Melbourne was a blast but F1’s aero problem remains (Australian GP analysis)

The wet track allowed F1 cars to race side-by-side at Melbourne

The wet track allowed F1 cars to race side-by-side at Melbourne

The Australia Grand Prix was every bit as thrilling as Bahrain was dull.

But don’t expect many more races like that unless we get a lot more rain, because F1’s aerodynamic problem hasn’t gone away – as the later stages of today’s race showed.

Lap 1

Australian Grand Prix: Lap 1 position change

Australian Grand Prix: Lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

In the pre-race analysis yesterday I wrote that you can count on two things happening on the first lap at Melbourne: the pole sitter keeping the lead and a crash.

Sure enough, Sebastian Vettel motored off into the lead and behind him Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher collided, tumbling down the order.

Further down the field a frightening crash eliminated Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastien Buemi and Nico H?â??lkenberg. Kobayashi’s front wing fell off, jammed under his front wheels and he slammed into Buemi and H?â??lkenberg.

Worryingly, this was the third time a front wing had come off Kobayashi’s car this weekend. The team said it did not fail on its own – Kobayashi had made contact with another car at turn three.

With the Virgins starting from the pits and Jarno Trulli not starting at all the HRTs gained the most places. Meanwhile the McLaren drivers converged – Jenson Button slipping back to sixth for fourth and Hamilton climbing four places to seventh.

Pit stops

Australian Grand Prix - pit stops

Australian Grand Prix - pit stops (click to enlarge)

Jenson Button pitted for soft tyres on lap six and completed the remaining 52 laps without another stop for tyres – an impressive feat.

Button’s early switch from intermediate to dry tyres prompted his rivals to follow suit. Though it’s possible that his off-track moment at turn three on his out-lap led them to being more cautious than they needed to.

When they reacted on lap eight Button was 2.1s faster than any other car on the track. The next time around he was 4.3s quicker.

For some reason Red Bull delayed bringing in Vettel and Mark Webber until laps nine and ten respectively. Although Vettel kept his lead Webber lost three places, plus another one when he went off at the start of his out-lap.

Lewis Hamilton lost two places in the first round of pit stops while Fernando Alonso picked up three (one was thanks to Adrian Sutil’s retirement).

The aero problem

Hamilton and Webber catching Kubica, Massa and Alonso

Hamilton and Webber catching Kubica, Massa and Alonso (click to enlarge)

During the first half of the race the Melbourne track was damp and then drying. The lack of grip meant the detrimental effect of running in the slipstream of another car was far less of a limiting factor for the drivers and so we saw lots of exciting passes and changes of position.

But it was a different story towards the end of the race. As the graph above shows even though Hamilton and Webber were up to two seconds per lap faster than Alonso/Massa/Kubica, once they caught them they couldn’t get close enough to pass.

Yes, Hamilton had asked a lot of his tyres in closing the gap to Alonso, making the job of passing him more difficult. But the fact remains the Ferrari driver had covered twice as great a distance on his rubber and Hamilton was faster. The McLaren driver couldn’t get close enough to try a pass because, now the track had dried, the cars were once again extremely sensitive to running in disturbed air.

Hamilton finally put a move on Alonso as the Ferrari driver became desperately short of grip, locking up his tyres at turn 13… and we all know what happened next.

This tells us two things about the much-debated question of – brace yourself for that horrible phrase – “improving the show”.

First, aerodynamics is still a big problem and fully dry races are likely to be much more processional than what we saw today.

However, because all the cars at Melbourne started on intermediate tyres none of them were forced to use both dry tyre compounds. As a result we saw some drivers pit more than others and as a result lapped quicker on fresh tyres later in the race – creating the opportunity for racing.

In the dry at Bahrain we saw no major differences in strategy among the front runners because of the mandatory pit stop rule. Removing this rule, and the requirement for the top ten qualifiers to start on the tyres they set their fastest time on should, looks like a good way of improving the quality of racing in F1. The next few races should provide more evidence for whether this is a good idea or not.

