from under a bigger contact patch.

      2. Coventry Climax
        3rd October 2021, 19:52

        Do you have a minute, @waptraveler ? Part of it is this: Water is pushed from under a tyre by means of pressure. Pressure is force per area. The force comes from the weight and downforce of the car, the area is the contact patch between road and tyre. So making the car heavier and the contact patch smaller will increase the pressure, which translates into grip. Look at a stiletto-heel on a wood floor; it leaves indents, whereas a sneaker doesn’t.
        Another part of it is, when the water is pressed away, it needs to be drained from under the tyre efficiently and a.s.a.p., because it would otherwise need to be pressed away again by some other part of the tyre, and that already had ‘it’s own bit of water to take care of’. The faster the water is drained from under the tyre, the better. This is the thread pattern’s job. Any threading decreases the contact patch, increases the pressure and forces the water to the grooves. Whether the pattern is efficient, is another matter. If the water can not be moved from under the tyre fast enough, the tyre will start to float or slide on a film of water. That’s called aquaplaning and it makes a car impossible to steer, because there is near zero grip.
        So, just widening a tyre increases the contact patch, but diminishes the pressure. This is where a third factor comes into play; the rubber compound. On an ultra-narrow wheel, the rubber should be hard, in order to withstand the pressure. Examples are the steel train wheels and the wheels they use on the saltlake speed record runs. Vice versa, on a wider tyre, the rubber can be softer as the force is spread over a larger contact area. More contact area and softer rubber increases grip. Nice in the dry, disaster in the rain.
        So, the answer to ‘can the wider tyres be made to disperse the former, lower amount of water’ is a simple ‘yes’. But they will then provide a much lower grip level, meaning drivers will have to drive much more slow and aquaplaning will occur much sooner, meaning at lower speeds already.
        And then to make matters more complicated, we’re not just going in a straight line, we also need to drive around all sorts of corners, and we want the tyres to last for a while. Rolling a tyre temporarily deforms the rubber, which creates friction. Going round corners also creates friction. Friction creates heat, and heat makes the rubber softer, stickier and hence, grippier. Softer rubber might be grippier, it is also abrased more heavily on the tarmac, so they last less long. If you already have to drive slowly, because of the rain, your tyres will cool off heavily, further reducing the grip.
        So no, not really a good plan. And as you can see, it’s all a matter of compromises and optimisation.
        Sorry for the long read.

    8. Interesting study about the sheer amount of disinformation on corona that is being blown up in the airtime by Servus TV, the RB owners TV station in Austria (and also where F1 currently resides in Austria) – seems the verdict is that the level of talking down the danger of Covid and talking up the risks of vaccination there left its marks on the relatively low Austrian vaccination rate.
      Great Dietrich. Thanks.

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