Bahrain Grand Prix technical review

Posted on | Author John Beamer

Red Bull enjoyed a clear performance advantage in Bahrain but lacked reliability
Red Bull enjoyed a clear performance advantage in Bahrain but lacked reliability

F1 Fanatic guest writer John Beamer casts his eye over the technical changes on the cars at Bahrain.

Last year the leading cars were often within a few hundredths of a second of each other. But in the first race of this year Fernando Alonso’s fastest lap was a second quicker than anyone else’s and the gap between pole sitter Sebastian Vettel fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton was 1.1 seconds.

How has this happened?

The new season was billed as one for the ages. But the gulf between the top cars is wider than it has been for some time.

In the latest “Autosport” magazine Mark Hughes speculates that Red Bull may have a mechanism that passively adjusts ride height of the car depending on weight. He observed that when the RB06 went off-line during a qualifying out lap the car grounded out.

Given the tanks are virtually empty when leaden, with 160kg of fuel the floor would be permanently in contact with the tarmac. A controlled ride height increases the acceleration of airflow under the car, which produces lower pressure and can lead to a massive increase in downforce.

Such a system would work by mechanically opposing any increase in weight so keeping ride height constant. It would probably have to be a ratchet system working against one of the torsion bars. If this were so the advantage would only appear in qualifying because on long runs during the race the teams would be racing a similar ride height. Who knows? Naturally Red Bull strenuously denied the allegations blaming the qualifying ground-out on tyre temperatures. Keep an eye on the one-lap pace of those Red Bulls in Melbourne.

McLaren vs. Ferrari Design Philosophy

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Bahrain, 2010

It was clear in testing that the old guard would make a comeback. What was less apparent was whether McLaren or Ferrari would have the upper hand. The first battle easily went to the Scuderia.

It’s worth reflecting that McLaren and Ferrari took very contrasting design approaches to 2010 – or at least it appears that way. The McLaren technicians seem to be designing for peak downforce. It looks as though they sat down and tried to develop as many innovative schemes as possible to boost downforce. Hence we have the intricate beam wing diffuser, the F-duct, and the slot rear wing. These devices are all a downforce grab.

In contrast Ferrari has taken a more subtle approach and has focused on end-to-end airflow. There are fewer obvious aerodynamic devices and the car has been designed to manage airflow from front to rear. This has a couple of implications. First is that the red car will generate downforce a lot more consistently. In that way it is similar to Red Bull from last year. Brawn generated its downforce from the double diffuser and aggressive front wing design but the RB5 had better front to back aero efficiency.

Worryingly for the rest of the paddock this means that Ferrari have a strong platform to build on in the development arms race. The base car is so good it is likely that Ferrari engineers understand the aerodynamic characteristics intimately, which makes development a lot easier. McLaren engineers by contrast need to work from a more peaky base, which is harder. That is partly why Red Bull was able to out develop Brawn last year – the base car was more efficient.

Let’s take a look at some of the aero innovations seen in Bahrain.

Snorkel (or F-duct)

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Bahrain, 2010

The snorkel starts with an opening at the top of the chassis where there is an air intake. The air runs through a tube, past the driver and vents through the engine cover and shark fin. The driver uses his knee to control whether the tube is open or closed. When the tube is closed air blows out over the rear wing which disrupts freestream airflow and reduces drag – this appears to be worth 5-6 kph on the straights. When the tube is open the air from the duct vents into the cockpit and has no effect on the wing allowing normal downforce levels for better cornering.

The debate is whether the action of the driver constitutes a moveable aerodynamic device. Given that the driver is constantly in motion the ruling seems to be no. McLaren could have this straight line speed advantage for sometime. The monocoque is homologated, which means no changes can be made except for safety and reliability reasons.

To make the F-duct work teams will likely need to drill a couple of holes in the monocoque which isn’t possible. While legal it will be interesting to see if the FIA outlaw this device for 2011 as it will lead to massive cost increases as teams focus on driving aerodynamic benefit through all manner of drive induced airflow interventions.