Read more: Bringing back refuelling will not solve F1’s overtaking problem

Race charts

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (click to enlarge)

Here are the race charts showing the gap between the race leader and the other drivers (top) and a version of the chart based on the leaders’ average lap time (bottom). The lap chart (below) shows the position of each car on each lap.

Australian Grand Prix: Lap chart

Australian Grand Prix: Lap chart (click to enlarge)

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (average times)

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (average times) (click to enlarge)

2010 Australian Grand Prix

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188 comments on Melbourne was a blast but F1’s aero problem remains (Australian GP analysis)

  1. Tom M said on 29th March 2010, 0:47

    Everything Kremer says above is spot on, the cars need to rely less on over-body air flow and should be permitted to make the under-body more effective.

    The obvious caveat to that is safety – we really don’t need a second era of ground effect.

    One other thing – why is there a section of front wing that must be undeveloped?! Cars cannot follow each other because they cannot generate enough front end grip, yet the FIA enforces an ineffective front wing?!?! Idiots.

    • i think that the thinking behind that was if the wing is designed to produce down force from the sides rather than the middle, then they would be less affected from the turbulance from the car in front.

      • That’s the theory, but it’s not working too well, is it? :(

        I’m in favour (see above and on various other threads) of a return to some form of GE F1 cars, but that aside, wouldn’t removing the ridiculous underbody plank help things somewhat???

      • John H said on 29th March 2010, 12:30

        That’s correct.

        Problem is, when you follow a car around the corner, the wake from the diffuser is not likely to travel through the centre of the following car, but at the sides!

        • True enough. I’m really trying to make the point that the plank is almost like the reverse of *underbody* grip, which given the reliance on aero through the wings really doesn’t help matters.

    • David said on 30th March 2010, 21:28

      Settle down, kid. ‘Idiots’? Come on, now. You just didn’t understand the point of it.

  2. matt90 said on 29th March 2010, 0:52

    I’m almost certainly being thick, but I don’t really understand what the bottom table is meant to show. If the dependant variable is the gap to leader’s average time, how come the leader isn’t a constant along the bottom and how come the leader only achieves a gap of 0 on his last lap? Is the y axis meant to be gap to the leaders best?

    • martinb said on 29th March 2010, 20:34

      The graph is correct. Think of it as the gap compared to the leader if he had circulated at a constant speed the whole race.

      In the first few laps they were racing slower because of a damp track, so the gap increased steadily. Then around lap 8 when the track dried they could put in faster laps so they started catching up.

      If you look carefully you will see the lines curve downward towards the end. This is because they were lapping ever faster as the fuel loads decreased (although not so much because they had to nurse their tyres.)

      If the race had started dry and ended wet, you’d see the line dip below zero at the beginning and turn upwards when the rain fell and lap times increased.

      HTH.

  3. TMAX said on 29th March 2010, 1:14

    Nice Perspective. I had the same opinion in the Rate the Race topic. More than refuelling or No Refuelling but it is about making the cars more overtakable. I was watching the live timings in the F1 App from (FIA) Formula1.com. One thing was evident. So many faster cars were stuck behind slower ones. If it was for the correct strategy and better overtaking possibilities Hamilton would have won by a mile ahead Button and co. So is the case with Fernando. Robert though was not the fastest car managed to stick on.

    My Question is After the BAHARAIN BORE HOW DID BRIDGESTONE MUSTER THE COURAGE TO BRING A SET OF TYRE THAT WILL LAST AN ENTIRE RACE ? RIDICULOUS !!!

    Feel very sorry for Vettel. Red Bull garage needs to improve the work.

    AND VERY VERY SORRY FOR HAMILTON. Drove a fantastic race. Was really let down by Maclaren. TO me he drove the best race of the GP. I could understand his frustration when he yelled out in 54th lap “whose Terrible Idea it was to do a pitstop? “. yes putting the team on the pedestal is wrong but at that moment one can justify Lewis.

