Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Swept Wing Gets Swept Aside

An interesting development today was Red Bull's innovative approach to the new swept front wing regulations. In a move to apparently make the front wing less sensitive to dirty air and improve overtaking, the FIA require the edges of the front wing offset back from the leading edge, so creating a sweep of 12.5 degrees. Red Bull have gone to the extreme with this new intricate front wing design featuring straight edges adjoined delicately by the central neutral section. We don't know if this design is fully legal, but it looks to have achieve walking around the regulations in the quest for a straighter flow of air. The front of the RB13 is already interesting with its 'mouth', which improves airflow and the efficiency of the floor.

EDIT - It has since been speculated that this wing was designed for pit stop purposes. We didn't see it featuring at all in the following season.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Biggest Winner and Loser - Week 1 Circuit de Catalunya

After the first week of testing it's too early to draw definitive conclusions over the coming season's pecking order. We do however get an insight, notably who has made a big step and who has dropped an absolute clanger..

Winner - Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel completed the opening day just 0.113 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton's fastest time in the Mercedes. When you consider this was set on the soft tyre compound apposed to Hamilton's super softs, the new SF70-H looks quick. The following day Kimi Raikkonen took the helm of the Ferrari and was 0.023 seconds quicker than the Mercedes with the same tyre compounds. While we don't know for sure if the car was being run light on fuel, the Ferrari still looks like the hot ticket this season. Its times through the week were also consistent and Gary Anderson's track side observations report back on the SF70-H being the most balanced and stable looking through the bends. Even rivals Redbull have looked skittish and the Mercedes more hesitant to turn-in. The extreme sidepod design and barge boards seem to have materialised into great aerodynamic performance. 

Loser - Mclaren Honda

Snowball affect -  a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and also perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle, a "spiral of decline")

Back in 2014 Ron Dennis applied pressure to upcoming partners Honda, requesting their engine be ready for the following season. The Japanese manufacturer had wanted another year to develop a successful power unit to suit the new regulations. McLaren were still hurting from their loss of major title sponsor Vodafone and so Dennis was eager his new partnership kick started life back into the brand as soon as possible. This ultimately cost him his job and 2015 became McLaren's worst points finish in 35 years. The Honda engine was the worst on the grid, with a 'size zero' brief leading to an over-ambitious design that didn't deliver. A tight axial compressor turbo embedded in the V of the engine struggled to generate power. To further compound issues the energy recovery simply couldn't deliver full power over a long straight.

Although Honda worked hard to improve things in 2016 McLaren are still no where near the position their heritage and size of operation should reflect. Honda's new chief  Yusuke Hasegawa has overseen a redesign of the entire engine concept for the new season. The engine features a split turbo design more in line with Mercedes, with the turbo compressor at the front of the engine at the turbine at the rear. Abandoning a development route means two years of their work on the axial turbo is out of the window. 

Unfortunately for Honda the unit has been problematic. Day 1 saw Fernando Alonso sidelined in the morning with problems with the oil system. The engine was shipped back to Japan for diagnosis which confirmed the issue to be the actual design of the oil tank. To rub salt into the wounds team mate Stoffel Vandoorne's unit suffered a big failure the following day. While head scratching continues, Hasegawa was clearly concerned when pressed on how these events would affect their first race:

 "Oil tank, definitely not. The mechanical issue, I don't know, I'm yet to be confident about that, but of course I worry about that."

While its up to Honda to raise their game McLaren can't blame all its testing woes on the engine. The new MCL32 has looked to lack grip trackside according to Gary Anderson: 

"Through that complex, the McLaren never looked good. Alonso couldn't get hard on the throttle out of Turn 2 - the car just starts moving - and I never saw him go into Turn 3 flat on the throttle. He's either having to lift big time beforehand, or just as he's coming into the corner. It's not understeer, just a lack of grip. McLaren can't really complain about Honda's engine, because there are still horses left in there that they're not using at the minute. It looks OK on the very softest tyres, but on softs and mediums - the most relevant tyres for this track - it's just not there."

