I always enjoy reading Mark Hughes and that’s probably because he’s an ace reporter and F1 nerd and those two combinations are always good.
I was reading his article over at Motor Sport Magazine today and how the gap from the top three teams to the best-of-the-rest isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Mark includes a very handy graph of qualifying to show the gap and when you look at it’s results at certain circuits, you can see a story develop…well, Mark did anyway and he’s right…that’s why he’s paid the big bucks, to see these stories.
Looking at his graph, you can clearly see the big gap and it isn’t just aero alone, as Mark quotes Cyril Abiteboul from Renault. Cyril is right and Mark points that out because the be s second behind the top teams isn’t just a downforce issue.
The graph reveals that circuits with long corners and as Mark points out, this is where Mercedes really does well in creating the consistency of aerodynamic downforce through varying conditions and most importantly, from the disrupted front wheel wake.
Mark puts it best when he says:
“It is indeed. It’s about downforce — but not total downforce. Rather, it’s about consistency of downforce and controlling the front wheel wake so that the boundary layer along the sidepods is not destroyed partway through the corner (which then kills the diffuser performance).”
Supporting that issue, Mark quotes McLaren’s Andrea Stella at the end of last season:
“The wide body/big tyres regs of 2017 has made it very difficult to keep the downforce as you go through the corners. That’s the reason why there are some cars that look as if they belong to a higher category – because they have managed to control the downforce throughout the corner.
“Most of what a current F1 aerodynamicist has to deal with is the wake of the front tyres. The  change in regulation made that wake even bigger. The wider floor also contributes; its increased contribution makes it even more critical and challenging.”
Trying to model these calculations is a massive job and strain on both computational horsepower as well as top-shel gray matter talent. The current regulations have placed a premium on the from tire wake and floor fo the car.
It’s easy for me, over the past several years, to call for a reduction in aero and that will beget better racing. I believe that is still the case but regulations have to be written to prevent teams from recovering all of the lost downforce in some other opened area of the car.
As Mark puts it, the current regulations have simply placed all of the focus on these areas of the current car and if the regulations were to change, the focus would be moved from this area of the car to another. You can see how this becomes a task of chasing innovation around all four corners of the car depending on the regulation set they have to innovate within.
To those ends, you may ask what F1’s Ross Brawn and team are doing if writing new regulations will simply change the focus of the teams to spend millions on different areas of the car and keep the status quo on track.
Mark quotes Ross Brawn:
“Aerodynamic performance would be less of a performance differentiator than currently, simply because there’d be less performance to be found there. The idea is that if a big team can devote a lot more resource to it than a small team, it will still find a performance advantage.
“But rather than that being 2sec, it might be more like 0.2sec. That means that if a smaller team has a really strong young driver or a great strategy team, it can still be a factor, still has a chance of doing something.”
As you can see, Ross is trying to reduce the gap regardless of where the engineering focus is on the car given a new set of regulations. Mandating block sections of the car design with a design constraint that prevents all kinds of aero trickery is the key according to Ross. He should know, he developed the dual diffuser which pummeled the field for half a season back in 2009 and won the title.
Always a good read, Mark, and I can’t recommend his work enough. I look forward to reading the follow-up piece to this story…that’s why I am a proud subscriber of their magazine.
Hat Tip: Motor Sport Magazine