    • TMAX said on 29th March 2010, 1:27

      Keith, quick question Any plans for developing an iPhone app based on this blog? Should be real fun given that ipad is also getting released now ? Sorry for little diversion on topic.

    • Sush Meerkat said on 29th March 2010, 9:35

      “AND VERY VERY SORRY FOR HAMILTON. Drove a fantastic race. Was really let down by Maclaren.”

      No TMAX, he wasn’t let down by anyone, the optimum strategy is to pit for tyres first, Hamilton pitted while no one else did, they pitted him on the assumption that others would also pit.

      Both Hamilton and McLaren got out foxed by Button.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th March 2010, 11:40

      How did Bridgestone muster the courage to bring a set of tyres that will last an entire race?

      That decision was taken a month before the Bahrain Grand Prix:

      Harder tyres for the Australian Grand Prix

      Given they have to manufacture and ship the tyres out there at considerable cost they weren’t going to change the compounds based on what happened at the first race.

      Nor is it by any means a given we would have seen a better race if they had brought softer tyres. It really isn’t as simple as that.

  4. Sai said on 29th March 2010, 1:43

    Good Analysis For improve This F1 ” drama “

  5. claudio said on 29th March 2010, 1:53

    I don´t see any problems with Hamilton having trouble to pass Alonso at the end of the race. I am following F1 since 72 and I always hear the same thing:
    To catch one driver is one thing, to overtake him is a completly different thing(it sounds much better in my native language)
    My point is, given enough time, Hamilton would eventually pass Alonso,
    but would be very boring if he could accomplish it right away. Where would be the excitement?

    • Mike said on 29th March 2010, 9:06

      I miss Murry…. (sad face)

    • Kris H. said on 29th March 2010, 17:46

      This is true – it should be hard to overtake, but based on what I’ve seen, its going to be actually impossible (as opposed to nearly impossible)to pass anyone in Barcelona, Monaco, Hungary, Valencia, Silverstone, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and Suzuka. Saturday will be more exciting that Sundays at those venues if the races are dry.

      Melbourne has not historically a terribly difficult place to pass, and neither for that matter was Bahrain, but what we’ve seen this year is shocking. Its as though the extra developed rear diffuers have made the air just that much dirtier and the effect is pronounced.

      • claudio said on 29th March 2010, 19:51

        I only disagree with one thing. Monaco and Valencia (street circuits) always have been nearly/actually impossible to pass anyone, specially Monaco (bicycle races would have the same problem there) and a lot of drivers refers to the Hungary circuit as more appropriated for karting races. On the other hand, old circuits like Monza, Interlagos, Spa and the old Hokenheime, never had this kind of problems. I read some nice comments here stating that the problem with overtaking has also a lot to do with the circuits and I agree with that.

  6. frossonice said on 29th March 2010, 1:54

    Well, if you guys wish for rain in Sepang, Malaysia this coming weekend, then you’re in luck. It has been raining heavily for the past few days here.

  7. Bartholomew said on 29th March 2010, 1:57

    I propose rock hard tyres with smaller brakes, and a mandatory stop for a chug of beer.
    Then, making the cars 1,5 meters shorter.
    Now were talking business !

  8. DMW said on 29th March 2010, 2:01

    Keith, you wrote:
    “But the fact remains the Ferrari driver had covered twice as great a distance on his rubber and Hamilton was faster. The McLaren driver couldn’t get close enough to try a pass because, now the track had dried, the cars were once again extremely sensitive to running in disturbed air.”

    With due respect, these are not the facts. And your theory accordingly is not supported. In the race I watched, in the final stages, Hamilton was climbing all over Alonso, and in fact was straight under his wing through the back esses before pulling along side on the next straight. He would have got him without a doubt were it not for Webber’s brain fade. In fact, aero-evils did not keep Hamilton from carving up some competitive cars throughout the race. I know we like the mash the aerodynamics-spoils-everything key all the time, but for once, the tire-wear differential actually overcame the aero thing here and to great effect.

