Guest writer John Beamer looks at the technical updates on the cars in the final races of 2010.
The three-way battle for the championship meant that the top teams had little option but to develop their cars up until the final Grand Prix of the year.
Having said that, teams need to strike a balance. If they began designing their next car the day after the 2010 season finished they’d be in big trouble.
None of the top three team brought fundamental new developments to their cars in these late race. But McLaren made strides with their revised F-duct and Ferrari continued work on their exhaust-blown diffuser.
How did they do this without compromising their 2011 cars? Both Ferrari’s larger diffuser and McLaren’s F-duct were part of an upgrade strategy that was set several months before.
Since the 2010 challengers were unveiled at the start of the year it was rumoured Ferrari were readying a radically expanded diffuser following the arrival of a couple of Toyota engineers with inside information about the TF110.
Ferrari introduced a new, more open diffuser in Spain and periodically upgraded it over the course of the year. In Spa another large upgrade resulted in a far more ‘open’ diffuser. Behind the car it is possible to see significant sections of the track.
This design was tweaked in Korea and Brazil. Some of the central vanes became more curved and the side channels were altered. Also for Interlagos the outer channels were re-profiled and vents were added to allow exhaust gasses to pass under the diffuser to improve downforce.
McLaren, on the other hand, was fixated with its F-duct had been trumped by Renault’s version in Spa. The difference was that the Enstone-based outfit decided to route the main plane rather than the flap.
McLaren’s modified F-duct missed the Singapore update and was pencilled in for Japan. However, atrocious weather and Lewis Hamilton’s shunt in practice meant that the team opted to wait until Korea to race the device.
Friday running was inconclusive with both drivers running the old and new ducts back-to-back, but the team decided to race the device and claimed an improvement.
It was only at the last race of the season when Hamilton declared that McLaren had finally got to grips with the main plane blown implementation. Jenson Button wasn’t convinced and continued to stick with the flap-blown version.
By using the F-duct to disrupt air beneath the main plane, more downforce is shed than when acting below the flap (there is more surface area under the effect of the F-duct). This results in less aerodynamic drag: although the efficiency of the wing decreases the net drag is also considerably lower.
The challenge is that downforce is needed under braking and cornering. A successful F-duct needs to recover its downforce very quickly or else the car won’t travel well under cornering.
By disrupting the flow across more surface area the downforce recovery time increases. It is this trade-off that Hamilton was comfortable with but Button wasn’t.
The McLaren boys were also tinkering with the other end of the car, updating the front wing on a race by race basis. With the advent of the new regulations banning extraneous bodywork the front wing is one of the few areas of the car relatively free of development restrictions.
As such we’ve seen many exotic front wing designs over the last two years (remember the hideous BMW ‘box’ of 2009?). At Silverstone McLaren split the front cascade to compartmentalise flow to the tyre and the floor of the car.
Over the last three races the McLaren endplate continued to be refined. One change was the addition of slots in the front wing endplate (for a total of four). Another was the addition of a vertical gurney on the back part of the endplate for Korea.
Both these changes smack of a mismatch between track and CFD performance. The additional slots and gurney flap act to ensure the flow remains attached to wing and to create more consistent downforce.
Red Bull seem to have been able to rely on the raw speed of their RB6 without making any substantial changes to it over the last few races. But Adrian Newey’s design team brought some small refinements.
For Korea the team modified the brake callipers and associated ducts. At the previous race in Japan the callipers were rotated from a six-o’clock to a three-o’clock position – largely, it was thought, to improve reliability.
At Yeongam they were back in their original position and were accompanied by a double brake duct and a semi-cylindrical horizontal vane to create a vortex and help manage flow to the floor.
Red Bull also continued to modify the splitter as teams continue to optimise for the more stringent Monza load tests.
For Brazil the most obvious change to the RB6 was a modification to the beam wing where the delta section was deleted either side of the car centreline. The beam wing plays a critical role is modifying airflow over the diffuser so it is likely that this chance was designed to optimise diffuser flow to create more consistent downforce.
Outside the top three team development more or less stopped. Teams focused on areas that were relevant for the 2011 season or were part of current development paths and therefore took up few resources.
For instance, Williams evolved its brake ducts at both the front and rear of the car. In Brazil the FW32 sported a five-vaned duct. One important element of successful F1 design in 2010 has been to integrate the rear brake ducts with the double diffuser, particularly since the advent of the exhaust-blown versions.
If these components can work as one the air flow at the rear of the car is likely to stay attached (air, by this stage, has already been worked pretty hard, so ensuring it stays attached becomes more of a challenge).
In a future article I’ll take a closer look at the implication of the 2011 rules changes, plus the return of Pirelli to Formula 1.
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Images © Ferrari spa, www.mclaren.com, Red Bull/Getty images