Lets hope the Woking team can have even a little turn of fortune in the coming week...

Vandoorne struggles to slow down the MCL32

Sunday, 26 February 2017

F1 2017 Car Launches

Spice Girls at McLaren's glitzy '97 launch

The high-budget glamour enjoyed at car launches 20 years ago are now a distant memory. Gone are the days of pyrotechnics, glitter, celebs and chart topping music acts. Today you're treated to a boardroom presentation via webcam where team principles spout off sales pitch in an attempt to generate sponsor interest. You might even be treated to an interview with an awkward technical director who's social skills akin to a cold raw potato with Asperger syndrome. Thankfully we do get a sneaky peak of the new technology on offer as the latest cars are unveiled and some even take to the track...

Williams FW40

Williams were first to give us a taste of 2017 machinery on February 17th, albeit with a computer rendered image of their new car. While its good to get a perspective of what we can expect in terms of shape and dimensions, its important to remember that this is still a pre-season computer generated image. The team will unlikely want to reveal any trick aerodynamic pieces and we will have to wait until testing to get a better picture.

The new larger tyres are very striking and the wings and aero details hark back to 2008. The new regulations seem to have been successful in making the cars look aggressive, though there is little on paper at least to suggest the racing is going to improve. 

On feature clear on the rendered images is the S duct on the front nose. This should allow the center of the front wing to work more efficiently as well as reducing any lift that the nose generates.

Sauber C36

Last Monday saw Swiss outfit Sauber release images of its new chariot online, the C36. Sporting an attractive blue and gold livery the car carries the aspirations of a team saved from the brink. At last year's penultimate race in Brazil driver Felipe Nasr finished 9th and scored the teams first points in front of his home crowd. One could argue this was the most important 9th place finish in the history of the sport as it leapfrogged the team in front of rivals in the standings. A final championship position of 10th place ensured the team received desperately needed FIA prize money to help revive the team. Much to its detriment rivals Manor did not and sadly went into administration with no buyer. The gates were closed to their Oxfordshire factory on January 6th.

Making a comeback for 2017 is the 'shark fin' engine cover. The fin conditions the air to allow the rear wing to work more efficiently. When the car is steered into corners it also has an affect similar to a boat rudder, producing 'side force' as the face of the fin is rotated into the direction of the air flow. There are some drawbacks which have to be considered by teams, namely making the car very sensitive to crosswinds leading to unruly handling.

Sauber like many teams took advantage of its 'promotional filming day' joker card allowed twice per season. Under the premise of producing video footage of the cars on track and at times following a camera car, the team is allowed 62 miles of running. During this time without doubt engineers are trying their best to squeeze as much credible data out of this session as possible. Wind tunnels and computer fluid dynamics are no substitute for reality. The main obstacle is the requirement for the teams to run 'demonstration tyres' that restrict the cornering speed of the cars. The C30 enjoyed a trouble free shake down as it completed its laps around Barcelona on Wednesday.

Renault RS17

A lot of hopes are pinned on the RS17. Realising they were flogging a dead horse with last year's RS16, resources were diverted away to the following year's design with the potential to take advantage of the rules shake up. Being fortunate enough to visit the factory in Enstone last year I witnessed a positive buzz of determination and focus . This is to be expected after being bought back from the brink with a long term contract and support by Renault. Unlike last year the RS17 doesn't suffer from the low-budget design hangover of the Lotus days. 

Somehow the team wouldn't commit a long term contract with Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer remains in his seat for this year. Highly rated Nico Hulkenberg joins the team looking to break his winless duck and if the new car goes as good as it looks he will be in with a fighting chance. The striking yellow and black livery really draws your eyes to its intricate aerodynamic details. 

