Brought to you by TheJudge13 Technical Analyst Lorenzo De Luca
Usually after a testing session, we should analyse lap times, laps covered, tyre wear, long run pace etc. Conversely we are here with only one reliable datum: chaos!.
After the last day of testing, in which it is assumed cars are near to their maximum degree of development – focused to gain just one thousandth over the competitors – we saw that most of the teams were still looking for reliability. The eight red flag failures give us an indication of how much more complex the new power units are, so much so that many of the teams are still struggling to get the most out from them without the risk of seeing their car in flames just a couple of meters after they left the pit lane.
Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Force India, Lotus and Sauber – there are none who can be sure that after the winter testing sessions they will be able to finish the first race in Melbourne in just fourteen days. This is a matter of great concern that overshadows any other data that came out from this final test session.
Neither can the Mercedes powered cars that had initially seemed a step forward in terms of reliability and had been completely free from trouble – even though it must be said that they still remain the cars most capable of managing the new power unit.
The Mercedes squad – given their well-proven reliability and performance – proved amongst the most active teams during the last testing session and brought many new parts to test.
One of the most important was the introduction of a new T-tray. The new one, in addition to having a more convex shape, has also very elaborate edges mirroring a similar concept first introduced on the Lotus E21 to better manage the airflows. New parts has been seen even on the side pods, where now have appeared new horizontal airflow conditioners between the vertical vanes, and one of the vortex generators placed on top of the side pod, with the goal of channeling the airflow in the lower part of the side pods.
The rear wing has also changed, indeed the end plate introduced in Bahrain no longer offers the slit and has a much simpler design.
Important changes have also been seen in the rear diffuser, which now has a new winged profile in the centre section – just below the crash structure – to increase the expansion effect and therefore the extraction of air from underneath the car
In addition to these aerodynamics changes, Mercedes has also focused on improving the cooling of its power unit. A new engine cover was used with a new outlet on top of the roll hoop being used to aid the cooling of the turbo-charger.
Thanks to the high mileage the Mercedes team had been able to cover during the previous testing sessions – there have been many experiments on the cooling needs of the car, despite the many cover engines tested during the first Bahrain testing session, Mercedes has been going on in this direction by closing part of the exhaust outlet
The Mercedes team is, without doubt, one of the teams who after the testing sessions could look at Melbourne with a certain serenity, aware that only their team (and possibly Williams) is capable of already taking advantage of the enormous power the new PU is able to deliver. The W05 impressed from the first day of testing with its own speed and reliability and they arrive in Melbourne as the clear favourites along with the Williams.
The team led by Sir Frank seems to have returned to its former glory – they have impressed everyone and the FW36 has considerable speed allied to minimal degradation of the new tires. Only during the latest minutes have they encountered some issues, but these were fundamentally because of the high mileage that the internal combustion engine had done. in short, their problem was the massive number of laps covered during the winter test, somewhat funny if we think that some cars had problems even crossing the pit lane.
The Williams team introduced some interesting items on its car such as a new front wing for more downforce. This new wing changed the upper flap and the cascade – which now take the shape of a wing to channel airflow over the tyre. From the picture below we can also see how the FW36 managed the airflow, the end plate channels air outwards rather than inwards as some of the opposition have chosen.
The most interesting novelty has been seen on the side pods. The car now sports a duct that detaches the side pods front edge from the rest of it – thus allowing not only better cooling, but also preventing the separation of the flow.
Among all the Mercedes powered cars – McLaren is the team that seems to have undergone a kind of involution. The team from Woking, who appeared to be the only Mercedes contender for the title during testing in Bahrain, appears to have discovered that the MP4/29 was victim of generic failure. Rumours report that the cause lies in the ‘wall’ the butterfly rear suspension creates which therefore does not allow the necessary disposal of heat from the engine cover. Consequently causing an increase in operating temperature of the ERS components. Despite the problem that affected both drivers, McLaren introduced a new front wing end plate with a curious spoon shaped element.
McLaren represents the most glaring case of what is happening in F1. It does not matter which power unit a team is running – they’re so complex that even the smallest components could cause huge problems and compromise the whole GP weekend.
Just to confirm this theory we should take a look at Ferrari team.
The team of the prancing horse , was accredited by many experts as the car to beat . The F14-T driven by Raikkonen and Alonso proved to have its weakness just where many thought could be their point of strength – the power unit. The F14-T is not yet capable of taking advantage of the new hybrid systems, especially on a single flying lap when all the power needs to be exploited in a short amount of time. Things change over the longer distances as the ERS works more efficiently in a “steady mode”.