    If anything, the race between Hamilton and the Ferraris in the closing stages simply shows that the cure for the passing problem is to bring in more drivers who will take the shot if the grip is there, period. Those drivers would change the current culture of the sport, wherein drivers slam the door way too late and then go crying to the stewards, and therefore where no one want’s to do a pass lest they get fined for contact or for violating the Hamilton Rule.

    • I’m with Keith and disagree with your 2nd paragraph. However, I think you make a very good point in your 3rd…

    • Scalextric said on 29th March 2010, 4:09

      Hamilton reported over the radio that his tires were shot when he’d caught up to Alonso. A combination of his pace to catch up and the aero might explain this. To me he seemed to be at the greatest disadvantage over the last 2 slow corners before the main straight, where aero was the less critical component.

      • SP1KE said on 29th March 2010, 11:05

        Quick question: wasnt the whole aero kit on the car redesigned to allow more overtakin as u cud sit more in the slipstream?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th March 2010, 11:45

      aero-evils did not keep Hamilton from carving up some competitive cars throughout the race

      Obviously the track surface was changing throughout the race – from wet to damp to dry. When the cars are struggling for grip the aerodynamic wake is far less of a problem (and this is when Hamilton made those great passes). Once the track is dry the aerodynamics become a greater limiting factor.

      • Jasper said on 29th March 2010, 14:56

        Disturbed air isn’t the problem with overtaking, because the air was disturbed exactly the same earlier in the race, when there was overtaking. Mechanical grip is the real problem, That race proved the point, the start of the race the cars struggled for Mechanical grip on a damp track and went through phases of drying to a green state with no rubber down. From lap 10 we had lots of overtaking, but around lap 40 when Hamilton got stuck behind Kubica, the track had rubbered in and mechanical grip was at an optimum and a car 2 seconds a lap faster than Alonso on shot soft tyres struggled to make an impression.

        • I’m not sure about that. In the earlier part of the race the cars are travling slower, therefore air isn’t passing over the car as quickly, which leads to less downforce being generated.

          • For the pro-mechanical/anti-aero brigade:

            http://www.motorsportmagazine.co.uk/2010/03/29/should-f1-be-a-drag-race/

            Great article :)

          • Jasper said on 30th March 2010, 16:59

            That’s a different point to my point being that disturbed air is still disturbed air. If you follow a bus at 30 miles an hour or 60 miles an hour you’re still sitting behind a box shaped hole in the air, but the turbulance around that hole will be more intense because the air is travelling quicker. You’re right when you say when the cars first went to drys the aero wouldn’t be as efficient because the cars are travelling slower, and they were travelling slower because of less than optimum grip on a green track, i.e mechanical grip. If F1 introduced rock hard tyres that give comparable performance to that poor grip overtaking frenzy period in the Oz GP (lap 10 onwards) the aero wouldn’t be the problem! That disturbed air affects the tyres over a prolonged period because the tyres are too soft. On rock hard tyres it just wouldn’t be an issue. Thank You, you actually helped me explain the point.

          • Jasper said on 30th March 2010, 17:07

            Dr Le Quack, that is a very good article. Didn’t they only run that wing on the ovals though? I watched Indy Cars back then and I seem to remember they only ran it on the oval tracks? I could be wrong though, that was a long time a go. The racing was great though. Frankly if it would work on an F1 car, the FIA and FOTA need to get on with it!

        • SennaRainho said on 31st March 2010, 18:41

          Jasper, sorry, but I really think you are wrong wile Keith is spot on! You always need some mechanical grip regardless of the aero because all the downforce in the world cannot make the cars change direction (until they are equipped with air rudders!)

