|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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.