As with the Sauber the car features a large shark fin on its engine cover, and beneath the new power unit boasts a predicted 0.3-0.5 seconds improvement over a lap. Renault have clawed their way back from a dismal 2014 power unit and will hope to take the fight to Mercedes this year.

Probably the most striking feature is the wide air intake. Former Jordan designer Gary Anderson drew some similarities to his old car:

"The airbox intake is a different shape to most. It is more of a horizontal opening and a bit like the 1997 Jordan.

That car is 20 years old, but the reasons for doing this don't change. It moves the intake away from the driver's helmet, which being basically spherical is the worst shape you could have to aerodynamically optimise.

This shape allows for a more pronounced undercut between the top of the driver's headrest and the intake, again improving the airflow consistency to the rear wing."

Force India VJM10

Chico and Ocan struggle to find the boot release 

Force India enjoyed a brilliant 2016 season finishing 4th and ahead of rivals Williams. Under guidance of technical director Andrew Green the Silverstone outfit continue to deliver good results on a comparatively small budget.

The new VJM10 is not so pleasing to the eye. Reminiscent of 2012 the car features a step in it's nose. Andrew Green admits this is more function than form:

"We have tried to exploit an area of the front suspension regulations that improved the characteristics of it from a mechanical perspective. It does mean that because of the way the regulations are worded, we cannot merge it into the nose as we would like. There is an exclusion box that we have to respect, so unfortunately we end up with a little bit of a 'forehead', as it is called."

Furthermore the car features an unslightly phallic tip with slots either side. This aims to maximise airflow to the underside at the cost of ugly aesthetics.

Mercedes W08

With mammoth staff levels around 700 and World Championship dominance over the last 3 years no team is in a better position than Mercedes to come up with the goods. The Brackley outfit debuted the W08 at a windy Silverstone on Thursday, enjoying a shake down under the guise of a media day. 

The car features a beautifully packaged coke bottle rear end. As soon as the radiators and cooling systems are packaged the sidepods sweep inwards to maximise free space and therefore efficient air flow. Striking louvres cut into the edge of the floor attempt to keep air from escaping from the underside and should increase the performance of the diffuser. Continuing last year's theme intricate barge boards allow a better transition of air under the floor as well as dealing with the turbulent wake created by the large Pirelli front tyres.

Interestingly the Mercedes didn't feature a huge shark fin engine cover like others. In its place featured a novel 'T wing' which also helps condition airflow and increase performance of the rear wing. It is important to note however that storm Dorris was in full effect and open flat Silverstone seems to be one of the windiest destinations, even on a good day. Could Mercedes simply be not wanting their car to be battered sideways by the strong wings the shark fin is so susceptible to?

Ferrari SF70H

Pressure is mounting at Maranello for the Scuderia to deliver in 2017. Team principle Maurizio Arrivabene endured the embaressment of being outscored and outclassed by Redbull last year. Its hard to see Ferrari wanting anything less than to topple Mercedes at the top. 

Ferrari seem to have gone aggressive with the rear end of the car. Hugely undercut sidepod openings complement a tightly packaged coke bottle rear end. All this can increase the general aerodynamic performance of the car all the way to the front wing if working in harmony. Its certainly something that the other teams will be watching closely. The rest of the package features the now commonplace shark fin and beaky front nose. However in this instance the shark fin also works in conjunction with a T wing for an almost Star Wars look.

McLaren MCL32

The Woking squad are experiencing some of the biggest changes in its long and illustrious history. Ron Dennis was the genius behind McLaren's success who's vision went beyond the world of Formula 1. Forced to step down as chairman in November after boardroom disputes the brand faces a new era in need of direction. American Zak Brown is now in his place and with it comes a new car naming prefix 'MCL', replacing Ron Dennis' 'MP4'. Boldly McLaren ditch the infamous black and red brand colours, replacing the latter with the orange synonymous with the team's early days.

