2014 Russian GP Tech Highlights

Due to customs regulations and the 3 days that separated the end of the Japanese GP and preparations for Russia, there were few technical developments brought to the new Sochi circuit.

It is for this reason that whilst we will still look at the minor changes seen on a few cars last weekend, this post will mainly analyse why McLaren appear to be getting on top of things and beginning to move forward in recent races.

McLaren

You could say that McLaren should have been challenging for a title this season, but in reality it was always going to be a year of recovery and learning. 2013 was the worst season in their history and once we knew that the team were switching to Honda power for 2015, 2014 became a year of transition.

It has been an up-and-down 7 months so far but I genuinely believe McLaren have a much better understanding of how their car behaves – particularly aerodynamically – now than a period about 3 years ago. We all know McLaren have lagged behind others in front wing design for numerous years but 2014 saw a change in philosophy, which continues to progress even up until Russia.

In recent years, the Y250 axis of the car (where the neutral section of the front wing joins the main plane and flaps) has been exploited by generating powerful, elongated vortices to offset front tyre wake and seal the frontal portion of the floor at least. We have seen this section change in shape numerous times due to the teams’ understanding of vortex production in this area and tuning the vortex around the characteristics of the tyres under load.

In Russia, McLaren added metal fixings to the Y250 join point, clasping the leading edge of the wing to reduce the amount of flex under load. We first saw them testing this new development in Singapore, where the nose cone hosted a camera which monitored a number of points on the front wing endplate to track the flex of the wing. With this data gained, the team may have even adjusted the stiffness of the clasps (presumably made from aluminium, or perhaps titanium) before Russia to get the desired flex across a specific load threshold.

The advantage of using these clasps revolves around the production and steadiness of the Y250 vortex and, by reducing the amount of flex, could potentially increased the consistency of it at high speed or over bumps and kerbs. It is no secret that McLaren run a very stiff mechanical setup to make good use of their aerodynamic platform: understanding how the front wing interacts with the mechanical balance of the car undoubtedly helps create a more consistent car at least, aiding driver confidence. Producing a better, more stable vortex also helps seal the floor more easily, which in turn allows a higher rake angle which extracts more rear downforce from the diffuser. The beauty of the front wing is that it has a trickle-down effect although this can also hurt you if you get it wrong.

Understanding these minor flow structures and their interaction with the mechanical setup of the car has risen McLaren above Force India and arguably ahead of Ferrari in terms of performance. Like the team have constantly said this year, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the MP4-29, it’s a culmination of detailed aspects which separate it from the top tier. We may not see a McLaren reach the top step (or indeed any step) of the podium this year – unlike what Ron Dennis insisted some months ago – but there are winds of change. If Fernando Alonso joins next year and Honda produce a good powertrain, it won’t be long until we see them back once again.

Toro Rosso

Along with recent aero updates, Toro Rosso have also found new ways of managing rear tyre temperatures and the way the tyres interact with the heat generated from the rear brakes. Seen in Russia, the rear ‘cake tin’ hubs were lined in a gold-coloured foil. Often teams will use a gold alloy foil to surround certain elements of the engine, such as the exhaust manifold, to reflect heat – up to 78% of that radiated from the surrounded component.

Surrounding the hubs in this foil will actually retain the heat within the assembly, increasing rear brake temperatures rather than allowing the heat to expand into the rims/tyres. As the rear brake discs are far smaller this year than in previous years gone by – due to the regenerative capabilities of the MGU-K in 2014 – they are quite temperature sensitive as the brake pressure varies during the braking phase as the ERS harvests energy. Toro Rosso must clearly feel that isolating most of the heat energy from the brakes is beneficial for rear tyre preservation and managing temperatures when preparing for a qualifying lap. As we saw with Valtteri Bottas, if the tyre overheat towards the end of the lap the rear end will simply give up, so the gold foil is a logical solution to this sort of problem.

