Technical review: Japanese Grand Prix

Posted on | Author John Beamer

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2010

Guest writer John Beamer looks over the technical updates from the Japanese Grand Prix.

As expected the Red Bulls were the class of the field at Suzuka.

The advantage mostly came in the first sector where the RB6 had a four tenths of a second advantage over Ferrari and McLaren ?ǣ all three were evenly matched in the last two sectors. As Sebastian Vettel himself said: Suzuka was made for the RB6.

Red Bull’s advantage

A look at the TV footage from Suzuka appears to show the Red Bull front wing running closer to the ground that its rivals? once again.

With the more stringent load tests for the tea tray and front wing in place it seems increasingly likely that Red Bull’s advantage is in how it ??lays? its wing. To make a front wing, carbon fibre is laid in a mould which is then filed with resin. This mixture is then cured in a large autoclave (an oven) to produce a rigid material.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2010
Is the RB6's front wing still flexing?

However, there are a number of variables that a designer can play with to get different load characteristics. Temperature and pressure in the autoclave will affect how the composite cures. The method of laying the wing ?ǣ the type and thickness of carbon fibre, as well as the resin ?ǣ also makes a difference.

The new load tests mandate a 100kg weight to be placed on either side of the front wing allowing a maximum 10mm of deflection. There is a similar load test for the tea tray.

At full pelt an F1 car will generate close to 1,800kg of downforce, of which up to 40% (around 800kg) is from the front wing. That’s about 400kg from either side (it will be less given downforce is generated across the wing, albeit less so in the FIA-controlled central section).

That?s a lot more than the load test and the suspicion is that Red Bull makes it wings in such a way as to generate non-linear deformation. In other words, if the first 100kg of load flexes the wing by 10mm, an additional 100kg may do so by 15mm and so on. The result is a wing that runs closer to the ground at high speed.

The advantage of flexing front wing is twofold. First, it runs more in ground effect, meaning higher (and more efficient) downforce. Second, when cornering or going over bumps the front wing will modulate to absorb some of the travel thus meaning the car can run with less stiff suspension yet still deliver consistent aerodynamic performance.


Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Suzuka, 2010
McLaren's unraced new rear wing

Given that Lewis Hamilton had two consecutive DNFs it was imperative that he got a good result in Japan. As such McLaren brought a raft of updates ?ǣ some new for Japan, and others that were due for Singapore but needed more work.

In total the MP4-25 got an updated front wing, engine cover, rear wing as well as remoulded exhausts. They even flew out replacement components after Hamilton’s crash in first practice, fitting them as the third practice session began on Saturday morning.

The most radical update was the revised rear wing and F-duct, which wasn?t raced because the bad weather prevented sufficient testing. A close look at the rear wing reveals an inlet where air from the f-duct enters. The air then exits from a small slit carved along the underside of the wing disrupting the airflow below the rear wing causing both downforce and drag to fall.

When McLaren first introduced the F-duct it pumped air into the flap (i.e., the second element) so when air exits from the etched slit the flow only disrupts the latter portion of the wing leaving the bulk of the device unaffected.

Recently Force India, Toro Rosso and Renault pumped the ducted air onto the main plane rather than the flap and McLaren, with its update, has copied this solution. Although stalling the main plane sheds more drag it takes longer for air to reattach so it isn?t necessarily the optimal solution.

In addition to the revised F-duct McLaren also changed the orientation of the vents in the rear wing endplate. Rather than being horizontal they are now angled. The purpose of these vents is to reduce the size of the vortex spilling off the rear wing.

The vortex is created when high pressure air on the upward surface of the wing spills underneath. This induces a rotational motion, which is the vortex. Vortices have a downforce penalty hence the venting to try to control it and reduce its size.

The MP4-25 also featured longer exhausts and a slightly modified front wing. The exhausts are curved a bit more outwards at the end and the carbon fibre sheaths protecting them have also been extended. This is a minor change to optimise the flow of exhausts gases over and through the diffuser.

The front wing had a slight tweak to the endplate structure ?ǣ nothing major.