In terms of the launch event McLaren did push the boat in comparison with to the poor effort of others. Orange lighting and lasers illuminated a dark black room as the MCL32 rotated on a platform. Journalist's seating encircled like some sort of sci-fi court room. Unfortunately for the team the new livery wasn't universally accepted by McLaren fans, pointing out its similarity to the failed Spyker team. 

The new car features a striking nose pillar design with four elements each side. This aims at directing the air flow in a similar role to barge boards. The heavily undercut sidepod leading edges are similar to that of the Ferrari though different in shape. The new Honda power unit is new in concept after the previous years failings and will have to cope with reduced cooling that this aggressive design compromises.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

F1 2017 - Wide Of The Mark?

The new season is upon us and the frisson of excitement is beginning to bubble to the surface. Overworked factory staff on often 24 hour rota shifts have been preparing their teams this winter for the biggest technical changes the sport has seen in nearly a decade.

Rosberg shifts focus
Social media and news outlets have been abuzz since the flag went down in Abu Dhabi last November. Newly crowned World Champion Rosberg dramatically threw in the towel with shock retirement. For him the timing felt right, with the opportunity to spend time with his new daughter and bow out beating nemesis Lewis Hamilton. As the doors open for Valtteri Bottas to take his vacant seat, many will still question whether one championship win over rival Hamilton's two is enough to satisfy. Will Nico feel the itch to prove himself in the near future?

The sport is under new ownership as John C Malone's American corporation 'Liberty Media' have purchased the Formula One Group for £3.3 billion. Old dinosaur Bernie Ecclestone has been ousted from the helm and now serves an advisory role. Credited with the meteoric rise in popularity of the sport with astute television contracts the 86 year old failed to understand or embrace the new world of online media content. Asif Kapadia, director of the cult film 'Senna' once recalled a meeting with Ecclestone. While trying to explain the idea of the film with an onboard Youtube clip of Senna tearing it around Monaco, Ecclestone's first reaction was to organise his legal team to shut down the unlicensed video. While unpaid content won't bring in income itself, relaxation of draconian copyright control and intelligent online revenue ideas are desperately needed. With UK fans facing high subscriptions for pay-per view television the sport faces losing a big chunk of its loyal audience. Although still relying on this revenue perhaps the new owners will be better recognise the new media age? Liberty Media's Greg Maffei understands that only 1% of income comes from digital media, stating the sport "really have no organised digital effort, I think there's a lot of things that can be done around gaming, VR and AR."

Greg Maffei (Left), John C Malone (Centre), Ross Brawn (Right)

Making a welcome return is Ross Brawn, appointed by Liberty Media as 'Director of Motorsports'. Few have made a positive impact in racing circles as this man. Originally joining the March GP team in the 70's as a machinist, he soon developed his engineering expertise at various teams through the ages. Joining Bennetton in the early 90's his skills at calling race strategy became recognised as well as his successful bond with a certain Michael Schumacher. Joining Michael in 1997 with a move to Ferrari that lasted nearly a decade, Brawn became part of the most successful era for the Scuderia. In 2007 he became team principle of Honda and a year later faced the harrowing prospect of Honda withdrawing from the sport with no potential buyer. In a heroic last minute effort before the 2009 season, Brawn bought a majority stake in the team. The rest of the ownership was shared between other senior staff members and thousands of jobs were saved. All involved however were fully aware that their car promised to be a giant killer with its 'double diffuser' design. From ending 2008 in 9th place things took a dramatic turn with driver Jenson Button winning the World Championship and the team also winning the Constructors under the name Brawn GP.  It is unlikely that such an amazing feat will ever be repeated in the sport.

