Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Experimental Mercedes F1 front wing hints at final update push

The fight between Mercedes and Red Bull in Formula 1 has been as much about car development this year as it has been about wheel-to-wheel battles on track.

Experimental Mercedes F1 front wing hints at final update push

Early on in the season, Red Bull appeared to be throwing more weight behind aerodynamic upgrades in the opening half of the season than its rival.

It was delivering smaller optimisation packages at almost every race, while Mercedes stuck to its usual development path of bring more occasional substantial upgrades.

Red Bull Racing RB16B front wing detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This represented another layer within the tactical battle, not only from a development standpoint but from a psychological point of view too: with Lewis Hamilton making reference to his rival’s unrelenting progress on numerous occasions.

Nonetheless, Mercedes stood firm and it appeared that the package of new parts that arrived at the British Grand Prix would be its last major push for 2021.

However, eagle-eyed observers have noticed that maybe Mercedes is not settled completely on its 2021 car, with the team having tested a revised front wing at the last two grand prix.

It’s not an entirely new front wing design concept, nor would you expect it to be given the challenges posed by the incoming all-new car design that the teams are working on for next season.

But it does see the team move towards a direction seen elsewhere, with the inner and outer section of the upper wing elements revised in order to alter their ratio of importance between the two sections.

Mercedes W12 front wing comparison

Mercedes W12 front wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The new design (lower) features a more loaded outer section (highlighted in green), including a Gurney flap, whereas the trailing edge of the wing section has been trimmed near the adjuster.

This is important when we consider setup and will likely see the new specification used when Mercedes runs a lighter downforce configuration, given it takes away some of the available downforce, whilst also promoting more outwash from the static section of the wing. (The section of the wing that’s outboard of the adjuster remains immobile, even when the wing is adjusted).

The new specification was tested on Friday during the last two race weekends but has yet to be raced. However, it will undoubtedly feature again when the team arrives at the United States Grand Prix and may be something that the team wants to race for some of the lower downforce events coming up.

Wing comparison

Mercedes W12 rear wing comparison
Mercedes W12 rear wing comparison

The Mercedes drivers had to contemplate a different style of race come Sunday, as a consequence of Hamilton’s grid penalty for taking a new ICE into his power unit pool.

And, as a result, it ran with different aerodynamic configurations, to help with the task at hand. Contrary to its usual choices, Bottas’ W12 was fitted with a lower downforce rear wing, with the front wing set to match that setup, whilst Hamilton’s W12 featured a higher downforce arrangement.

The larger upper flap size utilised on Hamilton’s car is offset by a much larger central V groove and a deeper taper on the extremities of the flap, reducing some of the drag that would otherwise be generated by the wing.

Red Bull RB16B rear wing, Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing, Russian GP

Red Bull also evaluated taking a different aerodynamic configuration for its two drivers, with Sergio Perez tasked with testing a lower downforce version on Friday.

The rear wing used by the Mexican was still a spoon-shaped rear wing design but featured less wing within the allowable box region and the more benign endplate design. It did, however, have a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the upper flap to help balance the car.

Having put both options through their paces on Friday, the team made the decision to have both drivers on the higher downforce arrangement for qualifying and the race, which was probably a welcome relief given the weather that followed.

Red Bull Racing RB16B cockpit cooling

Red Bull Racing RB16B cockpit cooling

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull runs a novel solution when it comes to its cooling outlets beside the driver, with the outlet formed behind the headrest.

The rest of the field have either an aperture that is formed further back as the leg of the halo trails into the bodywork, or they have an interchangeable panel with louvres in it.

Each of these solutions are used in order to mitigate the aerodynamic impact that the hot air exiting in that region has on the general flow stream, with careful consideration made on the power unit's requirements too.

Not for the first time, Red Bull opted to use the outlet on one side of the car, further mitigating the aerodynamic impact, with the left-hand side opened up in Turkey.

McLaren and Ferrari are also locked in a battle of their own, as just 7.5 points separates them in the hunt for third place in the constructors’ championship.

McLaren’s recent 1-2 and overall form in the last few races had seemingly pulled them a little clear, but Ferrari's power unit upgrade will undoubtedly make the SF21 a more serious prospect as we enter the final stages of the season.

Ferrari SF21 rear wing end plate detail
Ferrari SF21 rear wing FP1, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Ferrari also had to prepare its cars differently in order that its drivers could maximise their performance, with Sainz starting from the back, due to his powerunit penalties, whilst it was expected that Leclerc would start much further forward.

In a similar fashion to Mercedes, it opted to put a higher downforce configuration on the car starting further down the field, as Carlos Sainz’s SF21 was fitted with a more conventional higher downforce rear wing. 

Ferrari SF21 rear wing Spanish GP

Ferrari SF21 rear wing Spanish GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Meanwhile, Leclerc’s car had the lower downforce spoon-shaped rear wing attached, as the team looked to make the car more potent for the straights and sacrifice some performance in the corners.

Interestingly, both drivers had also tried the higher downforce arrangement, complete with the double element T-Wing during free practice on Friday.

McLaren MCL35M rear wing, Russian GP

McLaren MCL35M rear wing, Russian GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren opted to put both of its drivers on a higher downforce arrangement for the Turkish Grand Prix, having had success with it in Russia.

However, it quickly concluded it would run without the double T-Wing arrangement, removing it from both cars having tested with it during FP1.

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