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2010
Red Bull's new rear wing

Red Bull have promised to keep bringing new parts to each of the remaining races. In Japan a revised rear wing and brake callipers were visible.

The rear wing got the same treatment as McLaren’s with the F-duct linking to the main plane rather than the flap but, unlike McLaren, Red Bull raced the new part. The beam wing was also revised and acquired a reverse delta shape. The beam wing is important because it helps pump the diffuser.

The underside of the wing generates lower pressure and that in turn reduces the pressure gradient that air in the diffuser has to work against. A smaller pressure gradient means there is less chance air in the diffuser will separate, which ensures downforce is retained.

The front suspension geometry was also altered slightly. This was driven by a repositioning of the brake callipers from a horizontal position at the base of the break disc to a more traditional vertical position. The horizontal calliper results in a lower centre of gravity but is more susceptible to movement (under braking and cornering) and hence failure.

There was also a small update to the front wing with an additional slot in the endplate. This allows air to bleed under the wing to keep airflow attached and improve the consistency of the wing. Apparently Red Bull also made alterations to the floor but no changes were obvious to the naked eye.


Despite being in the thick of a championship challenge Ferrari has vowed to focus effort on its 2011 challenger so is only bringing smaller updates to the F10.

Japan saw a slightly revised tea tray and diffuser. The tea tray sports an additional fence at either side of its leading edge ?ǣ creating an inlet similar to that those carved into front-wing endplates.

This helps guide the air to the underfloor area in two ways. First it keeps prevents air spilling off the top of the tea tray and second it allows the air to be more precisely directed to the diffuser where the benefit of this alteration will mostly be felt.

At the back of the car a small winglet has been added above the rear light. This will produce a little downforce on its own but will also subtly alter the pressure gradient the air in the diffuser is working against giving another small benefit.

Renault and Williams

Robert Kubica, Renault, Suzuka, 2010
Renault's revised front wing endplate

It would be a surprise if Renault didn?t bring a new front wing ?ǣ they did, of course, with the endplate changed yet again. In fact the new wing is essentially the one taken to Singapore that wasn?t raced.

In addition a slot has been carved in back part of the footplate. This does a similar job to the endplate slots ?ǣ fast air over the top of the footplate flows through the duct to energise the air below the wing that is in danger of stalling.

Few of the other midfield teams brought much in the way of updates preferring to focus on their 2011 cars. The one exception was Williams which introduced a blown beam wing.

The blown wing (not to be confused with the F-duct) was introduced last year by BMW and taken mainstream by McLaren in China. The upper surface of the wing has a couple of inlets which suck in air. This then exits through a slot carved across the underside of the wing (much like the F-duct) and creates a pseudo-flap allowing the wing to run steeper with less risk of stall.

Williams has taken this concept and applied it to the beam wing. This wing now has a 15cm slot across its middle (the regulations specify this as a restriction free zone) with two largish inlets for the air to flow in to. The wing itself it hollow and a slot etched across the lower surface. This construction allows the beam wing to create more downforce. That means the air pressure on the underside of the wing is lower which also helps the diffuser.


After Suzuka the F1 circus heads to Korea and into the unknown. Each of the three sectors of the Korean International Circuit are quite different.

The first is long straights and slow corners where McLaren?s straight-line speed advantage will come to the fore. The second sector is peppered with high speed corners and feels similar to the second sector in Hungary where the Red Bulls smashed the opposition. And the final sector is similar to the second but a little slower.

It?s hard to say who?ll come out on top but given the superiority of the RB6 this year and the fact that there are quite a few medium-speed corners it doesn?t take a genius to work out that Vettel and Mark Webber should contend for the win.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard is the track itself. The top surface was only laid a couple of weeks ago and a number of drivers have expressed concern that the asphalt hasn?t had time to settle.

In particular the oils in the tar won?t have had time to soak in and the surface could be extremely slippery. This could cause the tyres to go off quickly as happened at Montreal.

Also as the track is brand new as the top surface is worn away its characteristics could change quite dramatically over the weekend. But there’s a good chance these fears won’t be realised and, as was proved once more in Suzuka, Bridgstone’s 2010 tyres are remarkably durable.

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 you need here.

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