Brawn achieving the impossible in 2009
Few can doubt a man more worthy of his new role, and furthermore Ross Brawn understands what makes great racing and what doesn't. 2017 rule changes see cars wider with a more aggressive look reminiscent of times of old - but aerodynamics are going to take an even bigger influence on outright performance. Inheriting these major changes, Brawn is critical:

"The more aerodynamic performance you create, the more sensitive you are to the wake of the car in front. It's not always the case, because the aerodynamics can be profiled and shaped and managed to reduce that impact, but inherently that is the case. So I hope these regulations aren't going to impact the ability of these cars to race together."

The truth is we won't know the definitive answers until the lights go out in Australia on the 26th of March. But as argued in my previous article, the ground affect principle should be developed to produce downforce with less drag. This has the potential to create great racing a fraction of current costs. This idea isn't new but is victim of the politics of modern F1. Top teams with a bigger controlling stake don't want their tree shaken and order changed and want to avoid an outlay of initial investment. Unfortunately the bigger picture means they will continue hemorrhaging development costs as the spectacle continues to suffer.

Wider cars for 2017

It seems the 2017 rules have concentrated on aesthetics and lap times rather than improving the show. The bodywork and floor is a noticeable 200mm wider as well as the rear wing, which is also 150mm lower. There is some increase in ground effect, with the diffuser 50mm higher and wider. Even more striking are the tyres, with the new Pirelli tyres 60mm wider at the front and 80mm wider at the rear. An increase in mechanical grip from the tyres is welcome, but such a big increase in the over body aerodynamic area of the car means more downforce and drag for the following car to deal with. In an attempt to negate this the front wing is further forward with a diagonal leading edge which hopes to be less sensitive to dirty air from the car in front. The wing itself is 150mm wider than 2016. As teams continue to develop this larger front wing we could find overtaking becoming even more difficult through the corners. Its important to note however that DRS will have a bigger affect on increasing speed, meaning overtaking could increase on the straights. But do we want the band aid of DRS generating the racing or more of an emphasis on driver skill though the bends?

With wider tyres and more downforce the cars will be a lot faster. Engineers are predicting 4-5 seconds a lap over the 2016 cars and around 25mph faster through high speed bends. Faster speeds mean higher Gs through corners and a much bigger physical challenge. Driver fatigue will make a welcome return and we will likely see exhausted drivers losing concentration through a race distance.

Driver fatigue is back! Mansell passes out in Dallas'84.

With wider tyres and more downforce the cars will be a lot faster. Engineers are predicting 4-5 seconds a lap over the 2016 cars and around 25mph faster through high speed bends. Faster speeds mean higher Gs through corners and a much bigger physical challenge. Driver fatigue will make a welcome return and we will likely see exhausted drivers losing concentration through a race distance.

The engines remain the same for 2017 but enjoy much more developmental freedom as the token system is abandoned. Each driver will be limited to four engines per season, but new engines can feature developments the supplier has made. These can't be added to existing engines. There are a few additional rules to govern size and weight of components and boost, but generally speaking engineers will enjoy the opportunity to be creative. It seems this is aimed and allowing others the opportunity to break Mercedes dominance. Many fans still hark back to the era of louder naturally aspirated engines. Few who have attended a race of old can forget that aggressive high pitched sound that still made the ground shake. I am one of those but after attending Silverstone testing last year and witnessing the turbo era machinery for the first time - I was surprised. While I still am nostalgic it was certainly more loud than expected. They also added some of their own individual drama with whooshing turbo and hybrid sounds. I've accepted that this is the future of the sport and its time to move on.

The big changes to the technical rule book could allow other teams to break the dominance of Mercedes. The Brackley team will still enjoy the biggest resources and staff levels but it will only take one clever idea or interpretation of the rules by rivals for the pecking order to drastically change. As mentioned previous, Brawn GP took this opportunity with the 2009 rule changes with its double diffuser design, much to the annoyance and protest of rivals. With such big aerodynamic changes and the general levelling out of engine performance between suppliers last year, its unlikely we won't see at least a few teams taking a leap in 2017. But in terms of racing will the bigger, wider cars really bring us an improved spectacle on the race track?