Note: This is predominantly my tech article I posted on Richland F1 last week, as I’ve had university assignments due in left, right and centre! I am back home this weekend so you should see some ‘What can we expect in F1 2016?’ posts very soon and, YES, there will be more YouTube videos. 🙂
F1 as we know it in 2015 may well be done and dusted, but being the relentless sport that it is it was hardly surprising to see small changes and tweaks during free practice on Friday, most with a firm suggestion of 2016 about them. In this final Tech Highlights post of the year, we will explore what McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes could be developing over the winter period.
The final grand prix of the season was arguably the most competitive McLaren have been all year, despite the two huge back straights. The car came alive in sector three and the on-track data lined the MP4-30 as the third quickest chassis on circuit. For Jenson Button to be disappointed not to make Q3 – a feat they failed to achieve this year – underlines the progress they have made in recent races.
Whilst Fernando Alonso may have been quoted saying half the car in Abu Dhabi was 2016 specification, this is most likely an exaggeration. However there were some significant changes made to the chassis which point towards their ideas they are developing over the winter.
Although it is not a complete overhaul, the rear suspension geometry has been modified to a more conventional setup in comparison to the rest of the grid, shifting them away from the offset lower wishbone placement that was used for aerodynamic purposes. The lower wishbone’s trailing arm remained attached to the rear crash structure, but the leading arm now reaches much further forward rather than the previous horizontal position.
It was clear that the development was in prototype stage, as the metal wishbone was exposed to the airflow passing over it when traditionally a carbon fibre aerofoil embodies it. However it must have required some substantial work to implement it with the current sidepod design and gearbox.
Traditionally the external suspension components mount to the gearbox, so any geometry changes must require a gearbox change as well. Both McLarens were not penalised for such a change, so I presume that the team have copied Mercedes in using a ‘cartridge’ style gearbox: a modifiable (and lighter weight) case surrounding the actual gearbox that is inserted separately.
With both championships sewn up long ago, it is clear that their attentions have diverted towards next year with a number of recent modifications around the front suspension being the most eye-catching. These changes have coincided with an apparent switch in development philosophy that began after their off-colour Singapore weekend at the end of September.
With tyre pressures now slightly higher than normal to counter any safety concerns, the W06 appears to be a bit more sensitive to setup changes and tyre temperature. Since Singapore they have adopted a new strategy to keep the tyre temperatures and pressures where they want them to be before heading on track, surrounding the hubs with an electrically heated jacket before putting the wheels on. This helps the tyre maintain core temperature and prevent a drop in pressure as they are measured when stationary, allowing the team to run the absolute minimum pressure.
Mercedes have been playing around with the heave element (highlighted) of the front suspension throughout the latter stages of the season
However, the detailed work that has gone on around the front suspension has also got us asking further questions as to how they are approaching 2016. Above you can see just tucked inside the chassis is a spring that connects each pushrod together – this is the heave element.
Throughout this year Mercedes have run a hydraulically damped coil spring as their third element but in Brazil and Abu Dhabi the team trialed what appears to be a fully hydraulic device to control dive, i.e. when the car pitches forward under braking, which can be easily identified as a gold coloured cylinder.
This setup allows the engineers to finetune the heave element’s compression and rebound characteristics alongside the individual dampers, which could help the driver trail brake into corners later. This is something Nico Rosberg tends to do more than Lewis Hamilton, which is perhaps why the Briton has not been happy with some of the apparent developments that have come through recently.
However there is also the suggestion that Mercedes are attempting to recreate the effects of FRIC (front-rear-interconnected) suspension, a passive way of stabilising the car through high loading corners whilst maintaining a supple kerb-riding nature which was banned in mid-2014. This was done by connecting dual chambered dampers to eachother to keep the car’s roll to a minimum.
Along with the new heave element, there were also rumoured changes to the dampers and rockers to create an entirely new mechanical philosophy at the front end of the car – I am very much looking forward to the first pictures of the exposed front bulkhead of the W07 in Melbourne next year!
Mechanical adjustments aside, the Silver Arrows carried out some intriguing aerodynamic tests, too. On Friday the underside of the rear wing’s top flap featured a horizontal zig-zag strip of tape, with the tip of each ‘tooth’ facing the leading edge. In the aerospace industry this is known as a turbulator tape, generating tiny vortices to reduce the size of the boundary layer at such a high angle of attack.
It is actually illegal to use the tape under race circumstances, so it’s interesting to see the team use it so late in the season. Perhaps they are assessing the effects of narrowing the boundary layer with a future development in mind, maybe something along the lines of McLaren’s ‘tubercles’ flap from last year.
Given that so much fuss was made at the start of the season about noses, it was of complete surprise to see that Lotus had brought a brand new one to Abu Dhabi. The new version features the thumb tip extension we have got used to seeing from the likes of Williams and Red Bull, although not to quite the same aggression.
It is slightly higher than the original, however, freeing up room eitherside of the extension for more airflow to pass underneath and onto the splitter region. The team – in probably their last outing in the guise of Lotus before rebranding as Renault – only assessed the new nose on Friday before reverting back to the lower specification for the rest of the weekend. The regulations around the design of the nose remain static for next year, so this was undoubtedly a data gathering exercise to provide a better understanding of the development of their 2016 car.
A small guide vane was also evident at the top of the nose, perhaps providing a hint of a Brawn-style vane lining the sides of the front bulkhead/nose box.
There were also some subtle tweaks to the front wing, such as the reprofiled cascade winglet flaps and extending the last element of the wing down to the footplate rather than undercutting itself.