As promised 2010 brought renewed diffuser controversy albeit on a far smaller scale than last year. A few teams, most notably McLaren and Mercedes, added a wider than necessary hole for their starter motors at the bottom of the diffuser. In previous years this was a genuine hole but now looks more slot like. This gave the diffuser another element which made increased downforce and made performance more consistent. Although not strictly illegal the FIA has issued a clarification restricting the starter holes to a predefined maximum dimension. These teams will be forced to make modifications for Australia but the matter isn’t significant enough to force an overall diffuser redesign.

The McLaren diffuser is probably the most complex in the paddock and extends to the floor region around the rear tyres. Here there is a small duct to allow air to vent through the floor to the diffuser. In addition the diffuser itself consists of a series of planes that build up to the beam wing. In fact the top deck of the diffuser extends the width of the beam wing – effectively producing a multi-element aerodynamic device.

The challenge teams face with a large, complex diffuser is to feed it with enough air to produce consistent downforce. The longer car allows a narrower coke-bottle zone which partly helps but if airflow separation occurs performance will drop off. It’s interesting to note that Ferrari and Red Bull, the two fastest cars at Bahrain, had among the simplest diffuser designs of the large teams.

Front wing and nose

Jenson Button, McLaren, Bahrain, 2010

Front wing design in F1 is reasonably standardised among the teams although the variety in detail around cascades and endplates is astonishing. There are two board philosophies. McLaren have a long cascade extending from the end plate. On the Red Bull there are smaller cascades which stack more aggressively.

Renault opted to go the McLaren route and introduced its new front wing in the last Barcelona test and brought it to Bahrain. The extended cascade forms what is now a triple-element device and is ‘twisted’ for increased downforce. In addition the main plane is raised a few millimetres which reduces downforce but will give more consistent performance especially during cornering. There is a large gap between the second element and the endplate adjacent to the main plane to allow air to flow off the top of the front wing through the end plate. This is intended to interact with air on the outer part of the endplate to reduce drag from the tyres.

Mercedes have gone the Red Bull route with shortened, stacked cascades. It also introduced a new nose that seems to integrate with a turning vane right at the front of the car. This forms and S-profile and is design to gently divert air towards the sidepods. Its a unique solution as diverting the air too early can result in undesirable air-tyre interactions which induce drag. In addition on the top of the nose new splitters were added to the v-nose to prevent air from spilling under the car. This will reduce lift on top of the chassis and should also enhance performance of the bargeboards as less turbulent air from the top of the car reaches them.

Rear wing

Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Bahrain, 2010

The 2010 season has also seen innovation on the rear wing. Last year Sauber etched an additional small slot in the rear wing to help with downforce. This allows the angle of attack to be increased without creating stall. McLaren extended this concept with a slot across a much wider section of wing, effectively creating a three element device. Williams also adopted a similar slot for its rear wing.

Expect to see a lot of development around the beam wing. As mentioned earlier some teams (McLaren especially) have elected to integrate the beam wing with bodywork from the diffuser. Force India has taken a different approach and has mounted a second beam wing ahead of the first. Although there are strict regulations about the number of rear wing elements the double decker diffuser loop hole has effectively created a ‘free’ zone in front of the wing where bodywork can extend and this is what Force India has exploited.


Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Fernando Alonso, 2010

A lot has been made of Red Bull’s revised exhaust positioning which is now below the rear suspension close to the floor. This is classic Adrian Newey, who experimented with using exhaust gases to blow the diffuser when he was at McLaren. A closer look shows that Red Bull has a slot open in the diffuser for the exhaust gasses to blow into. This will help energise flow through the top of the diffuser and produce more downforce from the diffuser.

As drivers come off the throttle when cornering the exhaust gases do not provide consistent flow and this often disrupts the aerodynamics. As a result previous attempts to use the exhausts to feed the rear wing have been abandoned due to the inconsistent downforce produced. If other teams start copying Red Bull it will be a sign that Newey has solved yet another aerodynamic conundrum, although by placing the exhausts low down there is a higher risk that the rear brakes and tyres will overheat.