Sorry that this week’s Tech Highlights are short, but unfortunately these are the only real developments we saw! McLaren will bring a large update to Abu Dhabi so the teams are continuing deep into the year, which is peculiar considering the new nose regulations for next year. I will have some more feature posts up as the season draws to a close (and over winter) and then hopefully some more inside stuff on Formula Student.

#ForzaJules

2014 Japanese GP Tech Highlights

As the season begins to draw to a dramatic close, the development race never ceases. The Japanese GP represented a great opportunity for teams to bring new parts, particularly aero related as Suzuka is a demanding in this aspect.

This was also the first weekend of some serious data collection regarding 2015, as F1 begins to focus even more on next year in anticipation of the new nose regulations amongst other things.
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Link: Initial overview of 2015 Honda PU launch image

honda_2015_power_unit

 

Yesterday Honda released a render of their 2015 power unit (PU), their first crack at the hybrid technology that has revolutionised F1. Whilst the image is not entirely – if at all – representative of their actual unit next year, I have nonetheless had an initial overview of it and also taken a look a the current rumour mill surrounding 2015 drivetrains.

It’s still very early days and things are developing very quickly, but here is the story so far regarding Honda and their position amongst Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault in the power battle for next year – http://richlandf1.com/?p=28880.

2014 Singapore GP Tech Highlights

At this time of year Singapore is extremely hot and humid, even during the night. Temperatures were still hovering around the 30C mark come the race on Sunday and rain was even a significant threat. Whilst the rain held off, teams were forced to open up the bodywork a bit more to cool the cars on a track where they get little chance to breathe – 23 corners are separated by only three proper straights.

Singapore also marked the return of the high downforce packages as the Spa/Monza aero will probably be stored away getting dusty for the rest of the year. There were no large developments but an array of smaller, detailed components made their way onto the cars as the F1 circus heads into a packed final five races.
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Analysis: 2015 nose changes

As we all know, the noses caused quite a stir at the beginning of this year although, like the stepped noses of 2012, we have steadily become used to the ‘interesting’ solutions across the grid. Many fans – including myself – didn’t like this year’s noses (barring Mercedes, which I personally think looks great) although it was good to see varying approaches to the regulations rather than a generic design.

To prevent some of the aesthetically displeasing designs returning for 2015 the FIA have re-written article 15.4.3 in the technical regulations, supplying a new set of guidelines for the teams to create their front crash structure.

In this blog post we shall dissect the new regulations and consider design options for 2015.
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Analysis: Follower Questions – monkey seats, cascades and brake ducts

Over the summer I asked if there was anything that you wanted explaining on the technical side of F1, via my social media outlets. I received a few questions and – now that I have got my new laptop – they shall be duly answered in this blog post. So let’s crack on…

“Ferrari’s front brake ducts seem larger than necessary, even without any blown wheel nuts. What’s your opinion on them?” – Andrea Solimini, via Facebook
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2014 Italian GP Tech Highlights

Although the current generation of cars are the fastest in F1 history in a straight line, the unique characterstics of Monza are the result of a bespoke aerodynamic package brought by most teams for the Italian GP. Most teams will spend a solid two weeks designing these packages in order to generate a good car balance for the various chicanes which litter the circuit whilst cutting drag and improving top speed.

In case you were wondering, we saw top speeds of 225mph with DRS in use on the main straight, the fastest speeds ever recorder in Monza. Of course Juan Pablo Montoya’s highest average speed of 162.9mph during pre-qualifying in 2004 remains unbeatable for now, but it just proves that despite all the fuss made about this year’s cars not being fast enough was, well, just a fuss.

Overall top speed was, however, limited by the energy usage capabilities inside this year’s hybrids. You will be aware of the fact that sometimes we see cars at the end of the straight with the rain-light blinking. This is to indicate that the MGU-H has gone into harvest mode and the turbo’s rpm is reduced significantly as a result and slowing the car down. When riding on board with cars reaching the end of the main straight, the engine rpm dropped significantly and this was a particular feature on Valtteri Bottas’s Williams.
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