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2018-08-20 21:30

Egmont Sippel

Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic

Formula 1 has enjoyed a thrilling opening half to the 2018 season. A big part of the ding-dong battle between Mercedes and Ferrari can be attributed to the breathless speed and scope of technical development. Egmont Sippel picks up from Part 1 of his analysis, which focussed on Ferrari.

Unlike Ferrari, who implemented a radical new philosophy on their 2018 car – the SF71H being quite a bit longer than the short and light SF70H, with a far steeper rake from front to rear – Mercedes has opted for an evolutionary approach.

Engineer the 'diva' traits

Notwithstanding seriously considering the high rake concept, Brixworth eventually opted to stay with a flat rake philosophy and a long wheelbase.

The challenge was to engineer the ‘diva’ traits out of last year’s W08 so that W09 would hopefully have a wider window for tyre operating temperatures.

READ: A tale of two races: Is it luck or is Ferrari hitting all the right notes?

Success has been so-so; the W09 is better in this respect, but Monaco and Friday practice in Hungary were clear signs that much work remains to be done on next year’s W10.

Mercedes' 2018 technical advances:
 
1. Mercedes side-pods

After Ferrari’s spec-2 engine in Canada, Mercedes hit back with an updated mill of their own in France, locking out the front row in qualifying, and then set the cat amongst the pigeons with a seriously effective aero update in Austria.

                                                                     Image: Ferenc Isza / AFP

One of the key aero objectives on a F1 car is for the air travelling over and around the sidepods, and then onwards to the gap between the rear wheel and the diffuser, to be moved along as fast as possible, so that it can assist in speeding up the air exiting the car’s diffuser which, in turn, will suck more air per time frame from the pocket underneath the car, to increase downforce.

                                                                   Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Mercedes achieved this by belatedly having followed the Ferrari philosophy (introduced last year already on the SF70H) of shortening the sidepods, with Merc’s version limited to the outside and upper parts of the sidepods having been cut away.

In combination with new mirrors helping to refine airflow down and over the pods, the upgrade amounted to significant gains in lap time. To do all of this, though, Merc first had to slim down the radiators. Nothing is for free in F1.

2. Mercedes front suspension

Last year, team boss Toto Wolff labelled Merc’s W08 ‘a diva’ – super on some tracks, difficult and underperforming on others. He prioritised this problem as the single most important one to be sorted out, in creating W09.

The fundamental problem was getting the tyres into the correct temperature window. If you don’t, even a Merc will be all over the place – like it was, last year, specifically on slow, hot, twisty tracks (Monaco, Budapest and Singapore).

                                                                Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

The idea was thus to endow W09 with greater set-up flexibility, mainly through a revision of the front suspension. The system’s outboard design stayed pretty much the same, at least in terms of geometry.

But the inboard design, that which is hidden by bodywork, changed a lot, mainly through the addition of off-set rockers, connected to the main rockers, to allow for a greater range of spring stiffness, whilst still hiding the rocker assembly inside the bodywork to ensure good aero flow. Has it worked? To an extent, but not as well as Mercedes would have liked.

3. The genius of vortices

Designers have been very clever in trying to create conditions to mimic the effect of side skirts, which are, of course, banned. Back in the day, a phenomenon called ground effects was created by dropping a skirt all around the outer side-on edges of the car, onto the tarmac, so that the air escaping from underneath the car could not, in turn, suck fresh air from outside car’s side-on views, to replace what’s just been removed.

The idea is that the air entering the ‘tunnel’ underneath the car, from the front, should be out at the back in the shortest possible time, to create a low-pressure area underneath the car, for the car to be sucked tight to the tarmac.

                                                                Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Massive downforce was thus created by air flowing over and underneath the car, pushing cornering speeds into the stratosphere. As a result, ground effects were deemed to be unsafe and physical skirts were banned.

Aero engineers, however, still seal off the floor of a modern F1 car by using slots, or openings, positioned on the outer edges of the car’s floor, to encourage vortex generation around those edges. Vortices are simply currents of spinning air.

                                                                  Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Effectively then, these vortices act as curtains, or skirts, the function of which is identical to the skirts of old.

On occasion, two sets of vortices spinning in opposite directions are even created on purpose to operate close to each other, with the counter-rotating motions accelerating the flow of air through the gap between them, to create more downforce, further downstream. Genius!  

4. Epic reliability and durability

A last-minute issue prevented Mercedes from introducing their updated power unit in Canada, and the team suffered. Bringing the unit to Paul Ricard saw Hamilton stroll to an easy victory, but the issue was clouded because of Vettel’s first corner clash with Bottas.

Merc team boss Toto Wolff said at the time that the Merc, Ferrari and Renault power units were pretty much on a par. He was wrong about Renault (they were lagging). But, in France, he was right about the Merc and Ferrari engines.

                                                                  Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

Yet, when Ferrari introduced new MGU-K’s for their spec-2 engine in Germany, it was bye-bye Merc – at least in terms of sheer straight-line grunt. The Ferrari V6 has reached dizzying heights of performance.

Imagine then, the research and development going into these engines and hybrid systems, to make them perform absolutely at the cutting edge for 6, 7 or 8 races in a row! That’s epic.

5. Sauber and Haas

Haas started the year as best of the rest with a dynamite performance in Oz until two disastrous pit stops put paid to their chances. Sauber, likewise, came on in bounds and leaps. Ferrari power is largely responsible for this, for sure.

                                                                  Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

But Williams and Force India are powered by Mercedes, and they’re nowhere. Credit to Haas and Sauber for having the nous to make good use of Maranello’s V6 hybrid.

6. Honda

The much-maligned Honda power plant seems to have caught up with the Renault engine, but with this difference: it is on a stronger upwards curve. May the momentum carry on from Toro Rosso, this year, to Red Bull, next year.

7. Pirelli’s thin-gauge tyres

When Merc won going away, in Spain – with Ferrari lagging in fourth – some voices accused Pirelli of having developed the brand-new thin-gauged tyre (with 0.4mm less tread than the conventional dry weather tyre) specifically for Mercedes.

                                                                  Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP  

Not so. It became clear, during winter testing in much colder temperatures, that the resurfaced Barcelona track yielded markedly more grip. The extra grip led to extra friction between tyre compound and tyre carcass, causing a build-up of excessive heat which couldn’t escape because of the tyres’ thick gauge.

This naturally led to the formation of blisters under the tyres’ skin, much like your body would do when you burn yourself.

To avoid this – and to avoid the nightmare of races with four or five pit stops per car – Pirelli reduced the tread depth for tyres to be run on resurfaced tracks so that the build-up of heat could be better dissipated, thus preventing blistering.

                                                                          Image: iStock

The thinner-gauge tyre has since been run in France and Britain, for the reasons mentioned above. Ferrari shot themselves in the foot, in France, and won in Britain.  Pirelli’s philosophy and supply thus had nothing to do with Mercedes. It was, in fact, a solid technical decision based on pre-season Barcelona testing.

8. Renault development

Renault is F1’s up and coming team. Earlier this year, La Regie’s yellow cars were only marginally quicker than the identically powered McLaren MCL33.

By Hockenheim, Hulkenberg and Sainz qualified 7th and 8th, almost 7/10ths up on Alonso. The engine needs further development, but the car is showing promise.

                                                                   Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

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