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29 September 2014
(Wind) Tunnel vision

A change in the sporting regulations in regard to wind tunnel facilities for 2015 that may seem irrelevant from the outset may actually have some hefty ramifications.  The change in question was added to article 1.5:

"Each Team may nominate only one wind tunnel for use in any one twelve month period. The first nomination must be made on or before 1 January 2015 and no re-nominations may be made for at least 12 months. The FIA will consider, at its absolute discretion, earlier nominations if a wind tunnel already nominated by a teams suffers a long term failure."

As usual the FIA added the caveat under the illusion of cost cutting, and although their intentions are sound (ie prohibiting multi tunnel use by the larger teams) it does handicap the mid-low end teams.  Since 2009 when track testing was curtailed, the teams have turned to simulation techniques and the wind tunnel as methods of improving performance, before then correlating the information at the track.  The changes also meant that 60% scaling became the new upper limit, much to the dissatisfaction of Honda, who'd just spent a considerable chunk of money upgrading their facility at Brackley to utilize a full scale model.  Honda had ploughed huge resource into their 2009 challenger looking at a vast array of options not only in CFD but also modelling numerous iterations of the ill fated RA-109 (nee BGP-001).  I've looked at this on various occasions so I won't go too deeply into it again here, but suffice to say their tunnel at Brackley and in Japan was being worked overtime, all adding upto ££££'s down the drain?...

Honda's exit from the sport not only came at the time of the economic downturn, it was their vast (blackhole like) spending on their F1 programme that caught the attention of the board.  Allied to this was the exit of their closest rival Toyota, who also used the economic downturn as an opportunity to get out of a sport that was putting a financial strain on the main company.  Don't think that's the end of eithers involvement though, as both have continued to have a much smaller team work on and develop concepts for use in Formula One should one day a return become financially viable.

Honda's decisions also impacted the early life of the Mercedes team too with the team using tooling and methods for a 50% scale wind tunnel.  Mercedes bore the cost of replacing these in 2012 and have since started to reap the rewards of operating at the larger scale.  10% may not seem like much but when races are won by tenths of a second and qualifying relys on margins of much less, every bit of performance counts.

Turning our attention to the two giants of the sport that have languished behind their rivals since 07/08: Ferrari & McLaren, we must consider their processes as a catalyst to this.  The transition from real world testing to simulated improvement has hurt their progress and seen others who embraced the change take a stand against their legacies.   Red Bull is the most obvious candidate having taken both drivers and constructors titles for the last 4 years, however I'd suggest Force India have also taken to the change well.

Of course having the equipment is only one factor in achieving extra performance, having the the right people using it is also vital and perhaps where Ferrari & McLaren have become sleeping giants.  They may not openly admit it but the ramifications of Spygate in 2007 may also have changed not only the way the teams worked but also the way they hired/vetted staff going forward.  Furthermore it put everyone on a shorter leash with the FIA scrutinizing things much closer.  Having failed to see how important the transition from track to model testing both teams have used the facilities in Cologne owned by Toyota, some times to correlate with their own tunnels and at others to complete the bulk of their work.  The problem with long term use of a tunnel "off site" is that people begin to work autonomously, needing constant attention from management.  (Nothing like face time to keep things in check)

The facility at Cologne is renown for being cutting edge providing PIV in the tunnel, whilst also providing customers a platform with which to operate (workshop space, measuring and milling machines, a clean environment (incl dust extraction) for carbon layup etc).  However, it is not the teams, therefore they cannot operate comfortably, however much they try to make it like home.  At one time or another several other teams have used the facilities to validate their findings in their own tunnel in a more sophisticated environment or correlate data from the their own tunnel (Williams, Force India and recently Caterham doing some work on their 2015 challenger).

Going forward this will no longer be an option with all the teams having to nominate their chosen tunnel for a whole year.  Force India have taken the bold step of moving their operations to Cologne, renting one of the tunnels Toyota make available.  This will allow the team the option of constructing a new tunnel as the one they acquired when the team purchased Jordan is now somewhat outdated (30% tunnel, using a 50% model, which goes to show what you can achieve by literally thinking/working outside the box), or if it's more cost effective retain the use of Toyota's.  As you'll see below I've constructed a rough list of what the teams currently use and if they are projected to change in 2015 they're in Italics

Mercedes - 60% - Brackley
Red Bull - 60% - Milton Keynes
Ferrari - 60% - Maranello
McLaren - 60% - Woking & Toyota Facility (Cologne)
Williams - 60% - Grove
Lotus - 60% -  Enstone
Force India - 30% Tunnel with 50% model - Northants - Toyota 60% Facility (meaning they'll have to upscale their scale model production too)
Toro Rosso - 50% - Milton Keynes
Sauber - 60% - Hinwil
Marussia - 50% - McLaren (Woking)
Caterham - 50% (Williams, Grove) & 60% Toyota Facility (Cologne), testing their 2015 designs.