          When the track gets wet the mechanical grip becomes the main cornering-speed factor over the aero, and this is further enhanced by the lower speeds. All of a sudden we a lot of overtaking and action because distribution of mechanical grip is all about skill and feeling and in addition alternative lines start to make sense. Again everything is enhanced by the lower speed because cars follow each other closer but this is not the main reason.

          The main reason simply is that the mechanical grip factor by far overrules the areo grip factor and that’s why this race should easily make it clear for everyone that mechanical grip is the way to go and aero grip has gone way too far. I don’t think it could have been outlined any clearer than in Melbourne!

          On top of it all; Hamilton’s excess of speed on the fresh tires in the dry should make it clear that pit stops should not be controlled and ultimately the quantity and type of tires not either.

  9. Florida Mike said on 29th March 2010, 2:13

    Matchett and Hobbs on Speed were very vocal about the rules going in the wrong direction; reducing mechanical grip with narrower tires while increasing aero-dependant grip with larger front wings. Plus those wide front wings are a inevitably the contact point when things get tight. Limiting the front wing to no wider than the inside distance between the front tires seems like an easy way to relieve the dependance on clean-air.

  10. explosiva said on 29th March 2010, 2:35

    [blockquote]During the first half of the race the Melbourne track was damp and then drying. The lack of grip meant the detrimental effect of running in the slipstream of another car was far less of a limiting factor for the drivers and so we saw lots of exciting passes and changes of position.{blockquote]

    I think this actually suggests that aero problem is less of an aero issue than a grip problem. Maybe give them rock hard tires so a) the drivers can rely less on the mechanical grip, and b) have more than one grippy racing line through the course. I think everyone has bought into the “aero problem” because the media is pounding it home, but this exciting wet race – especially the first half – makes me believe that we’re barking up the wrong tree.

  11. J.Danzig said on 29th March 2010, 2:36

    I dont dont feel different tyre stratergies is good, it promotes artifical overtaking,it cant be anything but artifical,1 car on nice fresh soft rubber,passing a car with worn rubber,thats well?Yeah shortening the wheelbase may help,get rid of the diffusers and anything that will loosen the rear end up so that they have to battle with balance.Get the safety car on the track more regularly.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th March 2010, 11:50

      I dont dont feel different tyre stratergies is good, it promotes artifical overtaking,it cant be anything but artifical,1 car on nice fresh soft rubber,passing a car with worn rubber,thats well?

      I don’t agree.

      We’re talking about a driver having a choice between, say, using one set of tyres and nursing them for an entire race distance, or using more than one set of tyres but being able to use them more aggressively and having to accept the time lost in the pits.

      That’s part of the challenge of racing, there’s nothing artificial about it.

      Why do you think would shortening the wheelbase help?

  12. Joey-Poey said on 29th March 2010, 2:40

    Yes, thank you! As I watched things unfold, I too felt like the rain had played a big part in the exciting racing, yet it was the difference in tire strategy that was applicable to future adjustments. If they would just get rid of those damn stupid tire rules, strategy would be freed up and, as we saw, would make for more interesting racing.

    • David said on 29th March 2010, 6:22

      Analyze the Melbourne race objectively and the fundamentals still equate with Bahrain.

      The train progressively forming behind Kubica, with the only serious attempt to pass – Webber on Hamilton – ending in disaster, confirms that a reasonably talented driver in a healthy car is almost impossible to pass.

      So, since the race did excite from time to time, what caused this to be?
      1. Weather, specifically rain, which cannot be counted upon to affect each race in a similar fashion.
      2. Tires, since everyone started on wets, the foolish tire rules were negated and everyone was free to use whatever tires they wished, whenever and however they wished, thereafter.

      Since we can count on the tire factor in every race, change those rules now! Bridgestone brings 3 slick compounds, 1 intermediate and 1 full wet tire to each race. The teams are free to use whichever tire – or combination thereof – at will, the number of tires being the only restriction.

      A fix? No! Just a Band-Aid, till a permanent fix is instigated in way of trashing a number of similarly foolish restrictions in other areas, that have destroyed the racing in favour of the show.

