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

The Mercedes/Red Bull set-up splits as F1 title battle intensifies

Red Bull and Mercedes are locked in a battle for the Formula 1 championship that looks all set to go the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

The Mercedes/Red Bull set-up splits as F1 title battle intensifies

And, like in any war, there are going to be casualties and missteps along the way, with both teams trying to play their best hands to try to cover off retaliatory efforts from the other.

In Russia, the skirmish revolved around engine penalties, as Red Bull elected to take a grid drop for Max Verstappen by fitting a power unit to replace the one that he lost in his British Grand Prix crash with Lewis Hamilton.

Heading into the qualifying knowing that the Dutch driver was starting at the back had a hefty impact on the team's setu-p choice for the remainder of the weekend.

Verstappen duly took a lower downforce front and rear wing configuration when compared with Sergio Perez, as starting from the back would clearly mean he would need to overtake cars throughout the race.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing detail
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing detail

The difference between the two cars was clear, with the wing section on Verstappen's RB16B taking up much less space within the permissible box region. Furthermore, the intricate wing tip vortex altering elements seen on Perez's endplate were also missing.

The lower downforce arrangement on Verstappen's car was accompanied by a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the upper flap to help improve balance, which is very similar to the set-up that the team used in Baku.

Red Bull RB16B front wing comparison

Red Bull RB16B front wing comparison

There was a subtle difference between the two front wings mounted on either RB16B too, as the team looked to balance the car front-to-rear depending on what rear wing set-up that each driver had.

Mercedes experiments

Mercedes began its practice programme with its drivers on different aerodynamic configurations, just as it has done at several races already so far this season.

This provides the team with more data about the direction it should take during a race weekend, but has often seen its driver pairing continue to take different routes as the weekend unfolds.

More frequently, Lewis Hamilton sticks to a lower downforce configuration compared to Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes AMG F1 rear wing comparison

Mercedes AMG F1 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Russia both drivers began their programme on the lower downforce rear wing, before Bottas made the switch to the higher downforce configuration that both drivers would run during qualifying and the race.

You'll note that the higher downforce wing (marked Bottas) has a larger central V-shaped groove and larger edge cutouts in an effort to reduce the drag created.

Mercedes W12 front wing comparison

Mercedes W12 front wing comparison

Interestingly Mercedes also trialled a revised front wing on Hamilton's car during FP1 (top). The upper flap is shaped differently.

As you'll see from the dotted lines, the new upper flap design swoops down more where it meets with the non adjustable outboard section. It appears this was more of a test with future races in mind though, as the team opted not to race the design.

McLaren wing focus

McLaren continues to impress this season, with a one-two at Monza and leading for most of the Russian GP testament to its progress.

McLaren MCL35M rear wing, Russian GP
McLaren MCL35M rear wing, Italian GP

The two venues, just two weeks apart, have very different characteristics too, so required different downforce demands.

The team's high downforce arrangement (left) was used in Russia, whilst a one-off, low downforce configuration was mounted on the MCL35M for Monza.

As you can see there's a dramatic difference in the size of the wing section, with much less of the permissible box region utilised in the low downforce set-up, whilst the angle of attack is also reduced significantly.

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