2010 F1 cars technical analysis (Part 1)

Posted on | Author John Beamer

The MP4-25's details set it apart from the RB5 clones
The MP4-25's details set it apart from the RB5 clones

F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer examines the seven 2010 F1 cars revealed so far.

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for F1 fans as teams have begun to unveil their 2010 challengers.

From a technical point of view, 2010 should be a belter. Teams are still learning what works and what doesn’t after the radical technical overhaul last year. Now that the double diffuser is legal aerodynamicists have the opportunity to design their cars around the device – expect to see some radical solutions.

Add to that a couple of subtle rule changes – in particular no refuelling, the loss of KERS and narrower front tyres, which has the potential to mix up the grid.

Its no surprise to see teams borrow the best bits from the 2009 cars – the high Red Bull v-nose, the double diffuser, outboard mirrors, heavily undercut sidepods, double endplates – but these features are tied together in trying to achieve two outcomes.

These are getting more air to the rear of the car, and in particular the diffuser, and managing the air flow around the front wheels, which are a major source of drag.

The diffuser

Forcing air under the car speeds it up and creates low pressure. The diffuser is a piece of kit towards the back of the car that returns this high-speed, low pressure air to freestream. This is done by allowing the air to expand in a controlled manner.

Typically the larger the diffuser, the more air can be accommodated through the floor, the lower the pressure and the greater the downforce. ‘Double decker’ diffusers allow complex structures above the floor to help manage this airflow.

It’s not only air to the diffuser that’s important but airflow over it. Getting fast airflow over the top of the diffuser is critical to generating suction. The beam wing – the aerofoil below the main double element rear wing – works in tandem with the diffuser by creating low pressure at the diffuser’s exit. This reduces the pressure differential between the diffuser and freestream making the rear of the car more efficient – the wing acts to pump the diffuser.

Bargeboards and undercut sidepods also play a critical role in managing air to the diffuser. Undercut sidepods with a tight, heavily tapered coke-bottle zone translates into a more consistent, higher-speed airflow to the rear of the car. This is why Red Bull elected for pull rod suspension on its RB5 – it allowed for tighter packaging at the rear of the car (although wasn’t conducive to retrofitting a double diffuser).

The tyres

Bridgestone 2010 F1 tyre width
Bridgestone 2010 F1 tyre width

The narrower tyres will increase straigh-line speed by reducing drag. The equation is simple – less surface area presented to the oncoming air equals more speed.

A second effect is that a higher volume air can funnel between the tyres (space between the tyres has increased by 50mm in total), which will improve the efficiency of vanes and bargeboards in this region.

However, this comes at the cost of lower front grip, which affects cornering speed. The net effect will be to give the car more of an understeer feeling. As in previous years the temptation for teams is to ensure a forward weight bias to control for this.

The intent of the rule change is to flip the balance back towards the handling characteristics of the 2008 cars, where the grooved tyres resulted in less front grip.

Unfortunately the cost for the teams will be substantial. One feature of 2009 technical development was the proliferation of front wing endplate designs. Given the ever tightening regulations there were few areas of technical freedom where designers could claw back downforce. Managing air around the tyres was one of them – hence the complex detail of the endplates with teams spouting all manner or wierd and wonderful vanes and flicks in this region.

The rule change for 2010 means that designers need to re-base their knowledge rather than simply copy last years’ solutions.

Other trends

The other significant change to the regulations is of course the banning of refuelling. Fuel tanks must now be twice the size which presents some unique challenges for designers, particularly in trying to maintain as low a centre of gravity as possible and ensure weight doesn’t shift around the car in low fuel.

From an engineering perspective fuel efficiency becomes a lot more important and if you believe the reports the difference between the most and least efficient engines could amount to 15kg. We’ll see.

Let’s take a closer look at how the different teams approached 2010 from a technical standpoint.

Ferrari F10

Very few teams have published detailed specifications of their machines so it is hard to get a read on wheelbase, but the F10 appears to be one of the longer cars in the pit lane. Compared to the F60 the F10 is more tapered in the coke-bottle zone, which means the diffuser should work better. Ferrari has adopted a longer gearbox as a way to optimise the diffuser and this is one of the reasons for the more tapered sidepods.

Ferrari has also heaving borrowed from the Red Bull school of design with the V-nose. The V-nose does two things.

The regulations specify a minimum width and height for the chassis by the footwell area. The V-nose raises the outer part of the nose which allows the bottom of the nose to taper to the centreline. This creates more space between the front tyres and the chassis optimising the airflow.

The second effect is that the V-shape reduces lift on the nose by containing the air. The concave shape of the nose induces lift so by keeping the flow inline with the nose (which is what the V does) the lift is less.

The F10 is strikingly simple. The diffuser isn’t as intricate as others and the two-piece front wing lacked the fins and extra mini-decks we’re used to. No doubt the body shop is working overtime on upgraded parts for the later tests and the Bahrain GP. Also the sidepods look a bit bulkier than the competition – although that may be a photographic trick.

The Ferrari was fast out of the box in Valencia and the consistency of lap times was impressive – if testing form continues into the race 2010 could be a good year for the Scuderia.

McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25

The MP4-25 is the most radical new car – so far (who knows what Adrian Newey might reveal later this week).

Although the Woking outfit is one of the few teams to not adopt the V-nose there are plenty of other features to get excited about. First that overly-sophisticated diffuser.

McLaren has publicly acknowledged that it pushed the diffuser regulations to the limit and the resulting device is highly complex. The diffuser balloons out of the rear of the car and joins the beam wing. Although there are few close-up shots there a couple of different channels with a range of flicks and vanes. The detail is classic McLaren. One risk of such a complex device is that it may lack consistency across a range of speeds and corners.