Ferrari also had some innovative bodywork around the exhausts. The F10 appeared with three additional louvres, seemingly contravening the regulations which state that there may only be a single opening for the exhaust pipe. Ferrari has ingeniously created a thin slit originating from the exhaust that traverses each vent so complying with the single opening rule. It’s a neat solution to what is obviously an issue for the F10 given the amount of weaving Alonso was forced to do to cool his engine when following Vettel.

Australia and Malaysia

Here’s hoping that the next couple of races are better than what we saw at Bahrain.??I expect the racing should be tighter at the front, if only because both Albert Park and Sepang are shorter laps than Bahrain, so at the very least the time difference between the cars will be less.

Also I’d expect McLaren to be closer in qualifying. Over race distance the McLaren was well matched to Red Bull and Ferrari. In qualifying the Woking-based outfit struggled for grip in the new, twisty middle sector (which ironically have suited the MP4-24). Now the car has a significant top speed advantage created by the F-duct the team has the latitude to increase downforce if similar circumstances arise.

Read more: 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix ?ǣ the complete F1 Fanatic review

57 comments on “Bahrain Grand Prix technical review”

  1. Great article John, thank you. I’ll be watching the red bulls more closely now in Melbourne. To quote your comment on the F-vent though:

    “…it will lead to massive cost increases as teams focus on driving aerodynamic benefit through all manner of drive induced airflow interventions.”

    This is Bob Bell’s view of course too, but personally I don’t see why more ingenious solutions should cost anymore than directing your time on any other parts of aero to be honest, even by changing the goalposts – and the manufacturing cost of such a device is minimal too.

    I hope they don’t ban it for 2011 because it seems to be a potential area where we might see some interesting car designs that moves F1 away from the homogenised series it is becoming, without the cost problems of introducing something like KERS for example.

    Innovation is not always proportional to cost – just ask Toyota!

    1. I guess it depends how you do it … if you have finite resources to spread around then you are right it all depends how you want to direct that same pot of money. If money is incremental then you get an ‘arms race’.

      Good point though.

      1. I guess what we need is a budget cap $:)

        Looking forward to Melbourne. As the temperatures could be up to 15 degrees less than Bahrain, things could change dramatically I feel.

        1. budget cap or the resource restriction agreement O:

          1. a budget cap would be impossible to police -if a greek government can publish the figure it wants, I’m sure companies/teams can do the same…
            Resource restrictions and standardization are the way to go if costs need to be kept under control

  2. First of all, great article Keith.

    Secondly, I don’t think the F duct should be banned in 2011. It promotes innovation, which is what the F1 is all about.

    Thirdly, there should be heavy restrictions on the diffusers next year. This wont only reduce costs for the team, it will even things up a bit and provide closer racing.

    Lets also hope that there will be tyres in 2011…

    1. Just to point out, this article was written by John.

      Great article too, I enjoy reading these technical reviews.

      1. Oh ***, I’m sorry, great article John, I enjoyed reading it. I’m just so used to seeing Keith everywhere ha…

    2. @ Karan “Lets also hope that there will be tyres in 2011…” he he :)

    3. I agree that the f-duct innovation was brilliant and should not be banned for next year. I’d much rather see what teams can do with it. They can’t really do a whole lot anywhere else so lets just keep the regs clean for next year. Standardize the things that ought to be, such as the starter hole, but when someone comes up with a mechanical way to change ride height and another comes up with a duct to help the rear wing stall out we get more excitement than we would get in the race! The race is really about ideas nowadays.

  3. Great work again! Good read and nice to see some thinking about further developments.

    So basically the RedBull and Ferrari are nice and clean designs to build furter developments on, while the McLaren has some pretty extreme solutions that will might offer extreme advantages somewhere, but will force bad compromises elswhere.