  13. Owen G said on 29th March 2010, 3:24

    During the race the commentators were talking about an idea Sam Michael had about making it possible for the drivers to adjust front and rear wings during the race to enable them to follow other cars more closely.

    Can someone with more technical nouse than me (ie, any) tell me if this would work. And if it would be possible to introduce mid season?

    • theRoswellite said on 29th March 2010, 6:39

      Here’s my take…which does not imply that I have any special technical insight.

      If you allow the wings to be adjustable, then all the cars will be able to increase the down force when they need it (braking, cornering, accelerating) and decrease the down force when they don’t need it (on the straights).

      It won’t help the problem, it will make it worse because the car running in the front of a group of cars will be in clean air…thus his use of down force will be increased compared to now, while the following cars will be in even more disrupted air; so that even though they can increase their down force from adjustable wings it will be less relative to the car in front of them. You have actually exacerbated the problem.

      With apologies to many of the folks above…

      The problem is the abundance of aero down force over mechanical grip. Period.

      Perhaps I can exaggerate for effect.

      Imagine the car in front of a group with no down force assistance from wings. As he bores a hole through the air, the following car encounters disrupted air (if he follows close enough he will find himself in an area in which the air has been “parted” and has not yet been able to return to it’s normal condition…thus the following car will encounter much less drag. This is of course, drafting.

      But, to return to our problem…

      Because we are having all the cars receive no down force from aero, the following cars will not be affected by the wake turbulence, to use the aeronautical term, thus when they come to a corner they can follow close behind the leading car…their grip on the road, mechanical grip, will be the same, theoretically, as the car in front of them.

      This is WELL UNDERSTOOD by the FIA and the teams.

      So, why you ask, don’t they drop the aero-grip, or down force? Simple. It will decrease the cars speed in corners…significantly. Very significantly. And, the powers that be do not want the most technically advanced race cars on earth to be seen as…..slow.

      However, there is an answer. You can still axe the aero if you increase the mechanical grip enormously by……such things as: increasing the size of the contact patch (wider tires), allow the suspensions to be variable, or active,(which does not mean they have to be automatic), attempt to have the tire compounds be as adhesive as possible.

      Finally, sorry for the length, the use of increased down force from the underside of the car, ground effects, will not solve the problem because the amount of down force the car gets from GE is affected by the air the car encounters. If the air is disrupted, following close behind another car, then the down force will be less. It is the same conundrum.

      We need to stop racing “air-craft” and start racing cars again.

      • Kremer said on 29th March 2010, 9:05

        Reducing the wings and eliminating the diffuser and low rear wings/flaps will do a lot to reduce low level turbulence, and the front undertray splitter should allow limited ground effects to work underneath.

        Lower aero grip in the corners won’t drive away fans, and your suspension suggestions might help.
        The key is to level the ground effects for everyone and maybe let the designers have more leeway other than the smaller wing restrictions and no diffusers.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th March 2010, 11:51

      What a surprise – an engineer suggests a solution that involves more engineering.

      I’m deeply sceptical. I can’t see many solutions to the problem that don’t involve taking more of Sam Michael’s toys away.

  14. Gustav said on 29th March 2010, 8:03

    I don’t get what all the fuss is about. It is certainly possible to measure how ‘clean’ the air is behind a F1 car in a wind tunnel. Give the engineers free hands, but introduce a rule saying how clean the air should be behind the car. I’m not that into aerodynamics but I’m pretty certain the engineers are doing everything they can at the moment to disrupt the air flow behind their car.

    • Mike said on 29th March 2010, 9:10

      True, but how do you measure or enforce it?

      • Accidental Mick said on 29th March 2010, 14:21

        @ Gustav. With you all the way on this. It would stop designers deliberately producing cars that are difficult to overtake.

        @ Mike Put all cars through a wind tunnel before the season starts. Then, either ban outright any aero updates or put the car back through the wind tunnel after the updates have been added.

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