February 22, 2009

Formula 1 2009: Axis pre-season executive summary.

I've resisted writing about F1 lately, mainly because historically there is very little to learn from off season testing. This year however there is the added component of sweeping rule changes which for the first time in years will provide a wide variety of technical solutions to the sport. So, as a service to our faithful readers, I put together this extended executive summary for you...

Because engine development has been , stupidly in my opinion, stifled, most of development has gone into aerodynamics and packaging and that KERS unknown, shoved down the teams throats. In any case, engineers do love a challenge so let's take a quick look.

Roughly speaking in 2009 you will see car divided between Anteaters (Ferrari, Mclaren, Toyota, RedBull) and Fatnoses (Renault, BMW, Williams). These are two different philosophies in dealing with the 2009 requirement of a standard center section of the front wing. The BMW, Williams and Renault solutions seeks to use the wide nosecone as to speed up airflow under it and create downforce for less drag. The pointy nose solution instead is aimed at passing the largest volume of air possible to other element of the car. It is worth noting that all reports say that slick tires require more of the car's weight and center of pressure to be moved forward. Front wings are now allowed driver adjustable elements so expect even more fiddling with knobs on onboard shots.

While in the past airflow from the front wing was directed mainly inside the front wheels, this year there is an emphasis on directing flow outside or over the front tires. Here again we see different solutions: Renault has wide endplates to direct air over the tire, most other cars work to push the air around the side. Mclaren goes a step further than other teams with its intricate wheel fairings designed to clean up this airflow even more.

The rear of the cars this year is all about small and tight. The rear diffuser has been mandated to be further back and lower. Here designers (Williams, Toyota, RB) have exploited gray areas of the runes by molding the mandatory rear crash structure into extractor channels. Pushing against the rules is of course what it's all about, Ferrari for example used apparently legal mounting pillars as turning vanes. Clever.

Of all the cars designed this year, one stands out as the most innovative in a "back to the future" sort of way, the Red Bull RB5. The RB5 is all about skin tight and a high nose. Adrian Newey has always had a thing about tight packaging and high noses since the Leighton House March days (a car drivers barely fit in) and one has to wonder if Mark Webber might not have had his feet surgically altered to fit in the tiny nosecone. I cannot imagine he will be a happy man this year and not just becasue he has Vettel to contend with.

Unlike the rest of the field, the RB5 uses a pullrod rear which puts shocks lower in the car and lowers the center of gravity (I wonder if they are much harder to access though). The front steering arm is moved lower, again lower CG and cleaner flow.

In the rear Newey completely does away with the central mounting of the rear wing which is instead connected by the side panels to the diffuser (a solution shared with Toyota). Simple, clean, strong enough? Certainly in pre season testing the Red Bull has looked fast.

Very little is actually know about KERS development and details, most are using batteries but Williams was rumored to be using an inertial system. we'll see what it all means. It certainly is odd to see F1 mechanics approaching cars like power utility workers.

F1 being F1 the off season was not free of drama, Drivers are up in arms over increased licensing fees. Max Mosley agreed to discuss the matter but only if drivers disclose their salaries... F1 might end up in court again.

Years ago Formula 1 abandoned tobacco and embraced less controversial sponsors, banks.... no need to say more.

The most positive aspect of the current climate is the increases cohesiveness of the constructors association (FOTA) led by Luca di Montezemolo. Again we are in "Back to the Future" territory with the teams using tactics pioneered by Ecclestone and Mosely in the 70's against them. If you are interested in the subject further, I would direct you to this well written piece on Grand Prix.com.

This will be the first year with three Sebastiens in Formula 1, Vettel, Bourdais and Buemi. Apparently Red Bull only allows people named Sebastien to drive as Sebastien Loeb's off season test showed.

Finally, you'll hear a lot about the prospect of a new all-American team on the horizon, you know, with Danica Patrick and Scott Speed. We called it first and everyone, apparently, believed us. Go figure.

Melbourne in about a month, let's see if Kimi Raikkonen will show up.

Top Picture by Fuzzleduck

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