    If RedBull really found a way to lower the ride height in Qualifying, i suspect their wake to be very efficient at keeping other cars behind them and run in clean air themselves.
    If all cars had it, then we could really see the best of the cars in qualifying. But it would be easier, to just enable them to change ride height after filling the cars up.

    I think the FIA and FOTA have some serious discussions to make, before designers get fully into next years designs. Maybe more clarity on diffusors, starter openings, exhaust openings, possibilities for changing the ride height and the F-duct thing.

    Wow, it shows where engineers will be creative, when they are not allowed to work much on the basic things (engine, wheel size, drivetrain, etc.).

  4. tanks are virtually empty when LADEN. Lead tanks would be very heavy indeed.

    1. I don’t think that there are any Tyrells running around on the grid these days… :D

  5. seems like every car has an achillies heel.
    but John, would you say that the top 4 teams will be suited to different styles of circuits? like last year.

    1. John Beamer
      22nd March 2010, 8:46

      Hard to say at the moment but as with every F1 season that is likely unless the Ferrari or Red Bull has a massive performance advantage. Normally Macca are better on mechanical grip but given the poor performance through S2 in Sakhir that may not be true this year. Given Red Bull and Ferrari seem to have better downforce that doesn’t bode well for close competition among the top 4. As ever we won’t really know until Spain. Oz is a turn and squirt circuit, Malaysia is a classic cookie cutter Tilke effort (not dissimilar to Bahrain) while Barcelona is a true aero circuit – especially in S1 & 2 – less so in S3. After that we’ll have a very good read on the different characteristics of the leading cars.

  6. Actually, my revision doesn’t make any sense either. What, exactly does the below sentence mean?
    “Given the tanks are virtually empty when leaden, with 160kg of fuel the floor would be permanently in contact with the tarmac.”

  7. Ah, misplaced comma as well. I see now… Is English your native tongue, John?

    1. John Beamer
      22nd March 2010, 4:51

      Hard to believe but it officially is, yes! Just a misplaced, comma!

  8. Great stuff John I enjoyed every word from it, its amazing to see what the teams are doing up close.

  9. Thanks again John, I always feel I understand a little more after reading your articles!

    Looks like McLaren have some work to do to understand their cars and bring them up to Ferrari’s level, but as I understand it, are you saying that it is a little “swings and roundabouts”? Basically, although Ferrari will understand their car better and be able to upgrade its downforce easier, once McLaren understand theirs they will be in a similar position, though they have taken the harder route?

  10. John or Keith,

    it would be very useful to very many of us here if you could produce the 2 or 3 lists detailed below:

    (a) ranking of 2010 tracks (or maybe the top 10) in terms of aero demands (I would imagine Barcelona and Silverstone would be at the top)
    (b) ranking of 2010 tracks by tyre wear
    (c) ranking of 2010 tracks by break wear
    (d) ranking of 2010 tracks by engine demand (% at full throttle)

    Is this possible ?

      1. Outstanding. Thank you Sato !

  11. Mr Zing Zang
    21st March 2010, 14:53

    Good. This technical article is much better than the last one. It still has a few parts incorrect like feeding the diffuser more air. Only certain parts of diffuser will need some more air to energize the flow but definitely not the main parts of it, which are under the car.

    1. John Beamer
      22nd March 2010, 6:39


      The main parts of the diffuser are not really under the car at the moment I’d argue! The regs are so constrained that all the development is above the floor – just take a look at the McLaren!

  12. Concerning the diffuser, why can’t the FIA specify the size, weight and/or dimension of the device & leave the design to the teams? F1 is over-regulated as it is. It’s so dull & boring.

    1. Well, the FIA did just that last year. Only they forgot to plug a small loophole, and the Double diffusor and x-ple diffosor saw the light.

      Because everything is highly regulated, when a engineering team finds a new possibility you can expect them to jump at it to make the most of it.

      So you are right, we should give the engineers a little more freedom to develop more “sensible” things, instead making an enormous effort to find 1/100th of a second.

  13. nice work Abbinator. People love it when you comment on grammatical and spelling errors.