So on the face of it nothing much changes, however what it does do is stop correlation work with other tunnels, force McLaren to choose between their own tunnel or the one they rent at Cologne (and currently divide the on wind time hours between the two) and inhibits the lower teams choices in terms of where to work, as they don't have their own facilities.  Caterham for example moved to Leafield to bring the team closer to the facilities they are using at Grove, unifying the two work forces but under new ownership they may have sought other options.

In reality it's difficult to ascertain whether the regulation change was infact done to affect costs, rather as I see it, it was done in order to stop the teams from using multiple tunnels which of course reduces costs but also further reduces the possibilities for smaller teams to improve by sourcing better facilities, thus keeping parity between those at the top and those at the bottom.
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26 September 2014
Are three car teams a smokescreen?

What do you do if you have an obligation (Concorde Agreement) to supply a grid of at least 20 cars for the Formula One Championship, and several of the teams that make up the current 22 car grid might not make the start of next season?  Well it's simple isn't it, you get your pint sized 'F1 supremo' to drop hints about three car teams and let the media have at it.

What that does though is avoids the elephant in the room: Cost and buys some time.  Formula One is expensive, we all know it, but, it always has been, afterall it's an elitist sport.  So who's on the chopping block? Well if you've been hiding under a rock Lotus, Sauber, Marussia and Caterham all have less than stable financial standings and with costs still mounting it's only a matter of time before we see one or more fold.  Of course Caterham have recently had financial stimulus from their new owners, but how long before that cash cow gets sick and dies?  Lopez continues to claim that Lotus aren't in financial trouble and have their own cash cow in the form of Pastor Maldonado, but their poor run this season won't be doing them any favours luring more sponsors onboard.  Sauber have really only been keeping up appearances since Peter bought the team back from BMW, and although they have the technical know how, they often lack the budget to make it to the next echelon.  Marussia are the go steady ship that operate on a shoe string and although they have the ambition for more, know that reaching it is going to take substantially more financial clout.  On the fringe of this lies Force India another team that could be dragged into the worry pit if things changed beyond their control.

So what makes these teams different from the rest of the grid? Their meal ticket isn't validated... The other teams have interests and businesses that operate on the periphery of Formula One and symbiotically benefit from it.  Force India, Lotus, Sauber, Marussia and Caterham are basically the modern equivalent of the 'Garagistes', own and run by individuals that aspire to be in Formula One.  Only two teams have really ever bridged that gap before: McLaren and Williams, owing to their success at one time or another, coming with it a prestige that has earnt them the right to sells their wears elsewhere.

So back to three car teams, is it an option? Of course. Is it viable? Probably not.  Will it stop articles being written and meetings taking place? No.  Afterall Bernie/CVC doesn't want to lose the commercial rights to the sport does he?.. And that is what is at the centre of this whole scenario, lose one team and Bernie is ok he can still show the FIA he has a 20 car grid, however if he were to lose 2 or 3 teams he is in a little trouble.  But how much in reality? The FIA don't want to or should I say can't deal with the commercial aspect of Formula One and so perhaps it would just be easier for them to show some leniency, especially as Haas is joining in 2016.

Going to three car teams would force everyone to run a third car, not only increasing their financial burden but also require changes to the sporting/technical regulations and the assimilation of staff from the folding teams to cater for the extra work demands.  The reason it forces everyone to run 3 cars is data, you couldn't afford to run/own a team and not have a third car, as so much more could be learnt from the track time.  One of the biggest problems is for three car teams to happen it needs to get pushed through now and that means teams admitting they can't compete in 2015.  Furthermore the FIA/WMSC need to ratify changes to the regulations/points system/qualifying format etc etc, whilst the teams need a reasonable lead time with which to work toward building a third chassis and employing the additional staff (including drivers) that is needed to compete.  It would also be rather ironic that after Luca Di Montezemelo's departure from Ferrari, that such an idea actually came to fruition, given he was the person that lobbied for it for so long.

The whole scenario could also be yet another Bernie Ecclestone smokescreen, as another solution that has been tabled in the past that has seen opposition from several teams gets the green light: Customer cars.  Expanding the section of the sporting regulations pertaining to 'Listed Parts' could allow for the 'larger' teams to sell much more to the struggling teams, lowering their costs and perhaps creating more of a sporting equilibrium, allowing them to make the grid next season.

IF the sport is serious in implementing a three car team scenario I would openly suggest considering the customer car scenario also.  Thus allowing the likes of Maldonado whom carries a budget that perhaps could field a car/team solo, the option of doing so.

