Guest writer John Beamer continues his look at the technical developments so far this year. Read the first part here.
McLaren work on their rear wing
McLaren has continued to bring upgrades to most races but many of the changes have been subtle – the team hasn’t produce a big an upgrade package as Ferrari.
The biggest development in the pipeline is a revised rear wing similar with a shorter flap chord, similar to Ferrari’s new wing.
Red Bull’s ability to deploy its Drag Reduction System early in corner exits is worth several tenths of a second per lap in qualifying. It is this performance McLaren are looking for. However their new wing has yet to be raced because it gives worse overall performance on race day.
McLaren also modified its exhaust system and floor. The most obvious changes were the addition of vanes to the floor area below the rear wing end plate.
These have two effects: air exiting the exhaust is channelled over the diffuser generating downforce and it becomes harder for dirty air from the wheels to pollute the exhaust gasses.
Much of McLaren’s increased pace is thought to come from altering the car rake and getting the engine mappings right post-Valencia, where teams were banned from changing engine maps between qualifying and the race.
But it’s not as simple as ratcheting up the rake and expecting more downforce to follow. There will need to be subtle changes to the exhaust, floor, diffuser and bodywork.
Renault stick with forward exhausts
Midfield teams continue to innovate as well – with Renault perhaps being the most aggressive in recent races, particularly around the front wing.
At the Nurburgring they introduced a radical front wing design. A close look at the inner part of the cascade shows the team running a quasi-five element device.
There is a slot etched in the main plan (two elements) and the in-board middle flap has been split in two (another two elements), with the rear flap providing the fifth element.
As Craig Scarborough noted in a recent article, these are called Y250 vortices and are used to manage the componentry that lives 250mm from the car centre line: front wing pillars, under-chassis vanes, T-tray, bargeboards.
This is a critical area as it directly influences the air flow to the diffuser and around the sidepods.
Also at the German Grand Prix Renault tried more conventional rearward-facing exhausts, although the forward exhausts were raced and are likely to be kept for the rest of the season.
This is despite Nick Heidfeld suffering two separate exhaust fires in Spain (during practice) and Hungary.
Although the forward exhausts seem like a good way to increase airflow to the diffuser, performance has been less than was hoped. The extra space and cooling required by the new exhaust system makes the sidepods more bulky, which is detrimental to airflow around the sidepod undercut. Renault has struggled to develop the concept and has lost performance.
Mercedes mimic Red Bull
Mercedes has publicly stated it is no longer focusing on its 2011 challenger and will increasingly turn resources to next year.
However, two of the more obvious changes that Mercedes have made in recent races have been to revise its front wing and update the exhaust system.
The new exhaust brings Mercedes in line with Red Bull’s design. Its implementation was similar to that we saw last year with the exhaust existing below the sidepods and blowing over the floor. But it is likely to be less effective. The exhaust exits is moved rearwards, is flatter and has fences beyond its exit to control the airflow over the diffuser.
Oddly, Mercedes has elected not to use the out 5cm of the floor to create a sealing vortex like many other teams have.
At the Nurburgring the team came with an updated front wing. A couple of additional elements were added to an extended cascade in an attempt to better manage the vortices under the car similar to what Renault have done.
Mercedes is one of the few cars on the grid to sport a two-element front wing (ignoring the cascade) – another unusual design choice from this team.
Rest of the season
The narrowing gap between the top three teams was reflected in the figures published on F1 Fanatic last week.
However a combination of unusually low temperatures for the German and Hungarian races, along with the exhaust-blown diffuser debacle at Silverstone, has clouded the true performance picture.
I suspect the role played by relatively low tyre temperatures in recent races has been more significant than has been widely understood. Once the Europe season is concluded and race temperatures increase I expect to see Red Bull remain the team to beat.
The other dynamic at this stage is the point at which teams switch focus to their 2012 cars. Given the lead Red Bull has and Sebastian Vettel have in the two championships their rivals may now be starting to pin their hopes on next year.
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Images © McLaren, Renault/LAT, Mercedes