  14. just to add some lap time analysis 9source FI media) to further refine above comments and thoughts.

    I have broken down total times in 4 groups with 4 drivers

    Laps 2 to 14 Vettel 1594.134 sec
    Alonso 1597.263 sec
    Massa 1598.328 sec
    Ham 1608.652

    Laps 15 to 18 Alonso 508.93
    Ham 509.402
    Massa 510.459
    Vettel 510.50

    Laps 19 to 33 Ham 1808.047
    Massa 1808.168
    Alonso 1810.661
    vettel 1813.152 (pre spark plug)

    Laps 34 to 45 Alonso 1436.146
    Ham 1443.56
    Massa 1446.51
    Vettel 1474.338

  15. bridgestone must bring tires which

    softs – 3 seconds a lap faster, but only last 10 laps

    hards – consistent but only last approximately 40% of race distance

    and voila, we’d have more interesting races

    but, they bring a consistent hard tire which can last 75% of the race easily, then teams will all pit and put those on as soon as they can and drive around… we need softs which are much faster than the harders, and can last 15 laps


    15 laps X 2+ – seconds faster = more than a pit stop

    i.e. teams must go soft soft hard to win

    1. “teams might go soft soft hard” to win…

      the soft must be able to make up time significantly on a hard time, not 3 tenths… 2 seconds per lap….

      but only last 10 laps.. i.e. let softs be like + – qualifying tires from 15 years ago…

      but when the difference between hard and soft is 0.3 seconds, and the hards easily drive 75% of the race…, well, boring one stopping is guaranteed

  16. theRoswellite
    21st March 2010, 17:25

    Thanks John, great research.

    Hamilton was quoted today as claiming the Red Bull had a, “ridiculous level of advantage”.

    It will be interesting to see how rapidly the other teams can come to grips with a legal ride height adjuster based on the weight of the car. (If I understand the concept correctly?)

  17. Great article John… always a great read.. :)

    I’m looking forward to Australia as it’ll be a different race all together.. not only a shorter track with different attribute’s but I feel the teams will have a better understanding of the new spec tyres.. I think everybody has to take a step back with their disappointment with the Bahrain GP.. ultimately that was a full on test of how the tyres were going to react to the extra weight so all the drivers were saving their tyres at all cost. I think now they realize that the tyres are good and you’ll see more aggressive driving in the land of Oz..

    My biggest disappointment was Vettel having that spark plug issue.. Fernando was clear after the race he was saving his tyres for a 10 lap assault on the leader.. the Ferrari was better on the harder tyre and I feel Fernando would of fought hard and eventually passed Vettel.. that would of been an amazing finish!

    I think Australia will be better all around… you’ll see the drivers drive the cars realizing that they have good tyres.. :)

    1. Glad to see more people posting stuff like this, asking for patience and looking at the last Grand Prix in context, e.g. conservatism on strategy, etc.

      Your point about the tyres makes me wonder, in conjunction with my own views on teams using Bahrain as an opening test for how races will be this season. Surely this is a good argument for non-championship races? They could act as race-tests before the season gets underway. The races would be for prestige and money, but not points. I want 20 races in F1 but to expect teams to have to spend lots of money before every race in pursuit of maximum points is a little unfair in today’s economy.

      1. I also say the more the merrier!! maybe another solution is to use the final practice day and have a simulated race… based on teh final times from the day before line them up and go!!
        I mean you could have a full 2 sim races in a day easily.. maybe in the second one reverse the order for some real fun!! :)

  18. This is the best article i’ve ever read on this blog…
    HATS OFF :-)

  19. Fantastic breakdown of where the teams are. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the season. Fingers crossed that the races will get more exciting than Bahrain!

  20. A little more of the green paint and the bolt on gizmos and oogeemeflips and McLaren will be back up there then ! :)

    1. HOWZAT for a technical reply :)

  21. Great stuff, I’m sure there’s plenty more to come, as it hints at all the secrets we’re just guessing at, particularly in the Red Bull.