To the chagrin of some fans the MP4-25 sported a shark fin. These fins serve two purposes. During cornering, air is directed so it is ‘normal’ to the rear wing, which improves downforce. Fins also reduce lift over the engine cover by ensuring a lower pressure zone isn’t created on the leeward side when turning.

Two final things to mention on the McLaren: the endplates and the snow plough. The McLaren endplate sports a drooping vane from the top edge of the plate. It is incredibly intricate on its outside and is different to the double-vane favoured by many teams last year. The effect is similar – namely to push air around the tyre and set up a vortex to control airflow.

The addition of the snow plough is intriguing. Williams conceived the device last year with the aim of controlling flow under the nose and spilling it under the floor to feed the diffuser. No other team adopted the device so it was a surprise when the eggheads at Woking unveiled it on the McLaren.

The McLaren implementation is a little different as the plough appears to merge into the chassis. The theory is to better control the air feeding the sidepods and floor but the risk of such a contraption is, again, consistency. Trashing the air under the nose is a sure fire way to wreck the performance of the diffuser. I’ll be intrigued to see if McLaren keeps the snow plough and if other teams pick up the device.

Mercedes W01

Mercedes, like Ferrari and a host of other teams, have also adopted the V-nose. Interestingly the front part of the nose appears to droop and is lower than that of other teams. This droop is to try to force air between the nose and wing which then expands into a venturi between the wheels. The theory is similar to the Brawn solution last year, although the implementation is different.

This will counter some of the lift produced by the nose although, ironically, the droop shape will create more lift. High noses are all the rage this year. Again this treatment should allow a more consistent flow of air under the car to the floor. And guess what that means? A more effective diffuser.

Perhaps more interesting is the re-emergence of single keel suspension. When raised noses first came into vogue designers placed a keel below the nose to attach the lower suspension arms to. This kept the integrity of the suspension geometry but at an aerodynamic cost. Eventually teams figured out that the aero compromise was too large and changed the suspension geometry to connect direct to the chassis. The W01 has a small keel in at attempt to improve the suspension and the loading on the tyres. The chamfered V-nose allows this implementation and it will be interesting to see if it is a one-off or if other teams follow.

The two other innovative features sported by the Mercedes W01 are the air box and engine cover. The engine cover is a hybrid between the classic tapered cover and the shark fin. The W01 looks like it has a razor blade (or perhaps a Stanley knife) emerging from the top of the airbox. The principle is the same as the shark fin – to control flow to the rear wing and mute lift.

The other innovation is the airbox. The airbox usually incorporates the roll hoop but the hoop is now a thick vertical support on the centreline of the car. To cool the car there are openings either side of this support – the airbox is effectively split in two. In addition there are some openings a bit further back allowing cool air to seep over the engine cover. At this stage it is unclear exactly its purpose but it is likely to help cooling with some of the engine and ancillary components that have been moved rearwards e.g., the oil pump.

Other teams

Given the RB6 is yet to be unveiled, outside the top three there are few startling aerodynamic innovations. The new Renault is intriguing with suggestions that the designers haven’t had to lengthen the car as much as some other teams, which may give an advantage at some tracks.

Also the word in the paddock is that the Renault powerplant is among the most efficient. Renault later introduced a W shaped rear wing in an attempt to improve the consistency of airflow particularly when cornering. 2009 didn’t see a lot of innovation with the rear wing – teams were spending more resources optimising the endplates and diffuser. Expect more development focus on the rear wing in 2010.

In early testing Sauber posted some competitive times but that could have more to do with a lack of sponsorship rather than a glut of speed.

Nevertheless the car looks well packaged, with small sidepods and a highly tapered coke-bottle zone – all important for optimising the diffuser.

Although Williams promised a lot last year – especially in free practice – the team rarely delivered over race distance.

That was due in part to a compromised car which was designed with KERS in mind but never ran it. The FW32 is designed from the ground up and is different to last year’s incarnation.

The Didcot-based team has adopted the obligatory v-nose and also has a snow plough type device ahead of the front splitter. This works different to the McLaren snow plough and channels air down to the floor. The air spills under the floor and feeds the diffuser.

The FW32 was the first of the Cosworth powered cars to be launched – at this stage its far too early to say whether the Cosworth is going to be competitive. It was slightly ominous that the FW32 was among the slowest cars in Valencia, but the team made a lot of comments about not knowing what fuel loads everyone else was running.

This is also the first time in Toro Rosso’s five-year history the team have had to design and build a car without Red Bull’s engineering help.

Unsurprisingly, the new car looks very similar to the RB5. This team, which has effectively used a customer chassis with some developments since 2006, are likely to suffer most in the development race.

Finally a big hand should be extended to Nick Wirth and his team at Virgin Racing.

The VR01 rolled off the production line last week and look reasonably detailed bar an noticeably simplistic front wing. Here’s hoping that Wirth comes good – Virgin, by going for a CFD-only approach, is innovating where others dare not to.

Testing

Although its tempting to read a lot into the testing times, this year we should be even more wary of making that mistake. Not only has the variance in fuel loads increased considerably but the Valencia circuit is one of the worst for getting a proper read on a car’s performance. It has virtually no high speed corners, which is where the performance of a car is really measured. To wit, the MP4-24 would do well at this track – the last thing any prospective team principal wants is to have his car compared to that dog.

After the Barcelona test we’ll have much greater insight into the speed of each team. Expect there to be fewer surprises than there were when Brawn showed up at the end of last year’s tests.

Before then, we have anything up to a further seven cars yet to appear,starting with the Force India and Red Bull later this week.

Pictures of the 2010 F1 cars launched so far

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information please email Keith.