Even Ferrari brought their long awaited updated aero package, such as a new front wing (the concept of which was introduced during last season )
The new package also included changes to the rear. They have introduced a monkey seat to increase downforce (which maybe did not produced the expected effects as it was discarded almost immediately).
Also new in Bahrain was the latest engine cover, which has a bigger exhaust outlet and holes on the spine to cool the turbocharger.
New detail changes were also applied on the rear wing end plate, now without the vertical slit .
Interesting news even on the brake ducts, now bent upwards trying to channel air between the rear tyre and the rear wing end plate.
It must be said that Ferrari, at the moment, is the third best car on the grid – well behind Mercedes and Williams. The many failures suffered by all the Ferrari powered cars during the last two days of testing should be sending an audible warning that cannot be ignored at Maranello. Engineers have to find a way to get the most out of the 059/3, both in terms of raw power as well as in terms of reliability because finishing the first races could well prove to be a huge advantage at the end of the championship.
It’s very likely that it is the first races that could represent the biggest challenge for Renault – as has already been anticipated by TheJudge13. Renault issues will not be settled in the short term and will in fact require a great deal of time – time in which all the Renault powered cars will significantly struggle to finish the races.
Toro Rosso, Caterham but especially Lotus and Red Bull will have to give up much of the power made available from the Renault V6. You cannot use the example of Caterham merely because it covered the highest mileage amongst the French powered cars. Their lap-times were significantly slower by anywhere between six to seven seconds behind the pace-setters.
A indication of what we might see during the first few races is that the most reliable cars will display a pace similar to the 2013 generation of cars; whereas the remaining cars will be forced to go much slower to prevent any reliability issues.
Despite the many issues caused by Renault Energy F1 V6, Toro Rosso brought some interesting updates for their STR9. The most important was, without doubt, the new nosecone. Now the nose tip is much longer, while the support pylons are now tilted forward and thanks to the concave shape of the upper part of the nosecone it now ensures a greater amount of airflow beneath it.
There were major changes at the rear also. Now the rear of the engine cover bends upward, to promote the upwash, a solution clearly inspired by the Lotus E22. Further changes are also obvious in the coke bottle area where the outlet has been enlarged and made less tapered – this solution has been adopted to ensure better cooling of the power unit
In addition to these outlets, there has also been an additional air vent, placed where the ride height element is.
Thanks to these solution, the STR9 has undoubtedly made a step forward in terms of cooling and reliability. When (and if) Renault finally fix their problems – the Toro Rosso could play the role of outsider along with Sauber.
The Red Bull team deserve their own chapter. The RB10 is without a doubt the biggest (negative) surprise of these pre-season tests. The car designed by Newey is conceptually the opposite of Caterham – while the CT05 is capable of running (very slowly), the RB10 thanks to its extreme design solution is almost unable to perform a single lap. However it must be said, that despite the frequent and obvious issues the RB10 has encountered so far, it still remains possibly the best car on the grid. Indeed it takes with it the good elements that its predecessor, the RB9, had in abundance.
During the last testing session in Bahrain, some of the little secrets hidden within the design have come to light.
Just looking at the picture above, the first thing we can notice is the exaggerated rake the car still runs with. If it were not for the obvious aerodynamics changes, this car could well be mistaken for the RB9. Many experts who were in Bahrain noticed that Red Bull still is the fastest and best balanced car in the middle of a corner. This could lead us to believe that the RB10 – once fixed of all its overheating issues – could still be the car to beat. During the brief track appearances the car managed, the team focused on aero evaluation – the only small update being a little monkey seat placed below the exhaust pipe to increase rear diffuser efficiency, a crucial element when you run the car with rake.
This picture, which was taken on the last day of testing is also interesting in that it shows the RB10 running with flo-viz on the side pod. This show us how good the airflow is being managed on the RB10.
So, next week the season will finally start, will we see a Mercedes domination? Not necessarily, there is still time for teams to analyse all data gathered during the pre-season testing and to fix some of the issues suffered in Bahrain. It will be crucial to end free practice without any issues because as we have seen – in comparison to last season – these cars take four times as long to repair or to change some of their elements. All the Renault engined cars will still be underpowered but as history has shown us with the French manufacturer they should not be underestimated.
As someone has already mentioned, the advantage of starting from the front of the grid as opposed to who will start from the middle will be substantial. Not only would cars lose time as happened last year, but they will inevitably undermine the reliability of the car which will “breathe” the hot air coming from the opponents ahead.
Trying to declaring a winner now is fruitless. I think that we may need to wait until the return of Formula 1 to Europe to start to really understand who will be able to fight for victories and who won’t. The potential of these new cars is huge – we are only at the early stage of development – the season will be long and we would have to wait until the summer break to finally have a scale of values.