    What does F stand for in F-duct? Do other teams, who didn’t think of the effing duct, call it that?
    And since it couldn’t get Button past anyone in the race, are you sure everyone else will want one too?

  22. Great article John!
    Keep up the good work and keep them coming :)

  23. Nice work John Beamer. You really have put a lot of hours behind this.
    If you can then in the future I want to see an article on the upgrades the teams bring or do during the season.

  24. Is there any fuel mileage advantage between the hard and soft tires and if so the degree of magnitude?

  25. This is simply the best Formula 1 blog out there. Thanks for the very informative articles!

  26. I just read an interesting take on the Vettle Exhaust né spark plug, … problem. or with translator

    If Vettel really had a lack of fuel, maybe a too small fuel tank, it would give some interesting situations for the next couple of races.

    1. An interesting theory, but it wouldn’t explain the gruff sound coming from the engine though.

      1. The gruff sound could come from the engine limiter. I am sure the drivers can change the limiter during the race as long as it is below the maximum. You can hear the severe gruff sound this produces when the cars come in to the pits so it is possible that vettel limited his revs to save fuel which could have produced the strange sound. I am not sure how the F1 limiters work but I do know that many rev limiters work by shutting down spark plugs.

  27. Did you know that the McLaren Land Rovers are capacle to cross a 1.5ft deep stream? It’ll be useful in the Malaysian monsoon.

    British engineering in da hause.

  28. Hello John, let me repeat, that i like the work you are publishing in the technical reviews.

    I saw some interesting insights in the design of the Virgin car ( ) and another article, maybe even more interseting, about the increased use of RP built parts on F1 cars ( ).

    When thinking about putting these together, i think there might be a lot to say for the 100%-CFD approach by Wirth/Virgin.

    If they can design it and test it virtually and then get new parts out in a matter of hours, they just might
    have a good chance of reaching a good rate of development.

  29. Couple of problems that need to be solved before all this 2011 talk:

    – f1 becomes more booring from season to season if this continues, f1 will die soon…….
    – it should be about racing, drivers, excitment…..not diffusers, f-ducts, and other f-things that cost big $$$$$$
    – this sport is so expansive so, I want to see racing, passing, excitment…..
    – I do not want to watch NASCAR (that I hate!!!!!!)
    – I do not want to see starting grid order positions ending the race

    People please do something before this awsome sport dies!!!!!!!! This becomes the most expensive sport in the world, and the most booring one at the same time. Not to mention the cost of tickets! Forget to bring the whole family for a trip to see f1!!!!!! All parameters are pointing away from f1. Not to mentioned recent grand prix pull outs from USA and Canada. This becomes one sad story!!!!!!!!!!!
    P.S. Drivers ability should decide who wins not the car!!!!!!!!

    1. it’s hard to kill a sport/show, when there are 200 million tv addicts arround the world.
      Going to a grand prix… i gave up on it last year. I went to istambul, and i couldn’t believe the lack of speed sensation. It has become a tv show, you should go to motorcycle racing to see the exciting racing.

  30. Great article again John, fascinating stuff.

    One thing I would have like to know about is the additional winglet in the middle of the Lotus rear wing. A few teams have used this device before, but it hasn’t really caught on. Why is that (sorry not to add my own insightful analysis!)?

  31. Great article. One doubt.

    It is curious to note that both Webber and Vettel had troubles with their exhaust. The white smoke out of the rear of Webber’s car was due to excess oil being stuck near the exhaust, and Vettel’s problem costed him the race win.

    Is it likely the unconventional positioning of the exhausts are causing the problem? If so, is it likely to occur at the other circuits?

  32. Great Article.

    Don’t mean to be picky but is there a way to add detailed / close up pics of the different elements you describe?


  33. Great article! Any noticeable influence of the length of the cars on their performance?

  34. Great article John. I thoroughly enjoy these. Please could you think about incorporating pencil diagrams and photo’s with highlights to accompany these precious and very welcomed insights and information…

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