The crux of the problems faced by teams wanting to compete in Formula One will always be cost, (otherwise I'd have a team ;) ) it is the pinnacle and so I must ask why should those that can afford to go faster, (within the context of the regulations) feel a burden to support those that cannot?  Afterall Formula One's mantra has always been "How fast can you afford to go?".
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22 September 2014
Bite Size Tech: Red Bull RB10 changes for Singapore

Having come off the back of what Red Bull would consider two very low downforce circuits the team arrived in Singapore, in familiar territory, looking to capitalise on their strengths, with the RB10 still regarded as the best chassis in the field.

Having used extremely skinny rear wings for both Spa and Monza the team returned to a similar specification last used in Hungary, with a high angle of attack also warranting their upper Y100 winglet / Monkey Seat.
At the front of the car the team made further changes to the RB10's nose, increasing the depth of the 'pelican' underbelly (see green line added in the inset).  The pelican had been deleted for the last few races as at higher speeds it overwhelms the region, stagnating flow and causing too much detachment.  At lower speed/high downforce circuits the 'pelican' actually speeds up the airflow as it creates its own low pressure region in behind the region, whilst keeping flow attached to the underside of the nose is critical to the noses upper surface too, owing to their use of a 'S' duct (below).
The heat in Singapore can also play havoc with the powerunits performance and so Red Bull ran with a revised cooling gill arrangement on the top of their right hand side pods.  The chevron shaped gills will of course release airflow in a different manner to their straight edged counterparts and so clearly Red Bull have found an advantage from doing so  (Likely that their shaping energizes the slower moving hot airflow).

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21 September 2014
20 September 2014
Bite Size Tech: Mercedes WO5 gear ratio change - Singapore

If you've been hiding under a rock this season you won't have realised that Mercedes have barely used their 8th gear.  Unlike previous seasons the 2014 regulations only permit ratio's to be changed once in a season (a joker as we refer to it) in order to save costs.  Mercedes were the only team to run an exceptionally long 8th gear, meaning that their drivers rarely used 8th, and in all honesty its effectiveness would be stifled by a large power drop off when it was used anyway.  The idea of course was to spread the immense torque generated by the 2014 powerunits, reducing the chance of wheelspin whilst retaining the optimum gears througout the corners.

In the last few races other teams have played their own jokers, having had time to maximise the powerunit to their chassis package, and in keeping with the circuit characteristics remaining this season.  With this in mind both Mercedes drivers played their joker this weekend in Singapore (below an excerpt from document no4) to bring them inline with their rivals, whilst looking to improve their own performance.
Furthermore in the document we can see that the team broke the seal on the powerunit to replace the driveline for the MGU-K.  This is not particularly newsworthy as teams do this from time to time (all Mercedes powered cars did so in Singapore) but I'd suggest the change in the works teams case was made inline with their gear ratio change.  The reason being is that the MGU-K is geared, allowing for a smaller more efficient unit, changes in the gear ratios however will also mean that the MGU-K will be harvesting and dispensing energy at different rates than usual.  Mercedes AMG HPP therefore may have been working with the team on this change and decided to beef something up for reliabilty whilst playing their joker, but also offer the new solution to their customers too.
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Bite Size Tech: Williams FW36 - Front & rear brake ducts - Singapore

Williams have been quietly going about their business this season, the FW36 not smattered with updates at every GP as an attempt to increase performance.  I'd like to classify their development as economic, finding performance from their base setup at each GP, whilst smaller updates bridge the gap.  The team arrived in Singapore knowing that teams like Red Bull would take a demonstrable leap ahead of them owing to their more downforce laden chassis.  Finding performance therefore for Williams has come from the team trying different approaches with their brake ducts, which of course will not only affect temperatures directly but also change how the tyre phases on longer stints.
At the front of the car the team arrived with an enclosed caketin arrangement (above), whereas the team have run with an open arrangement prior to this (below), with just a crossover duct moving airflow from the scoop and blowing it out through the wheel. 

The new configuration is looking to retain more temperature for use by the brakes, whilst lowering the core temperature of the tyre.
At the rear of the car the caketin remains largely untouched but the team reverted/trialled a solution used earlier in the season with a duct (above, image AMuS) replaced by an airflow control winglet (below, image AMuS). 
This would reduce the amount of cooling done within the caketin, raising the core temperature of the tyre, in an attempt to leverage more mechanical performance from the tyre.  The problem with this however is that it will also raise the degradation level of the tyre on a longer stint.

As with all decisions of this nature it's a performance trade off and something that can also suit one driver more than the other.  Meanwhile the lap time delta between the two compounds taken to Singapore is larger than anticipated and so decisions of this nature then become even more critical for race pace.
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