Top five pre-season technical innovations
10 March 2014 – Every year, Formula 1 car launches are eagerly anticipated events. But the hype was even greater this season, with the sport's latest regulation overhaul coming into force. After the trio of tests, GPUpdate.net technical guru Matt Somerfield has put together a top five list of 2014's technical innovations to date.
1. McLaren 'Wishbone Wings'
McLaren made some intrinsic errors in the design of last year's car and were eager to make up ground so abandoned development of the MP4-28 early in order to concentrate on their 2014 machine. There had been for some time talk that McLaren would utilise a 'revolutionary' rear suspension on the MP4-29 but when it was unveiled ahead of pre-season testing back at the MTC in Woking, bar a slightly offset upper rear wishbone, the car didn't seem to sport said 'revolutionary' suspension.
However, once the team arrived at Jerez it was clear that the wishbone arrangement was what the team had been working on, with larger appendages featuring on the suspension elements. Offsetting and doglegging the rear suspension elements has meant that they are placed more rearward, in a location more indicative of the outgoing Beam Wing. McLaren, therefore, are trying to replicate the airflow structures that were generated by the Beam Wing in the past, with a low pressure zone created behind the 'Wishbone Wings', helping the Diffuser and Rear Wing to work together (upwash).
The net gain in downforce, however, would also come with a net increase in drag and so the team have shaped the elements to mitigate this loss. Furthermore, either side of the crash structure we find a tier (marked in red) of ejection points which allow the collated high pressure to be fed into the upwash, further aiding in generating the aerodynamic link between the Diffuser and Rear Wing, creating a more aero balanced car.
The arrangement requires consideration to both aerodynamic and mechanical layouts (suspension geometry, torque loading etc.) and so copying it may prove to be more of a task than many teams are willing to undertake.
2. Lower Beam Wing
There's always more than one way to skin a cat and McLaren, Williams and Toro Rosso have all taken a similar route to the loss of the Beam Wing. They've added a lower wing which sits where the floor normally would (the floor, therefore, either scalloped out or sitting ever so slightly lower), which will not only regain some of the structural integrity lost by the loss of the Beam Wing but also help aerodynamically.
The lower wing resides in a position that can affect the airflow passing over the floor, creating a small area of low pressure above the Diffuser, making its flow interact and upwash. The overall net effect is more downforce from the Diffuser and the assistance in creating a link between it and the Rear Wing.
3. Asymmetric Lotus
I couldn't have a top five technical list without mentioning the Lotus E22's Nose; we all know that most of the teams have taken function over form with the new lower nose tip regulations but Lotus have gone one step further. In order to retain as much central height to the E22's nose as possible the team have taken the rule book and turned it sideways. The nose features two tusks, one longer than the other and for good reason, as the rules stipulate that at 50mm behind the nose tip a cross section of 9000mm2 must project horizontally. With the nose's right hand tusk at least 50.01mm longer than the left it means a void can be created centrally in order to retain airflow along the car's centreline.
This isn't where it stops for Lotus, though, as when we look at the rear of the car we find more asymmetry, as both the Rear Wing's support pylon and the exhaust are both clearly off the centreline. It could be argued that Lotus are simply trying to get the components out of each other's way but nothing in F1 is done without good reason and leads me back to why copying the Lotus nose might not be altogether easy for the other teams if it's found to give an advantage. When we think of teams doing work in CFD we'd assume they do so on the entire car, but to cut down on calculations (i.e. CFD time) the teams generally only run CFD on ½ the car. Asymmetric design, therefore, wouldn't able to be factored in, as changes in airflow direction/velocity etc. would become a little like guess work. I'd therefore suggest that Lotus ran full CFD on the E22 and are not only correcting the airflow inconsistencies of running the asymmetric nose with their offset exhaust but could be looking to glean a further advantage. Lest we forget that Lotus were a team that continued to use the additional power of the longer exhaust in 2012 rather than sacrifice the power for the more aero skewed 'Coanda' exhaust solution.
McLaren Electronic Systems (MES) have been busy readying another device for the challenges facing the more technically advanced formula in 2014. The PCD-8D is an all-new cockpit display that is capable of showing many more parameters to the driver. A little larger and heavier (230g rather than 130g) than its predecessor, the new component is an option that won't be taken up by all teams. Six of the teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Marussia) on the grid have, however, decided it will increase the drivers' capabilities out on track.
The larger display is able to convey more on one screen than its predecessor, meaning the driver doesn't have to cycle through a series of button presses as often. 100 pages of customisable information can be utilised on the PCU-8D, opening up more possibilities for the driver in terms of the availability of information and how it's presented. (I've often wondered if the static red display colour of the PCU-6D's digits are an annoyance to some drivers for argument’s sake). The new display also opens up the option to display certain criteria in a graphical format that is otherwise made numerical on the older display. Furthermore, CAN messages can trigger warning screens enabling the driver to back off before a catastrophic failure.
The centralised 15 led rev display is retained at the top of the unit along with the placement of the warning flag leds either side of the display.
It's questionable that in a year where change is so prevalent in F1 as to whether changing the drivers' interface is a step too far and so some teams or drivers will continue to use the PCU-6D. Consider it like upgrading from one Playstation or Xbox to the latest gen, though; with more power you need more control and so some drivers will relish it. Perhaps this is where rookies such as Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kyvat have an advantage too. Not only are they the next generation but they are coming into Formula 1 at a stage when the face of the sport’s technology is changing and so starting with a blank canvas/fresh perspective could help them no end.
5. Lack of Starter Motor Holes (SMH)
The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed there is a lack of a central hole in the Diffuser this season, with the FIA having clamped down on the practice, as teams have been exploiting the SMHs for some years. The hole provided another method for which airflow could be injected into the Diffuser stream. The teams have therefore placed hinged covers in the region, meaning that the only time a hole is exposed is when the external starter is pushed into place.
That is with the exception of Mercedes who have designed their Diffuser around the problem and is why we see a 'U' bend in the central section. This 'U' allows not only the external starter access but retains a way of injecting airflow into the Diffusers airflow stream. The design is relatively easy for the other teams to copy with a re-design of the floor/diffuser but would of course need to work in line with the other aero concepts and stand up to CFD and Wind Tunnel scrutiny first.
Stay tuned to GPUpdate.net for further technical features throughout the 2014 Formula 1 season